Erykah - Interview 22

Age at interview: 36
Brief Outline: In 2002 Erykah's brother was shot many times. His death was a terrible shock, and at first Erykah couldn't believe it. Erykah's faith keeps her strong. She has found support via the organisation, Mothers against Violence (MAV).
Background: Erykah is an outreach worker and student. She is single and has 2 children. Ethnic background/nationality: White/black Caribbean

More about me...

In 2002 Erykah’s brother was shot dead in the street. Erykah was told on the phone. It was a terrible shock, and Erykah couldn’t believe it. She went to the scene of the shooting and saw her brother on the ground outside a house.
At first no one was allowed to move him. An ambulance had arrived but the doctors were not allowed to attend to him until the armed response unit had arrived to make sure it was safe. This was very hard for the family. It was terrible to see him on the dirty ground but unable to help.
Eventually Erykah’s brother was taken to the hospital mortuary. When Erykah visited the mortuary and saw him there she realised that he really was dead.
The funeral was a month later. First of all Erykah’s brother’s body was brought back to the house. There was some delay because the police suddenly decided that they wanted more finger prints. Erykah’s brother’s body lay in an open coffin and he looked as though he was asleep. The family wanted to celebrate his life so there was music and food. Many people came to pay their respects. The next day there was a large church funeral, with a closed coffin. Erykah’s brother was then cremated and his ashes taken to his mother’s house. The ashes are still there. After the funeral there was a huge party with a DJ to celebrate his life
The police asked endless questions and the investigation continued for months, but the crime was not solved and no one knows who shot Erykah’s brother. The inquest was about two years after he died. The police said it was a case of mistaken identity, but Erykah does not believe that was the case because her brother was shot eight times. The coroner said that her brother had died due to “Death by Association”. The case is still open and there has not been a court case, because no witnesses have come forward.
Erykah is a very spiritual person and she believes that her brother’s spirit is all around her. Her faith keeps her strong. She has found support via Mothers Against Violence (MAV) and works for the group too. This voluntary group provides support to those who have been bereaved due to violent crime. The group also campaigns for positive change in communities that have been affected by gun violence. The aim is to create a more caring society.
Erykah has not had any formal counselling but may access it at a later date. At first she was angry and hated the people who had killed her brother, but now she would just like to meet the person and understand why they did such a horrendous thing. She believes in living life to the full and feels a need to carry on and support her own family. She also wants to keep her brother’s memory alive and she talks about him often.

Erykah was at work when she got a phone call to say that her brother had been shot. She rushed to...

It was May 23rd 2002, I was actually in work at the time, and I got a call to say that my brother had been shot, was killed, it was that instant the call that’s there no kind of warm up to it. It was just…
How awful.
Yes initially, I was in total disbelief, I didn’t believe it. And I rang someone who came for me from work, and they drove me to the scene where it happened which was about an hour away. I don’t have no recollection of the journey, I can’t, that’s the first time in my life that’s happened really. I remember getting in the car but I don’t remember the way we came or anything. We arrived at the scene and it was, it was just off a main road where it happened and the road was closed off so as my partner was driving up the road I kind of got out of the car, and ran towards where I could see there was lots of people.
And where he was there was lots of police tape, and I couldn’t get through. But it was in front of a house so I think in the spur of the moment I kind of run for somebody’s back, because the back was open, through their house to the front so I could get to where the body was. I was still in total disbelief at this point, because it just looked like a lump on the floor, and it had like the police white cover over, but I could see his trainer, it was definitely his trainer but the body wasn’t recognisable. The way the body must have fell, or it was formed, I didn’t recognise at all so it led me to disbelief so I rang his phone and obviously the body on the floor, the phone rang.
Is he your only brother?
He’s, no I have another brother as well, I’ve got two brothers, or three brothers actually, younger one’s, but he was the one that was a similar age to me, he’s the one who I grew up with. All through my childhood it was just me and him.

The family had to wait two years for the inquest. Erykah hoped that the inquest would bring ...

