Charles Thomson

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'My son was murdered and the CPS blundered his case. Now he will never get proper justice.'
Three teenagers admitted their involvement in a fatal vigilante attack on Darren Kelly after he was falsely branded a paedophile. But, says his mother, a CPS 'blunder' allowed them to evade justice.
May 2017, Yellow Advertiser

MORE than 18 months after her son’s brutal death, Maria Kelly is still waiting for justice – but says she believes it will never come.

A year ago, four people – a man and three teenagers – went on trial for her son Darren’s murder. He had been killed seven months earlier during an attack by a vigilante gang who mistakenly believed he was a paedophile.

But despite admitting their complicity in the brutal attack, the three teenagers – granted lifelong anonymity by the legal system – walked free.

Meanwhile, Maria was warned that if she ever disclosed their identities, she could be sent to prison.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ‘blundered’ her son’s case, she says. They only charged the teens with murder, failing to file lesser charges over their specific roles in the attack.

When the jury heard only one attacker – 20-year-old Chris Carroll, of Pevensey Close, Pitsea – had inflicted the stab wounds which killed Darren, they acquitted the teens on the murder charge.

“They signed confessions to say what their particular part in the event was,” Maria says. “But they got away with the whole, complete lot.”

On the first anniversary of the verdicts – which provoked outcry – Maria is speaking publicly for the first time about her ordeal. Asked how she feels about the justice system after the trial, her answer is immediate and blunt.

“It’s complete crap,” she says.

It was during the early hours of Wednesday, October 21, 2015, that Maria’s life fell apart.

The first time her doorbell rang, at around 2.45am, she thought she was dreaming. When she and her husband finally came downstairs, two uniformed police told them their son had been stabbed to death. Maria told them they must be mistaken.

Darren, 42, was, “a lively, jolly kind of bloke,” she says. As a youngster he was a practical joker and a master of disguise, once duping a neighbour into believing he was an elderly man. As he grew up he retained all of his old school friends; he was ‘social’, says Maria, and ‘a peacemaker’. He liked to play guitar. Family barbecues often turned into jam sessions.

On the night of his death, Darren was just 10 days away from moving from Pitsea to Kent, to live with his new partner. But that night – October 20, 2015 – he made plans to meet an old acquaintance he had recently reconnected with online. The decision would cost him his life.

Unbeknownst to Darren, he was not really chatting with his old acquaintance. He was chatting with a teenage girl posing as the woman online. A trial would later hear the girl had a history of contacting older men on the internet using false identities, then baselessly accusing them of being paedophiles.

When Darren arrived in Chalvedon, his old friend was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he was met by Carroll and a group of teens. The girl had sent them. She had lied to them, claiming they were going to meet a paedophile who had tried to groom her over the internet.

The gang attacked Darren. He fled towards his car but they chased him, shouting that he was a paedophile. They slashed his tyres so he couldn’t escape, then tackled him to the ground. Some of them punched and kicked him, then held him down as Carroll repeatedly stabbed him in the chest. Then they walked off – leaving Darren for dead – discussing which pizza they should order for dinner.

Darren managed to crawl to a nearby block of flats and start hitting doorbells, but by the time residents – one of them a paramedic – came to his aid, he had already lost too much blood. Despite valiant efforts by the ambulance service, his life could not be saved.

When Maria visited her son’s body at the Basildon Hospital morgue on Friday, October 23, there were boot prints on his face. She wasn’t allowed to touch him because his body was evidence. After the visit, the embalming process was delayed as the defendants had the right to order their own post-mortems. By the time his body was eventually released, decomposition was so advanced that the funeral home advised Maria it was best she didn’t view him.

After Darren’s death, Maria struggled with day-to-day life.

“I’d completely lost my confidence,” she explains. “I became a simpering wreck. I think if I didn’t see my family were in such a state, I’m not quite sure what I would have done, to be honest, because I was so depressed it was unbelievable.

“I had constant panic attacks, nightmares. I was having this dream that I was him. I was reliving what he had to go through that night. It must have been an awful ordeal.”

When the trial began, Maria watched the defendants ‘just sitting there laughing all the time’: “I only went a couple of times. I couldn’t cope. It was just so awful having to sit through all that.”

In their signed confessions and testimony, the teens admitted helping to lure Darren to Chalvedon, then chasing him down and attacking him before Carroll stabbed him. But they all blamed the stabbing solely on Carroll and insisted they were innocent of the murder charge they were being tried over. The prosecution said they were guilty on a ‘joint enterprise’ basis but the teens claimed they had no idea Carroll was even carrying a knife.

When the teens were acquitted, they and their supporters filled the courtroom with cheers, says Maria: “One of their mum was cheering. She said, ‘Oh, brilliant! Brilliant! Let’s go home and order a pizza!’ Celebrating. Anyone would have thought they’d won the lottery. Well, I suppose they had. Their kids were going back home.”

Still, Maria could not comprehend the parents’ attitudes and confesses she has sometimes fantasised about them being put through her ordeal, to teach them a lesson in empathy.

“Somebody said about the kids, ‘I would like them dead’,” she says. “No, no, no. I don’t want them dead. But I’d like perhaps if they could re-enact what happened on that night; see how they’d like some of that. How would their mum feel if they were given this kind of news?

“At the moment, their mums seem to be feeling very proud of what they’ve done. I wouldn’t be. I was quite horrified when Darren was 15 and he nicked somebody’s gnome out of a garden. I was horrified by that. If my kids had ever done what they done, I think – as much as you love your children – I’d have disowned them. I would have been ashamed of that.”

After the verdicts, Maria immediately raised concerns with police and the CPS over how the teens could admit to multiple criminal acts but then walk free. The public was also outraged. A petition for a new trial on fresh charges attracted almost 5,000 signatures and Tory MP Stephen Metcalfe promised to grill the authorities as to how the ’absurd’ outcome had been allowed to happen.

But despite the high profile protests, the CPS said that without fresh evidence, no new charges would be brought.

In Maria’s opinion, the CPS ‘blundered it’.

“An innocent man lost his life – and they just walked away free,” she says. “I felt it was almost like the CPS and the jury had given them a pat on the back to say, ’Well done’. They’ve not been punished – and at the end of the day, we’ve lost a lot. A hell of a lot.”

Maria’s hope is that by speaking out, she will draw attention to the ‘injustice’ of her son’s trial and send a message to the CPS that it mustn’t ever be allowed to happen again. But she feels all hope of a retrial in Darren’s case is lost.

“I think I’m now wasting my time because I’ve gone down every avenue to get proper justice and it’s never going to happen,” she says. “What new evidence could we put forward? We had signed confessions, CCTV, 24 witnesses. What more evidence could there be?”

Maria says she and her family are slowly coming to terms with what happened, although she remains on medication. But certain TV shows – anything involving knives – still upset her, as do family occasions, where Darren’s absence is felt strongly.

“We were just an ordinary family, but we’re not anymore,” she says. “We’re still a family but it’s affected us deeply.”

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Charles Thomson - Sky News