Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Knife crime: The youngest victim

This is Cameron Reilly, the youngest victim of Britain's knife culture.
He was just eight days old when he was taken to the funeral of Alan Reilly... the daddy he never had a chance to meet.
One day his mum Rachel Murphy will have the horrendous task of telling Cameron that his 25-year-old father was stabbed to death.
Instead of playing with him in the park, or sharing his passion for quad bikes, Cameron will only know his dad through a memory book of stories and photos.
"I feel so grateful that Alan will live on through Cameron," says 22-year-old Rachel.
"But what gets me the most is that no matter what I do, he'll never have that bond with his dad.
"I'll tell Cameron about his daddy every single day, about how funny he was and what a good dad he'd have been, but that's all he's got. He hasn't even got his own memories."
Cameron is now six weeks old and is the spitting image of his father.
"Alan was so excited about the birth of his first baby," says Rachel, a bank clerk, who began dating Alan five years ago.
"He talked to my bump every night, and used to say how he couldn't wait for him to come out. When we found out we were having a boy, he was so happy.
"He'd tease me about getting a mini quad bike straight away for his son and I'd say, 'Not for a few years!'
"We went shopping for all the baby things together but Alan would often come home with extra clothes that he couldn't resist buying himself."
Having moved to a flat near Witham, Essex, the pair were planning to get married.

But on April 22 Alan, who worked as a plater for an engineering firm, went out to the pub with his mates - and never came home.

"I was worried as I couldn't get hold of him," recalls Rachel. "I rang his mum, Kay, but she said he was probably just out later than usual.
"At 6am, there was a knock on my door. I thought it must be Alan at first and wondered why he hadn't got his keys. But it was my mum and dad.
"It's all a blur but I remember mum said, 'Alan's been stabbed.'
"I asked which hospital he was in - then she told me he was dead I just couldn't take it in. I kept asking about the hospital.
"I could just about understand he'd been stabbed, that happens to people, but I couldn't believe that he was dead.
"I was numb for the first few days. It felt like I was looking down on myself from above and it wasn't really happening."

The following day, Rachel said a heartbreaking farewell to the man she had expected to spend the rest of her life with.

"I thought seeing the body would make me believe he had gone," says Rachel, tears streaming down at the memory. "But it didn't. Although it was Alan, it didn't seem like him. I said goodbye to him and promised to look after our unborn baby."

Rachel was six months' pregnant but it took three months for the funeral while police investigated. While the new life stirring inside Rachel gave her joy, every kick was a reminder of their loss.

"It was Cameron who kept me going," says Rachel. "I had to get on with things, and even more so now as I was responsible for our baby, the life that Alan had left behind.

"I had to make sure Cameron was healthy. It got harder later on. At first, I was in shock and there was so much going on, I didn't have time to think. When everything died down, I had more time for it to sink in.
"Going to ante-natal classes was hard - Alan had been coming with me. Now I was going with my mum Anne and sister Leanne, and I would get upset seeing the other women there with their husbands and boyfriends.
"I'd always felt OK about the prospect of labour when Alan was alive. He made me feel so safe. Now I was scared."
On July 3, at 10.17am, and after a 24-hour labour and emergency caesarean, Cameron Alan Reilly was born, weighing 8lbs 3.5oz.

Without Alan, Rachel's mum was there to hold her hand. "I was so happy to have him," says Rachel. "But an hour or so later, when the doctors had gone, I got tearful. I gave Cameron a cuddle and I told him, 'I promised your daddy I'll always look after you.'"

Cameron was Alan's choice of name. His soft downy hair is just like dad's, as are his eyes. "When he was born, he looked just like Alan," says Rachel. "I was hoping he would, not just formy sake but for Alan's mum's. Cameron is our piece of hope, something to look forward to through all the mess.
"I'm lucky as I've had great support from my family and Alan's. Cameron's keeping them going as well, he's very special."
Tragically, Rachel doesn't have many photos of Alan to show Cameron as he grows up. Pictures from their first holiday in Rhodes last year were lost, and others on their computer were destroyed by a virus. But Rachel has been jotting down as many anecdotes and stories as she can in a special memory book for Cameron.

"Memories fade," she says. "I want to keep hold of everything so he can know as much about his dad as possible."
Some day, she will also have the heartbreaking task of telling her son what happened on that dreadful night. I've thought about what I will say," she says. "I think I'll just know when the time is right. It's not going to be easy.

"The people who do these things, they go to prison. But we have to live with it for the rest of our lives too."
Rachel is backing the Daily Mirror's Stop Knives, Save Lives campaign, and hopes to join other families who have suffered the loss of a loved one through knife crime at our People's March in Hyde Park, central London, next month. "I get really angry sometimes," she says. "It's good the Daily Mirror is trying to do something about knife crime because something has to be done. It's happening too often these days.

"People who kill others need to be put away for longer. Some of the killers are really young and they're not getting long enough sentences.
The only thing that'll make them think twice is knowing they would get a life sentence.

"What goes through these people's heads that they have such disregard for human life they can kill someone just like that? If you take a life, I believe you should be put away for life.

"I will tell Cameron what happened to his dad and make sure that keeps him on the straight and narrow.
"I'm scared of what's happening to the world and I'm scared of what it will be like when Cameron's a teenager. All I can do is bring him up properly... and hope."

A 16-year-old boy from Hackney, East London, is on remand, awaiting trial for Alan's murder.

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