Loneliness - Moving On
by Andrew Foote
Monday December 22 nd at 8am found Jus and I standing in Reading town centre waiting for the Number 32 bus to take us to Newbury. My Dad had offered to drive us but I countered this by explaining that while Joe was more than capable of managing things up at the Mill, it would be better if there was someone locatable in case of problems or emergencies.
According to DCI Lockwood, the three boys hadn't been told of Jus's decision, his way of keeping them on tenterhooks right up to the last moment.
The deal was that they would be interviewed in our presence and that of their parents and solicitors, my involvement merely being there as moral support for Jus but not to be a part of proceedings.
Upon our arrival at the Police Station, we were met by DCI Lockwood who took us into an interview room.
"Okay Justin, here's what will be happening. I will start by reiterating the serious nature of the offences they committed against you, the possible charges they were facing and the likely outcome if they were found guilty. I will then explain that you had been given the opportunity to decide whether or not charges were to be brought or not and it will be at this point I'll hand over to you. Happy so far?"
"Have you prepared some sort of speech?"
"No but I know what I want to say. I've thought it through many times."
"So you don't have a problem with speaking in public as such."
"None whatsoever Sir."
"Fine. Are you ready then?"
"Yes. I need this done and dusted Sir."
DCI Lockwood lifted the phone.
"Show them in Johnson. Interview room four please."
Moments later three boys entered the room followed by who I later understood to be their parents then finally by two men and a woman who were acting on behalf of the boys as their solicitors. One of the boys on seeing Jus sitting there, spoke to him.
"Are you alright Justin? I'm…… I'm so sorry for what we did."
DCI Lockwood was definitely not impressed.
"No talking please. You may answer direct questions if asked otherwise please keep quiet."
Jus looked at the boy and nodded his head as if to acknowledge the fact he was indeed okay. DCI Lockwood turned and addressed the boys.
"Martyn Bassett, Paul Sutherland, Peter Foster-Booth please stand.
At this juncture I wish to inform you that we will not be proceeding with charges of Attempted Murder however there is sufficient evidence to support a charge of Assault Occasioning Grievous Bodily Harm, Section 2 of the Offences against the Person Act 1972. This is a very serious offence and one that if you were found guilty in a court of law would attract a custodial sentence of between five and ten years but I'm sure that your solicitors have made this point already.
You see sitting before you, Justin Armstrong, the boy who was the subject of a vicious attack at Down House School on the evening of 2 nd October of this year and he's accompanied by a friend Alexis Greening. Alexis is here as a support for Justin and has no other part in these proceedings.
Under most normal circumstances, prosecution would be automatic however due to your ages and more importantly Justin's age we have taken the unusual step of leaving that final decision, whether or not to bring proceedings against you with Justin and you are here to learn of this his decision.
Understand this. If he decides to press charges, you will be immediately escorted to the charge room where you will be formally charged with the offence I mentioned earlier however, if he has decided to show leniency then you are free to leave the building. Do you all understand?"
All three boys were openly crying and that in turn brought a lump to my throat but Jus was made of sterner stuff. All three of them nodded their heads and DCI Lockwood handed over to Jus.
"I vaguely remember the night I was assaulted, how very frightened I was, the pain inflicted on me, the terror I felt and my need to flee the school.
Despite my injuries, I made my way across country to a place I perceived to be a safe-haven, somewhere free from the torment of school life. Fortunately I was found by my dearest friend Alexis where I was taken to hospital and spent over four weeks in a coma and I now know I was very lucky to survive at all let alone make a full recovery. So given that, I ask you to put yourselves in my position. Would you be able to deal with that degree of pain and suffering without seeking some sort of redress?
My instinctive reaction was to go for the throat, press charges, make you suffer but Alexis here said something to me that stuck in my mind and that was that it's dangerous to make decisions born out of anger and so with this echoing in my brain, I revisited that same safe-haven, that place of peace and solitude with the hope I could make a more reasoned decision. Since those horrendous days at Down House, I've come to a different life. A life of love and tolerance, peace and harmony. I cannot hate you neither can I wreck your lives therefore I do not intend to press charges against you. Walk away from this place. Live happy and successful lives."
The only people not in tears were DCI Lockwood and Jus, even the solicitors seemed to be humbled. DCI Lockwood spoke.
"You have heard Justin's words of forgiveness. In my estimation, a very courageous and humanitarian decision to make.
