‘Our lives were completely destroyed’
Friday 8th February 2013, 4:00PM GMT.
The family of murdered man James Dean will launch a new DVD this week aimed at deterring knife crime. Ahead of its first showing, Martyn Tolcher talked to the close-knit clan about the night they were told of James’ murder, life after their loss and why they are determined to ensure no other family goes through the same thing.
FOR members of the Dean family, 8 September 2006 will remain etched in their minds forever.
It was the day when 21-year-old James Dean (pictured, right) had his life cut tragically short by a knife-wielding assailant aged just 19. It was the day James’ close family had a much-loved son, a cherished brother and an adored uncle snatched away from them.
Chris and Martine Dean have been trying for more than six years to come to terms with the stabbing of their only son. Likewise, sisters Lindsey and Kelly have had their lives turned completely upside down by their brother’s murder, while the family’s profound sense of loss is shared by Lindsey’s 20-year-old daughter Lydia and son Callum, 15, James’ niece and nephew.
Gathered together in Chris and Martine’s living room, all agreed that it was still impossible to make any real sense of what happened to James on that Saturday evening in the middle of the High Street.
However, one driving force that has helped them through the darker days is the thought that they can, perhaps, do something to prevent the lives of other families being shattered in a similar way.
Within a year of James’ death, Chris found himself fronting an appeal for islanders to hand in their weapons, or potential weapons, in a knife amnesty organised by Guernsey Police.
After a big public response to that initiative the Deans joined James’ friends in organising an open march against the carrying of knives, an event that drew 500 people.
The Stop, Now march took place in April 2010 – on what would have been James’ 25th birthday. Although the local campaign has seemingly been dormant since then, the Deans and their friends have been working quietly on a new initiative to ensure the message is not diminished.
Tomorrow evening, an invited audience at Les Cotils will be the first members of the public to view their latest contribution to the crusade against knife crime – a professionally-produced educational DVD aimed chiefly at the younger generation.
‘It’s taken a lot longer than we initially expected, but we wanted to make sure it was right,’ Chris said. ‘Now the DVD is finished we can go out with the Education Department showing it in schools and youth clubs and hopefully the prison as well.’
Meeting the Deans in their home environment you get the sense that they are, essentially, a very private family and that fronting a high-profile campaign does not come entirely naturally to them.
Chris said it was his work with the police on the knife amnesty appeal that started them on this route.
‘It was a difficult decision at the time, but with hindsight I can see now it’s not a difficult decision because you want to get the message across.
‘People that have been murdered with knives – their families and their friends and everybody around them go through a terrible time and continue to go through a terrible time. We felt it was important to try and get through to people – young people especially – that carrying a knife has got long-term consequences for all the families involved, on both sides.’
Nearly six and a half years on, the deep emotional scars remain for the Deans – even if the wounds have healed slightly with the passing of time.
‘I don’t think there’s ever going to be a day when you don’t think about what’s happened,’ said Martine. ‘A couple of weeks ago I woke up and I was really panicking because I couldn’t remember what James’ voice was like.
‘There are still times when I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to face the day, but you know you’ve just got to try to carry on.’
Martine’s daughter Lindsey agreed: ‘You’re sleeping and you wake up and you can’t get back to sleep. That’s the time when it does hit you because there’s no one else around to talk to and to take your mind off it… I think our lives were completely destroyed the night we were told that James wasn’t coming home and I don’t think it’s ever been the same. But we’ve got our children and mum and dad have got us and we all have to be strong and be there.’
It is not surprising to learn that family anniversaries and special times of the year are when James’ absence hits home the most.
‘Christmas used to be a happy time,’ sister Kelly explained. ‘James loved Christmas and now you wake up in the morning and whereas it used to be “we’re going to open presents, we’re going to spend the day as a family”, now you wake up and the first thought is “we want James with us today, it’s not fair he’s not here”.’
At other times it is possible for the Deans to blank out what happened and carry on with their lives almost as normal. Two more grandchildren have been added to the fold since James’ untimely death and for Martine this is cause for more poignant reflection. ‘We know he would have been very proud of them because he was really proud of Lydia and Callum and Leo,’ she said.
Now a strapping teenager, Callum was a little boy when his uncle was killed and he said he found it extremely hard to cope with at the time: ‘I took a long period off school because I just couldn’t get myself to go, because I found it very hard to.’
And it was no easier for his sister Lydia, who was 13 at the time.
‘There’s always something there that’s going to remind you,’ she said.
‘I always think he’s on holiday or something like that. It’s my way of trying to deal with it.’
The younger members of the Dean family are motivated by the fact that the carrying of knives, although not widespread, still goes on among their peers.
‘I’ve heard stories of people in Town carrying knives and it still happens,’ Callum revealed. ‘They think they’re big but they’re not, because the bigger man always walks away,’ Lydia added. ‘They don’t realise how many lives they’re going to possibly destroy by carrying a knife.’
Convinced that the risk remains of another Guernsey family suffering the same fate, the Deans are united in their determination to stop young islanders going out armed.
‘It’s definitely our intention to not let anybody else go through what we’ve been through and what James’ friends have been through,’ Kelly said. ‘We’ll never feel the same again, we’ll never be the same again, but we can hopefully make sure that another family doesn’t go through it.’
With the launch of the DVD the Deans will be in the media spotlight once again, with the inevitable result that their pain will be brought to the surface.
They accept it is something they will simply have to cope with.
‘It is coming back again and that can’t be helped, but it’s something of our own doing,’ Chris said. ‘I think the overriding feeling is that people are going to view it and see it and this will do some good. This will make people think twice about carrying a knife and, even better, not using one.
‘Guernsey’s a quiet place and it doesn’t happen very often, but it could still happen.
‘It just takes one person to carry a knife and then use it and we may have another murder on our hands.’
You can view the video below:
Video by Gareth Papworth. StopNOW website