The bedroom light was flicked on abruptly bringing me up from a deep safe sleep. Confused, I struggled to understand what my sixteen-year-old son was saying; there had been a fight; his friends were hurt; the police were downstairs; they wanted to speak with me. I sharply admonish him for going out again; when I went to bed at 10.00 p.m., he and his friends were playing video games in the back bedroom. It was August 10th 2005.
A policewoman stood awkwardly in the hallway, and I saw a parked police car through the opened door out in the darkness. In the sitting room, she took details of the incident; three schoolboys left my house at 10.45 p.m., walked to the all-night garage, bought crisps and drinks and walked along Somerton Road towards one of their homes for more on-line video gaming. On Somerton Road, by the homes of bishops, doctors and judges, two men attacked from behind. One of the three shouted “run” but already another was being hit on the head with a wooden club and was on his knees. My son and the other friend attempted to climb the fence of a school, but the friend was too slow and was punched and stabbed as he fell to the ground. A passer-by came to their aid and he too was threatened by the attackers. A car driving by scattered the attack as my son climbed back over the school fence and with the passer-by helped the wounded friends. One was seriously injured and a GP living close by was called to give assistance; the ambulance was on the scene quickly and took the two injured school boys to hospital. My son and the passer-by were driven around in a police car in the hope of identifying the assailants. They had no luck and now the police had brought him home.
The small policewoman sat awkwardly on my sofa in here oversized navy flack-jacket, her belt; with gun, baton and handcuffs restricted her movements and her radio constantly twitters as we spoke. Plain-clothes detectives would interview us later in the night she told me; we should try to get some sleep. It was now one-thirty.
My son was shaken, concerned, anxious, so I reassured him that things will be fine and to get some sleep until the police return. At 2.30 a.m. two police Landrovers parked up in front of the house. My son was out of bed first and had opened the door to the police as I arrive in the hallway. They are young, tall and wore overall-type uniforms unimpeded with the paraphernalia the policewomen wore. Could they speak with us? They ask the same questions and I stopped them explaining these questions had been answered. At this point they awkwardly suggested that one boy’s parents were outside and would like a word and now I realised the main purpose for their call.
In my living room the parents look shocked and drained. The mother had a forced smile and a shake in her hand. Could they speak to me alone; could I ask my son to leave the room. She avoids any eye contact with him, a boy she knew so well; someone in and out of her home for years.
With him in the hallway and the door closed her husband paced around a coffee table as she calmly told me her son was dead. The paramedics and the hospital did what they could. He was stabbed nine times in the back, and on one occasion, the knife had punctured his heart. He was fifteen years old.
I was only able to struggle a few senseless pathetic words of consolations. I was disarmed by her dignity and the rationalisation of her thoughts at this most tragic of moments. Her husband, still unable to speak, simply breathed loudly and deeply as he continued to pace around the coffee table. For all her strength she cannot tell my son; could I please do this for her. It was genuine, kind, considerate and warm. A comment from a woman I had never met before this evening yet it was chillingly clear that, in spite of her composure, she was fully aware of the horror that had just visited her family.
It was a long night. When I broke the news to my son he was shocked into a confused silence. I do what I could to console him; the rest of the family were away leaving me feeling inadequate doing a job his mother, even his sisters, would be so much better. I needed to get him to speak; speak about his feelings; his pain but sixteen-year-old boys do not do this easily.
Today, fifteen years on from the murder and ten years on from successful convictions hard-won, the shock and horror of that night still live with me. Penny Holloway said that night that as a family we had been “very lucky indeed” and as the years pass how lucky we became clearer. The wounded friend was fine after the killing; a crack over the head and a glanced stab wound in his chest were shrugged off but he went through mental torture about an event no teenager should ever experience. A close family suffered the pain of the death of their youngest; a child, murdered on the way from the shops; two hundred yards from his front door. No matter what defence, if any, would be offered for this murder, and none was, it can only ever be; a senseless, brutal, callous, evil deed and its horror will ensure, for a small number of families, life would never again be the same. For Thomas Devlin there was nothing more; a young life extinguished long before its great potential could be fully realised.
On 21st February 2010 at Belfast Crown Court Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown were each found guilty of the murder of Thomas Devlin and the attempted murder of Jonathan McKee.
Editors note: The family of Thomas Devlin gave their approval for this post, Brian.
I am a pharmacist in Belfast.