When asked to sum up his feelings about the launch of the book about his son Colin Hehir turned to Latin. In his Brummie accent he proudly uttered four words – ‘Verba volant, scripta manent’ – which is a Latin verb and means “spoken words fly away, written words remain’.
He said it at the launch of ‘About a Son’ and said it was the perfect way to describe how he feels now the book he has wanted the world to read about his son Morgan has finally been published.
It is based on the raw diary he kept every day since his son, Morgan, was fatally stabbed in the heart and the lungs while on a night out with his friends in his hometown of Nuneaton on October 31, 2015.
Read more:Dad’s fight for truth for his murdered son Morgan Hehir – five years on from tragic Hallowe’en stabbing
Ever since his 20-year-old son’s brutal, senseless death, he has fought for Morgan to be more than a ‘knife crime victim’ . Like any parent, he is immensely proud of his son and wanted the world to know about the cheeky lad who loved life – not someone who lost their knife to a violent offender.
The diary, which gave a window into his personal grief, has been turned into a remarkable book by award-winning author David Whitehouse. Critics have said it is unlike anything they have ever read before – it was born out of a man’s unimaginable grief; how he tried to cope while fighting for the truth about how his son came to be murdered at the hands of someone he described as a ‘caged animal.’
CoventryLive and its sister paper the Nuneaton News has proudly followed Colin’s incredible one-man fight against the authorities to get the truth.
Allowing Morgan to be seen for the young man he was; the energetic, wide smiling, talented artist and musician with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, rather than a knife victim is Colin’s biggest hope.
“I don’t like the label of ‘knife crime and Morgan’, I don’t think that label fits the story,” he said.
“I think there is a bigger story than that. It is violence at the end of the day, it is someone intruding in your life for their own violent reasons. Sometimes these categories are not helpful because the truth is, bad things happen to good people and it is not the victim’s fault.
“Naturally we all try and work out if the victim is to blame, did they ask for it in some sort of way? Ultimately the police are not to be blamed for Morgan’s death, Declan Gray is to be blamed for Morgan’s death and it is not society’s fault that Declan used a knife, it is Declan’s fault he used a knife.
“We need to stop passing the buck left, right and centre for accountability because they are violent. It is not because he (Declan) had a bad childhood, my children have had a rough upbringing now because of what happened to Morgan, they’ve got every excuse to go and do bad things. No, it doesn’t work that way.
“Until you stop putting labels on things and excuses, everyone has to be accountable for their actions. Declan Gray has still got 20 odd years to go in prison and that doesn’t make me feel good in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t give me any comfort, it doesn’t give me anything, the damage is done. I think the biggest part for me, is our loss as a family and that can never be corrected.”
See CoventryLive’s special report on Morgan and David’s story by clicking on the image below:
It is an incredibly intimate book that, like so many things, was hit by the pandemic and meant it was not created in the most conventional way.
Much of it was born out of text and phone conversations, laid on the foundation of complete trust between two men who had never met but shared one common ground – to make sure that people knew about Morgan.
“At one point I said to him ‘will you just let me go away with it (the diary) for a bit and see how I get on’ and he said ‘yes’ and we had never met,” Dave said.
“That is quite a beautiful act of trust and madness.”
Colin from the Crow Hill area of town explained: “I have been truthful, I am very open, I just had to be me.
“What we have been through as a family is so big, what part could I not include? I just had to be truthful and let’s see where it goes.
“I felt like no-one knew the story, no-one understood, so I had to tell the story.”
The book explores grief; the awkwardness of conversations; the not knowing what to say or how to approach those who have suffered unimaginable loss.
“People don’t know how to speak to the parents who have lost children, particularly in tragic circumstances like this, it is very unnatural,” Dave said.
“People find it hard to do, it makes them feel nervous. It is very difficult to have these conversations and part of what I thought about when writing this book is that it may make conversations like that easier for people, I hope it does.
“Hopefully the book shifts the dial on that, but that remains to be seen.
“It is an incredibly sad story, it moves people, just like Colin’s diary did me.
“Sadness is private grief in a way that I have never read or seen before, it is impossible to understand what he (Colin) went through and not feel empathy. That is what you respond to really is the truth of it.
“It is not very often you get to peer into that world, it is not very often you encounter it, you might see the headlines ‘I lost my son’, you might see people on the steps of courtrooms but to then get an insight into what it is for them, what the next week looks like, is rare and revelatory insightful. That is what Colin did in writing it down.”
Colin, who is a truck driver, explained that when thrown into a world no parent would ever wish to be in – losing a child – there is no ‘manual’ to help deal with the many things this brings
“I am hoping that it (the book) would possibly help another family because the truth about it is, I don’t think we are that unique” he said.
