Tom Swarbrick 10am - 1pm
Parents share how they forgave their son's killers in amazing LBC call
30 November 2021, 11:43
- Warning: This article contains distressing topics that some viewers may find upsetting.
A mother and father have told LBC's Tom Swarbrick the heart-wrenching story of how they forgave their son's killers.
Ray and Vi Donovan's son Christopher was killed in 2001 by a gang of three boys, when walking to a friend's house with his brother and friend.
His killers were all sentenced to life terms, but one served just six years, with the others serving nine and ten.
After they were convicted, Ray told Tom he recalled saying to his wife Vi: "No one's won here, we're all losers."
After the trial, Ray said the father of one of the boys approached them and "cried his eyes out and said to me 'I'm sorry', and we both hugged each other".
Two weeks later, at the sentencing, Ray said the same man approached him and said: "I apologised for one reason... I wanted you to smack me."
To which Ray replied: "Why would I smack you? You didn't kill my kid."
After the sentencing Ray and Vi - who have both since been made MBEs for their work on restorative justice - were left to come to terms with what had happened to Chris, who was just 18 when he died.
But a year later they got a call saying one of Chris' killers was "having nightmares" and wanted to meet them - something that Ray said did not end up happening at the time because of the way the processes were.
But then, 10 years on from Chris' death, they were put in contact with a charity, now called Calm Mediation, who "got the ball rolling" - and it turned out all three killers wanted to meet them.
Chris' mother, Vi, told Tom: "We said 'we won’t meet them unless they’re willing to say sorry, unless they’re remorseful'.
"We’re not going to be revictimised and we want to know why it happened, we want to know why our son had to die.
"We want the truth and we won’t accept anything but that."
Ray and Vi were told that all three were prepared to tell them the truth.
Ray recounted how it took months of work to set up the first meeting, saying: "You don’t just say 'oh, we want to meet the people' and it’s done within a day.
"It takes months and months of preparation, months of risk assessments, and then months of mediation going back and forward with questions and you get to know these people, in a way, before the meeting."
Vi added: "It was thinking about – what do I want to know exactly?"
Both told Tom the main question they wanted an answer to was "why".
"That was it," said Vi.
"Why did Chrissy have to die?
"He was walking down the road with his brother minding his own business, doing nothing, just having a lovely evening.
"Why did that happen? What were you doing?"
At the first meeting, Ray said he wanted to be in the room first so he could "shake his hand when he walks in" - but the meeting turned out to be even more remarkable.
"As he walked in the door I put out my arms, he walked up and put his arms round me, whispered 'thank you'," Ray told Tom.
The man then went over to Vi and asked: "Can I hug you?"
"And the strangest thing is - I said yes," recalled Vi.
Ray said his first impression of the man was how "feeble" he looked.
"The first thing I noticed – he wasn’t the cocky young so-and-so in the court, he had polished shoes, suit, shirt and tie, and a haircut," he said.
"He went out of his way to look respectable."
Ray told Tom that the man - who was 15 when he killed Chris - shouted "I'm innocent" when he was convicted.
But at that meeting - that lasted four hours - "he turned to us and he said 'I was a 15-year-old coward and I murdered your son and I’m sorry'."
Vi said the first meeting was a turning point for her, and she chose to forgive them then - and when she told him that, "he just fell to pieces in front of us".
"He sobbed, and he shook, and it was like he had a great big sack on his back and he took it off and he put it on the floor," she said.
"I always called [Chris' killers] monsters, I thought they were animals.
"And actually when he walked in the room I realised – this is a human being, this isn’t a monster.
"He wasn’t the person I thought he was going to be."
They met another of Chris' killers two years later.
"As he walked into the room again I stood up and we broke every risk assessment going," said Ray.
"He ran up to me, grabbed hold of me so tight I couldn’t breathe, and cried on my shoulder like a baby, kept saying he was sorry, he was sorry, never stopped, and every time we’d break he’d grab me again."
Vi said hearing Chris' killers admit what they did was incredibly important.
"It’s not the lies we heard in the Old Bailey all those years ago," she told Tom.
"It was the ownership of it… saying 'I did it'."
Ray said he forgave Chris' killers before Vi did.
"I didn't want to get it," she said.
"I didn't want to see their side... I do see it now. Meeting them helped me see that."
She said that rejecting their side she would "live in the hate and the anger that I felt", something she said would hurt her more than it did them.
Ray told Tom that the remorse shown by their son's killers was "genuine", saying: "No one could put on an act like that."
Ray and Vi have set up the Chris Donovan Trust to educate people on the widespread impact of such crimes and to use restorative justice to empower victims.
Vi said: "We had the power - and that was the point."