Invisible victims of the cruellest crime of all

When a child is murdered, the resulting emotional trauma can tear marriages apart. But what about the bereaved siblings? How do they cope?
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The Independent Online

Jenny Dickinson, 19, will take her place once again in a French court today. Sitting beside her parents over the past few days, she has listened to detailed accounts of the night eight years ago when her older sister and best friend, Caroline, was murdered. Like so many siblings, she has been the nearly invisible victim of a high-profile crime.

Jenny Dickinson, 19, will take her place once again in a French court today. Sitting beside her parents over the past few days, she has listened to detailed accounts of the night eight years ago when her older sister and best friend, Caroline, was murdered. Like so many siblings, she has been the nearly invisible victim of a high-profile crime.

Perhaps better than most, Lucy Karykias-Everitt, 28, has some understanding of how the university student must be feeling. Her younger brother, Richard, was murdered 10 years ago just yards from their home in Somers Town, north-west London.

The gentle 15-year-old, who ran errands for pensioners and loved working on his mountain bikes, was walking home with friends from a football game when they were set upon by 10 Bangladeshi youths seeking revenge on a white boy. Richard's two friends fled but the unathletic youngster was not quick enough. He was stabbed once between the shoulder blades and died a short while later.

"We were pretty close and always hung around when we were very young. He was just a big harmless lump, outgoing and happy," Mrs Karykias-Everitt said. She recalls all too clearly arriving at the hospital to be told by her mother, Mandy, that her brother was dead.

"I just thought, 'this is not happening to me.' Even to my parents, I didn't know what to say. They were hysterical. It was just madness. They were angry and upset all in the same emotion. I didn't know whether to cuddle them or leave them alone. I felt if I cried I would make them feel worse. It was like walking on broken glass," she said.

In the ensuing months, the teenager and her older brother, Daniel, now 30, had to deal with the furore surrounding the killing, intense media attention and abuse from a community torn apart by the racist aspect of the killing. Badrul Miah, then 20, was sentenced to life after being found guilty of the murder in October 1995.

As is often the case, the "other children" felt their needs were sidelined as the family first pulled together and were then torn apart by the brutal death. Consumed by grief, her parents were unable to function and the burden of daily life fell to their daughter. "I had to grow up quickly, become the adult, because they couldn't cope. I had to pull everything together, make sure my parents ate, make sure their bills were still being paid. Mum and Dad didn't have a clue what was going on," she said.

The distress was still evident as she said: "For a couple of weeks, I started drinking but nobody noticed. Nobody turned around and asked me how I felt."

Now a young mother, she continued: "I have met a few other people in the same situation who feel the same way. They didn't know what to do around their parents. You don't feel you can cry or say something because you don't want to upset them. You want your parents to be happy."

Her world imploded. Friends crossed the street to avoid dealing with the difficult topic. Her family bickered through the hurt and an unjustified racist backlash forced the Everitts to move from the estate. "I lost my brother and I lost my life, everything I had grown up with, all my plans," she said yesterday.

Mrs Karykias-Everitt still speaks with great affection about Richard. His toys and presents are dotted around her home.

"The book is still not closed for me. I cannot forget that my brother's whole life was taken away. He never had the chance to go to the pub or have a girlfriend."

But her eldest sibling dealt with it differently: "He won't talk about my brother. He doesn't talk to the family. He can't work, he can't even have a relationship because he is so mixed up. He said it should have been him. He was the one out with the lads, not my younger brother."

Guilt is a crippling emotion which Mrs Karykias-Everitt has also had to live with. "When we were very young and used to fight. I used to put my nails into [Richard's] skin. Now I think, 'why did I do that to him', because you can't say sorry. It is hard for a sibling. You do bicker as kids but you don't think you are going to wake up and they are not going to be there," she said.

A high number of parents who deal with such grief end up separating. The Everitts went through a tough eight years, their daughter said, but are now close again, living in Yorkshire and "getting on with their lives as best they can".

Mrs Karykias-Everitt, now married to Christos, a chef, and living in Southend, believes firmly that it is her four daughters and one step-daughter that have kept her going.

Kevin Wells - the father of the murdered Soham 10-year-old Holly - said earlier this year that he and his wife had tried to maintain a settled life for the sake of their son, Oliver, now a teenager. "He has got us through it. He has tried not to show too much emotion. We have tried to keep his life as normal as possible," he said.

Milly Dowler's mother, Sally, echoed those sentiments. Milly's body was discovered seven months after the 13-year-old disappeared from her Surrey home in March 2002 but Mrs Dowler was determined not to smother her older daughter.

"Gemma was 16 and she still needed to be out and about," she said as she launched a text message system for parents to keep in touch with youngsters without embarrassing them with constant calls.

But it is a tall order for any family, said Dee Warner of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression. "Sue and John Dickinson have been very good with Jenny, as Shaun Russell was with Josie, but generally, the other children are sidelined through no fault of anybody," she said.

Others have fared less well. Stephen Henderson, 24, took a fatal drugs overdose two months ago, unable to cope with the murder of his brother, Simon. The 21-year-old was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in 2002 while his father, William, died of a heart attack days later. Stephen's mother, Kay, said this week that her older son had been "heartbroken" by the loss of his brother.

For many, the loss of a sibling is just the start of a downward spiral in which their whole lives disappear.

Divorce rates among parents are "astronomical", Ms Warner said, as are the deaths of grandparents stricken by stress. Angry or depressed, too many brothers and sisters commit suicide or go off the rails.

"There is no sense of normality ever again. Some of the parents just can't function. They can't do the washing up, do the shopping or look after the house. I used to move into people's homes just to take the kids to the park, anything to try to keep a sense of normality for them," she said.

With parents unable to work or even contemplate dealing with bills, matters are made worse. "One minute, Mum and Dad have good jobs and they have one or two holidays a year. The next thing, the house has been repossessed and they don't have a roof over their heads," Ms Warner said.

"They have not just lost their brother or sister but they have lost the parents they had before. When Mum and Dad eventually stop crying, they don't want to mention their feelings because they don't want to be the ones to make them cry again. An awful lot of responsibility is placed on the shoulders of young children," she said, adding that it can impact on future generations.

Danny Kilbride, whose older brother, John, was killed by the Moors murderer Ian Brady, is a classic example. Ms Warner said: "His Mum fell apart. His Dad fell apart. At the age of 12 he became the head of a family of six children. When he had children of his own he would never let them out of the garden."

But, perhaps hardest of all is a parent's natural desire to deify the lost child, leaving the remaining youngsters unable to live up to a perfect image.

Ms Warner said: "They forget all the normal, naughty things they may have done, all the horrible arguments they once had. You would not believe how many parents have said to me 'He wasn't my favourite child when he was alive but he became my favourite.'"