The very best and worst of Nuneaton
The book paints the very best and the very worst of Nuneaton. It highlights the community’s famed kindness; from strangers donating to a fund-raising appeal in Morgan’s name to the woman who delivered papers, who stopped posting one through the door of the Hehir household in the weeks after Morgan’s death to try and ease their pain.
But it also highlights the very worst of the town. How it played home to the three violent offenders who took a young man’s life to other tragedies; other examples of how the fabric of the market town bares scars that continue to be felt to this day.
Dave grew up in Nuneaton, he knows the town and the people in it – good and bad – and the town forms an important part of the story.
As well as feeling a huge sense of responsibility to tell Colin’s story to its fullest and most truthful, Dave also felt that way towards his hometown.
“If you are reflecting on a place and as someone from there and who still has lots of family and friends there, firstly you need to be accurate,” he said.
“That means to be warts and all, particularly in a story like this. Nuneaton does have it problems, but it can also be a great place to live and grow up and there are certain things about the community which feel good and unique, and there are bad pockets of town that you need to throw light on, as with any place. It was reflecting that balance. Nowhere is perfect, Nuneaton is far from perfect but as long as what you write down is true, then I have done my job properly.”
He went on: “I think, in some ways, Morgan’s murder is a state of the nation murder, it is certainly a state of the town murder.”
Speaking about the Nuneaton element of the book, Colin added: “We had that conversation early days and Dave felt that there was a book to be written in itself about Nuneaton and he thought it would be really good to combine the two. To put it on a map, where this all happened. Especially what happened in the aftermath at the Boro ground and the mural, we were located in a place, it wasn’t just a generic story of knife crime It was good to put that story around it.”
With a dogged determination, that has astounded many, Colin fought the authorities for the truth. His son’s murderer was arrested three times in the four months before he took Morgan’s life but, despite his previous convictions, he was seemingly left unmonitored.
In a world so alien to anything he knew, Colin had to find out the hard way that the answers he so desperately wanted would not be given easily, and that he had to ask the right questions. This led to a five year fight for the truth.
Warwickshire Police, and its admitted failings including the astonishing admission that ‘some investigative opportunities may have been missed’., form a huge part of the story and a copy of the book has been sent to Debbie Tedds, the force’s chief constable.
While holding the force accountable, the book does not seek to attribute blame.
“We are not that critical of the police, mistakes are made, the police aren’t bad people; they make mistakes and they genuinely need to look at offenders and what their processes are,” Colin said.
“Also how they deal with the families, a lot of mistakes made with us and they need to be a bit better. They can’t do it with a checklist, it is not a tick box solution for the police, it is also about officer discretion and that is where training comes in.
“There are other issues with police around the standard of the training and the pressure that police constables at a local level are being put under to perform – there is something not right there.”
David added: “What is remarkable about Colin and his story is, at no point in it, was he adversarial to the police, he wasn’t even judgemental about what happened and that is reflected in the book. It was a man asking questions until he gets the right answer. No one is taking the police on in a combative way.
“It is an angry book, as it should be, as Morgan should not have been murdered but it is not a hatchet job on the police.”
The book is now on the shelves – a huge moment for Colin who joked that he didn’t think anyone would want to read it – but its reviews have proved otherwise.
Author Terry White said it is the book ‘everyone will be talking about this year’ while Elizabeth Day said ‘A book that reaches so deeply into the human experience that to read it is to be forever changed’.
“Everyone universally seems to love it,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I was recently asked, ‘how does it feel?’ that I realised the word is content. I don’t have to go any further than this, it is what it is now. It is done. I have peaked. Anything now is a bonus.
“Looking back on everything, I have reassessed and gone over it, and I am content. Content that it puts Morgan in the best possible light, that he didn’t live past he was 20 but he is a force not to be forgotten. In a real way. Not just saying he was smiley and happy but his story is a very sad one, and it shouldn’t have happened and at least people know the real truth and to understand the nuts and bolts of it all. I am content now that the story is done.”
But what would Morgan say about the book? Colin said: “Morgan loved attention, and I think secretly he would love all of the adulation about how good his artwork was and how wonderful he is, I think he would love all that,” Colin said.
“On the other hand, there is this conflict I think, that he would turn around and say ‘Dad, don’t bother, just go to the pub or just crack on’. I don’t think he would have wanted me to do what I have done for so long. He probably just wanted an instant book of adulation for him, but I think he would say ‘Oh don’t bother, just have fun’.”
Like it or not, through ‘About A Son’, everyone now has the chance to know Morgan Hehir in the most extraordinary way.
- About A Son, which is published by Orion Publishing Co is available now.