Welcome to the Christopher Donovan Trust
(A working name for Forgiveness Ministries)
Every Parent's Nightmare...
Ray tells his story.
When Christopher left our house on that lovely summer's evening little did he know that a few hours later he would be attacked by a gang of youths and die later in hospital.
Friday May 25th 2001 was just like a normal day. I came home from work, Chris was getting ready to go out and he asked me if I could give him a lift to his sister's house. I said "I was too tired and if I drive anymore today I think I may crash the car". so he said "okay not to worry I will call around a friend's house and then we will walk down to Philip's (our other son) and maybe pop into Gills house for a coffee", which they did most weekends, and off he went and the last thing he ever said to me was "Dad I really love you" and kissed my forehead and then he left. Vi (my wife) came home. We did things like most people; have an evening meal, watch TV and then go to bed.
Saturday May 26th: It was around twelve forty when the door bell rang. I was going down the stairs moaning like most fathers saying "how can two boys forget their door keys?". But when I opened the door instead of Chris and Phil, there were two policemen standing on my doorstep. One asked if I was the father of Christopher and Philip Donovan? I said yes, they then asked if they could come in as there had been an incident involving Chris and Phil and they need to talk to both myself and my wife.
I got Vi out of bed and we were told to sit down I remember my heart was beating so fast that I thought it would jump out of my chest not knowing what they were going to say. Then the policeman told us that Chris and Phil had been involved in a fight and Chris was badly injured and they need to get us to the hospital right away. We got dressed and went in the police car to Epsom Hospital. When we arrived Phil was standing there with blood on his face and he was dressed in a white forensic suit and slippers. He said later that as we arrived in the police car he thought everything would be okay now mum and dad were here.
Then a big policeman came up to me and said I'm sorry you can't see Christopher they have taken him up to the operating theatre. He then led us into a small room and said someone will come soon to let you know what is happening and left us just standing there. After what seemed like hours, some doctors came into the room and said Christopher was in a bad way. Most of the bones in his body were broken and he has suffered a loss of oxygen to the brain and we could be looking at severe brain damage.
We just didn't know what to say or think. We just sat there quietly. After they had gone we asked Phil what happened. He told us that "the three of us were walking to Gill's house and Chris was singing an Oasis song. As we walked along the road we came to the hill and unknown to us coming towards us was a gang of boys and girls, about fourteen in all. Well as we got nearer, the gang opened up to let us pass. I went first but as I was walking through, one of the gang punched me in the face for no reason and broke my nose. In shock, I somehow clicked my nose back into place and the pain was so bad I fell to the floor and then three of the gang started to kick me in the head then I passed out."
The rest of what happened is what witnesses said in court. When Phil fell on the ground they saw three boys kicking him. They then saw Chris going over to save his brother but two other lads got in his way and blocked him. Then another boy got around the back of him and pulled him to the floor and all three were kicking and stamping on his head.
They then left him in the middle of the road which has four lanes; a road with a speed limit of forty miles an hour. A couple of cars came over the hill and somehow missed him. Then another car came over the hill and the driver said in her statement she thought it was a bundle of rags in the road. She ran over Christopher dragging him about forty feet down the road.
When Phil regained consciousness the first thing he saw was his brother under a car wheel. A woman came running out of a house to help. She said she was a nurse and it was best not to move him until help arrives, so all Phil could do was to sit beside his brother who was unconscious and hold his hand.
As we were taking in what Phil had just told us, the doctors came into the room with two policemen. Their eyes told us what they were going to say. They told us that they were sorry, they did all they could and before they could say anymore, Vi ran out of the door. She said later that if she ran away it wouldn't be real. I remember I fell on my knees screaming with a doctor holding me in his arms.
The hospital Chaplain and police said they need us to identify Chris's body. This is something no parent should have to do. I remember both Vi and I holding on to each other not wanting to enter the room and see our son dead. Before we entered the room a policeman said we are not allowed to touch him. We couldn't even cuddle him. All we could do was just stand there.
I then asked if I could kiss his forehead they said that would be okay. Here I am asking permission to kiss my own son. It was funny everyone else could touch our son but we weren't were we are his parents!
Now because it was a bank holiday weekend, we had to wait until Tuesday to see the coroner she told us all about his injuries. To be honest, even to today, I can't remember a thing she said because all I wanted to do was see my son. So I said to her "I don't want to hear anymore, I want to see my son". She then took us to the morgue to see Chris. Both Vi and I went into the chapel of Rest. Again, we were told we couldn't hold him. He was wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy so all we could do was just stand there, not knowing what to do or say. When we went back into the waiting room, the coroner the said "Mr. Donovan, I have bad news". I looked at her and said "what could be worse then what I have just seen?".
She then went on to say: "because of the kicking and the car running over Chris, they have to prove what killed him and the only way to do this is to remove his brain and we would have to wait for a chemical to come out and this takes up to four months, so we won't be able to bury Chris for four months". Christopher was laid to rest on September 21st 2001.
Only three boys were arrested for Christopher's murder. We then had to wait a year for the court case. This took six weeks and all three were found guilty of murder. Their ages were fifteen, sixteen and nineteen.
We found out in court that they had been drinking and taking drugs for most of the evening. In fact, one of them said he was drinking from the moment he left school that day.
All three were found guilty of murder. Two got life in prison with a minimum of nine to ten years. The youngest got Her Majesty's Pleasure with a minimum of six years to serve.