Do not see this as a sign of weakness but rather one of strength. To be able to forgive after what he was put through, not only on that night but on many previous occasions takes a lot of doing. You have much to be grateful to him for.
You are free to leave the building."
Before anyone had the chance to say anything, a police officer ushered them out of the room leaving DCI Lockwood, Jus and I alone.
"My word Justin! That was one heck of a speech! How long had you been rehearsing it?"
"I hadn't. It just came out. I knew more or less what I wanted to say but I had nothing planned as such."
"Certainly one of the best summing up orations I've ever heard and take it from me, I've heard hundreds in my time."
"Then you should hear Alex when he's passionate about something! I once told him that if he was a politician, I'd vote for him no matter what flag he was under."
"Prime Minister in waiting then."
"Not I Sir! Bunch of pillocks if you ask me!"
"Ha-ha! I think you're right! How are you lads getting back to Mapledurham?"
"By bus Sir. The same way we got here."
"Save your money. I'll organise a car to take you back. Have you ever been in a Lotus Cortina?"
"Very, VERY fast! Enjoy the ride! It's been a real pleasure to know both of you and that other matter we talked about? Don't worry about a thing. Be happy."
We were definitely treated to the works!
We sat in the back of a new spec Lotus all decked out as a Police Traffic car with a motorcycle out-rider up in front of us and another to the rear and all with sirens howling and lights flashing. We flew down the M4 with traffic scattering in our wake, I noticed speeds in excess of 135mph and it didn't end there.
Through Reading town centre and up into Mapledurham, we must have appeared as if we were royalty!
On reaching the Mill we invited the policemen in for coffee which they accepted and as they left, we gave each of them a free-bee 'Strong-arm' and ball.
The guy who was riding shotgun during our exciting journey home was especially impressed telling us that no, he didn't have a dog but his little boy had been pestering to have one as a Christmas present!
They left to something of an audience. The good people of Mapledurham, unused to Police activity had arrived to find out what all the fuss was about, doubtless relieved when we all shook hands, laughing and joking as they made to leave the village.
That night we shut shop for Christmas. With so much achieved, so much ground covered and what with it being such a traumatic six months, Jus and I were thankful for the break.
Mr and Mrs Armstrong had used up all their leave given their extra visits to the UK earlier on so what Christmas held was a mystery. Jus didn't seem to be upset by this.
"It happens sometimes. If there's a situation in whatever country they happen to be in then all leave is cancelled. Grandfather and Grandmother are invited to friends in Wales. I could've tagged along but there's nobody there around my age and anyway, I want to be with you.
What do you normally do over Christmas?"
"Nothing much. It isn't like we're religious or anything and anyhow we're normally on the canal system. We meet up with friends of my Mum and Dad in Oxford, go to a few parties but it's all fairly boring, well for me it is! I'll have to ask what they're up to this year but they'll probably go up to Oxford anyway."
"What about you? Will you go with them?"
"Not if I can help it! I told you, it's boring! I'd rather stay here so we can make our own Christmas. Someone has to be here if only for the dogs unless your Granddad puts them into kennels."
"He's never done so before. There was always Robert the handyman to look after them. I suppose he didn't expect your folks to be away. We'd best find out."
We wandered onto 'Casio', my Dad was nowhere to be seen but my Mum was busy putting away some shopping.
"What are your plans over Christmas Mum?"
"Well dad is going to take Sir George and Lady Eleanor over to Wales tomorrow morning then he'll come back and collect me then we'll drive to Oxford."
"Do we have to go as well Mum or can we stay here."
"I'd assumed you wouldn't want to come with us, that's why I got all this shopping in. You can cook yourselves Christmas lunch and do whatever you want to do. Then of course there's the dogs. Someone has to be here for them so I automatically presumed you'd stay here."
"Cool! Thanks Mum! I could've survived Oxford but Jus would've been bored shitless. Works well for everyone."
"That's settled then. Make sure your water tank is full and you've plenty of gas. You don't want to run out mid-way cooking a roast dinner with everywhere closed for the holiday! We will leave a contact number in case of emergencies so you can call us from the Mill if needs be otherwise don't go getting too drunk!"
"What! Who me? Perish the thought! Two medium sized glasses is enough for me."
"I know. Just kidding! There's plenty if you have friends visiting you. Just remember to keep some for the New Year. You don't want to run a dry ship that night!"
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