'I can't forgive and forget' - Caroline Shearer, mum of murdered Jay Whiston, still hurts five years on
North Essex communities were rocked on September 9, 2012, when they discovered a 17-year-old boy had been murdered the night before. Jay Whiston, from Clacton, had died after he was stabbed at a house party in Marlowe Way, Colchester. Five years on from his tragic death his mother, Caroline Shearer, reflects on her experiences.
The first time Caroline Shearer realised something was wrong was when police knocked on her door that night, when she was already in bed.
“When I came down, as soon as I saw the policeman’s boots I started screaming,” she said.
The officers told Caroline her son had been stabbed, and they began driving the family to hospital.
“It seemed like we were going 45,000mph. By the third roundabout I knew.”
Shortly afterwards the car pulled over to allow the officers to tell Caroline her son had died.
Continuing to the hospital, Caroline recalls the surgeon coming out, saying: “I’m sorry, we tried so hard to save him.”
One of Caroline’s biggest regrets is that she was not able to see Jay, or donate any of his organs – as his body had become evidence in a murder investigation.
“The lead detective came in and said ‘I’ve got to go’. I said ‘why?’
“’I’ve got a murderer to catch’, he replied.”
So began a complex police investigation, which culminated two years later in the 13-week trial of Edward Redman, then 18, for murder. Redman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 17 years.
During the trial it was revealed Jay had tried to intervene in an argument, before he was punched and fatally stabbed.
“I used to get angry with the police. They told me what they could, but it was never enough,” she said.
“I didn’t go to bed for six months, I just laid on the sofa. I cried tears I had never experienced before, hot tears. I did not know the true meaning of what sad was until then – it blinded everything else.
“You’d be driving and go straight past your junction. I’d end up in London or Felixstowe frequently, and not know how I’d got there.”
Support for Jay’s family was immense. His school friends often came over to visit, and the phone did not stop ringing.
Caroline said: “Jay was loved. I never realised he was loved so much.
“It’s hard watching his friends getting on with their lives – they are lovely boys, but there is that twinge of jealousy.”
Caroline recently found out what Jay’s last words were – she has been told he sat up and said “I’m gonna be alright”.
“That makes me feel sick. I think I should not have let him out that night, but he was nearly 18, I would not have been able to stop him.”
Caroline’s world continued to be turned upside down. A few years later her dad died, and her foster son committed suicide to be with Jay.
The trial was also a struggle, with Jay’s family having to sit across the public gallery from Redman’s.
“I’m old now, I’m 52, I can deal with it. But my son can’t.
“He lost his first holiday with his friends, going out to get a real job, so many experiences in life people take for granted. Getting married, he wanted two little girls.
“It’s his loss, that eats me up more than my loss. It’s like having a kid in a cage and never being able to do anything.
“I’ve been through all sorts, from mediums to church, wondering is there an afterlife. Now I feel there’s a spirit world with balls of energy, and you can’t kill them – I have to believe he is in a better place now, if I don’t I could not carry on.
“You do have suicidal thoughts, but I met other parents in the same boat and I felt I was not on my own. Nightmares become your normal dreams.
“People think five years is a long time, but it never goes away. They say it gets easier – I say it doesn’t, but when I meet someone whose son was murdered four months ago I am glad I’m not there again.
“There are all sorts of triggers, not just smells or songs.”
Even as she spoke, Caroline recalled a new memory of Jay.
“Looking at his memorial candle, I remember he got a candle-making set and we watched him make it. We were so proud when he lit it we didn’t notice there was nothing underneath and it burnt a great hole in the table.
“I don’t go to the grave often, I feel terrible about that. Christmas, birthdays – I feel so angry when I go up there. I know if I let loose I would never control it.
“They say you can forgive and forget. You can’t forget, and forgive someone killing my son – never.”
Caroline made an early decision to take part in media interviews, and it was during one of those she decided – on a whim – to start campaigning against knife crime.
“I was doing a TV interview three or four days after Jay died, and I said ‘Only cowards carry, I’m going to start something.
“If I had not started the charity I can’t imagine getting up every morning.
“I just want to make it all better, and I know I can’t.
“I’m glad we have raised awareness so much.”
It began with Caroline spending her savings on some Cookie Monster suits – the charity’s logo because of a tattoo Jay had – giving out stickers, and it grew from there.
Only Cowards Carry now carries out a lot of work – educating youngsters in schools about the dangers of weapons and gangs, working with offenders, running the knife bin service which has been rolled out across Essex and even further afield. The charity works closely with police and the police and crime commissioner, as well as schools.
What started with two tables and a laptop in an empty shop is now a thriving charity, with around 12 volunteers in the shop alone.
Caroline also supports other murder victims’ families, if they want it.
“There have been murders so horrific since Jay, I feel so bad for those parents,” she said.
“We don’t have to talk about the deaths, though we do, and there is a sick sense of humour. There has to be, it’s how we cope.”
Caroline has been presented with awards for her work, but each one goes into a bookcase in her lounge which is dedicated to Jay – they become his.
“I didn’t do it for awards,” she says.
Caroline now has a lesser role – she is still heavily involved with the charity, as a spokesman and assisting – but Shani Jackson is taking the organisation forward.
“It’s her baby as much as mine,” says Caroline. “We do it because it’s our passion.”
Caroline also stood for Parliament in Clacton in the 2017 election, but while it was an eye-opening experience it made her realise politics is not a route she wants to go down.
“I would rather not be doing it, and just be cooking my son’s dinner.
“I’m still normal, people still see me in the supermarket, eating an ice cream, at the market.
“I smile, because I think that makes people’s day, but deep down I’m hurting.
“We have funny moments, but not a second goes by without Jay in the back of my head.”
Looking to the future, Caroline sees the charity continuing to grow and spread its message further afield. In the short-term it is looking for a sponsor to buy a van to kit out and park up at schools, to make its work more mobile.
“There’s a lot to look forward to. If I can save some kid from coming to harm – I will never be able to monitor that – but we have to show people we care.”