RestorativeJustice and how it helped us:
When we left the court that day we never gt thetruth to why the killed Chris ad we had questions like why did you leave him in the road to die?
Then after years of trying we finally got to meet them this took over two years as we thought it would be best to wait till they come out of prison and no one can say they only wanted t meet us s they could get time taken off their sentence.
So after months of mediation, with questions going backwards and forwards we finally got t meet the young man who was fifteen when hekilled Chris.
it wasJune 2011 as he walked into the room the first thing I did was to hold out my arms and walked over to me andwe hugged he then looked at me and said "Thank You." The then looked at Vi and said "May I" and he hugged her too ten Vi looked at him and said " Young man we both forgive you."
The meeting was over four hours their was a lot of questions answered and maybe for the first he heard of hurt and pain but he and the members of the gang had caused family.
Then he looked at both of us and said "When I was in prison I fought the system ad because of this te put me on a victim awareness course" ( Its the same one we do in prisons) He then went on to say " after hearing the victim speak I just couldn't get Christopher out of my head and my heart" and every time he would mention Christopher's nae his hand would go to his heart.
what he said next shocked thetwo of us He said " I was a fifteen year old coward I murdered your son and I am so sorry"
For the first time in eleven years we got the truth.
We left the meeting feeling like we had a bag of coal on our backs and we handed it over to him.
The Second meeting was with the young man who was nineteen at the time of Christopher's murder, again this took months of mediation with more questions and answers.
As we were sitting in te room waiting for him to enter I kept watching the door then he entered I gt up and held out my arms, he ran over to me grabbed me so tight I could just about breathe and cried and he keep repeating over and over "I am so sorry."
The embrace felt like ten minutes, when we released each other he then ran over to Vi and nearly hugged the life out her, again repeating" I'm sory I'm Sorry, everyone in the room was crying. He then went on to tell us wa he did to Christopher which we wont put on this page as it is so horible to read.
The meeting took over four hours and again we got the answers to may questions and what we always wanted the truth about what happened that night.
(Steven composed a letter after our meeting please read it below)
Our last meeting took place in April 2013 the meeting was with the young man who was sixteen when he killed Chris.
Again there was a hug before the meeting he then went on to tell us his part in Christopher's murder again is to graphic to put on this page.
it was very hard to hear what all three said about their part in killing Chris, But we needed to hear the truth and also hear them say sorry and for the first time show us remorse.
"My Name is Stephen Andrews and I along with other associates was involved in the death of Christopher Donovan on 26th May 2001. I was subsequently charged, convicted of murder andgiving a life sentence.
During the first couple of years in custody I found it too difficult to accept what I had done and fought against the sencence I received. I was approached to become involved with Restorative Justice at the time I was not ready and thought of meeting Christopher's family was something I could not contemplate, I was scared.
However as time went by I began to realise that in order t move on in my life I had to face up to the death of Christopher, take responsibility for the person I was then and try to develop myself to lead a more positive life in te future. I startded to approach courses with a greater motivation, I wanted t understand and make changes. I found the more I took responsibility the better I felt inside.
I worked through my sentence and was able to develop my skills by completing educational and trade based courses as well as completion of offender behaviour programmes.
I was released in December 2011 and again giving the oppertunity t get involved wth Restorative Justice. I discussed this with my probation officer Samantha and she agreed to be my support. Together we were in touch with an organisation called CALM who act as mediators throughout the process. I continued to feel very anxious about this mostly because I did not want to cause the family any more hurt and pain.
Despite fearing that they would think of me as a monster, I felf if Ray and Vi wanted to meet me then it was the least I could do to demonstrrate my regret and remorse for what happened to Christopher and acknowledge the impact upon them and their family.
Despite my fears the meeting with the mediators reassured me and helped me to find the balls to meet Ray and VI .
During the prepration meeting we exchanged messages and I knew some of the things they wanted me to know before we met was that they felt no anger and this really helped me to relax and prepare to face them. I too was able to pass on to them that I wanted them to feel free to ask anything.
All the meetings with the mediators and then the final contact with Ray and VI were held in a neutral place and was quite, which seemed to help too.
At times the mediators made it clear tha this was a voluntary process and i knew that if it got to much I could withdraw. The meeting itself was amazing, emotional and went so well. It exceeded all my expectations in so many ways. Some questions were very difficlut about the offence and what happened to Christopher, But I understood and respected why Ray and Vi need to know.
Hearing the family's experience at the time of Christopher's death and the impact that losing him is such a horrible way had upon them made it real and I was able to hear as see their pain for myself.
Being part of the Restorative Justice Process and meeting Ray and Vi Donovan was more powerful than any victim awareness course and something I will remember and no doubt influence the rest of my life. It also gave me the opportunity t apologise to them for their loss and give some background to my own experiences and what I have done since.
When Ray and Vi told me they forgave me it meant everything, it meant tha they understood that what happened to Christopher was an incident that never should have occurred. Hearing them give me permission to have the best life that I can made me feel like a human again, a good person with a clear focus and a positive future.
I owe that to Christopher. Meeting Ray ad Vi has helped me to accept that I owe it to myself too. When I committed this offence I was lost with no direction or ourpose, that is no longer the case."
If you want more information about Restorative Justice please click on our (Contact us) link page at the top of this page
You can now watch the full story on how restorative Justice helped Ray and Vi get answers to questions by meeting their son's killers, click on the photo:
This was Christopher's favorite song: This Years Love by David Gray
click on the photo