The inquest, the inquest was two years later. It was just, it was a week before it would’ve been two years. I’ve no idea why this is. Thing is he’d been cremated and everything else, we’ve no idea. And it’s something that happens regularly, and I know there’s a lot of groups that are campaigning because, especially the case of the Rhys Jones case, he had a funeral much quicker than any other case we’ve known, and we believe that was put down to publicity but when, in the city murders take place, the funeral and if it takes, it’s quite a lengthy process and we don’t know why.
Two years is a long time.
It is a long time. At the inquest, which I didn’t find very helpful, they told us that they’d interviewed, I think they said something like eight people, nine people. That could’ve been the same person nine times, but there were so many interviews done. We wasn’t allowed to know who it was, or any names of anybody interviewed, and I was thinking that if I knew a name that was interviewed maybe we’d know who has done this horrendous, you know, thing. Because he wasn’t a young boy in a gang, he was 27, he owned a business, he was due to get married, so it wasn’t your gang warfare gun thing, but they tried to link it to drugs and gangs at first, which is what they have to do as part of the investigation. And then they have always said that it was mistaken identity, but I don’t believe that, because he was shot too many times.
And the fact that he was shot in his neck at point blank range, does not indicate, you know it wasn’t, it wasn’t mistaken identity. You could understand that if it was a drive by, and all the young boys do, gang things, but this wasn’t mistaken identity at all.
So you’ve never found out?
No, but the inquest, which we was waiting for forever, hoping that this would be closure, they ruled that he died Death by Association.
Death by Association?
Yes, and we had no, we were asking what does this mean? That’s all we’ve been given after two years of waiting and waiting, waiting, and trying to push for this inquest.
So what’s on the death certificate?
Death by Association. That’s what, that’s, that’s what the coroner’s report is.
How extraordinary.
Who had to give evidence?
Nobody gave evidence. My Mum stood up, that was it. It was just the police and my Mum, that was it. We’ve never had a court case, and we don’t know anything more than we did on May 23rd 2002. We don’t know anything more.
So what’s the police liaison officer been telling you all this time?
We’ve never seen one since. We haven’t seen a police liaison officer in years. His case is what’s known as “box”, so it’s sat, his case is what’s known as box, they call it box which means that all the evidence is in a box, sat on a shelf. It’s not closed, but if any other evidence comes to light, which will only, could only be somebody coming forward and saying they’ve done it or someone saying they know who’s done it, then…
So it’s an open case, they didn’t put down as murder?
Yeah, oh no. No. It’s like.

Erykah worked for Victim Support and thinks it does its best in the circumstances; she thinks...

Did Victim Support get involved at all? Did they come and see you?
Victim support did get involved yes, they did. I’m not sure if they did, they didn’t see me they saw my Mum, but my point is that everybody comes in the first three months.
And you’re not ready to access help then. I think they should’ve come a lot later. I think perhaps initially come then, but then followed up the call maybe six months later. Because that’s when people are more willing to talk, and as a result of that I ended up doing some work for a year for Victim Support actually.
Did you?
Yes. Just to see how it all works and so that perhaps, I wanted to really get inside the courts, to see how the witness protection scheme runs because I couldn’t understand why nobody was coming forward, and I just assumed that they would, and I found some, an insight into how it all works really.
Could you say a bit about Victim Support?
The work that I do, or I did or…?
Well perhaps both, in general a little bit and then what you did?
Right okay, well initially when you first start working for Victim Support you’ve got to go out and be filling out criminal injury forms and, with some people who’ve been burgled, before you’re allowed to go and do the witness protection work. And that’s based in the courts. The witness protection help, they are there to help victims of crime, and I was really concerned that with all gun crime people aren’t prepared to come forward for fear of intimidation, for fear of reprisal. I wanted to know how Victim Support supported victims in this way and was it enough. I found that Victim Support do their best, with what they’ve got, however it’s not fair that as a victim if you give information you’ve got to change your whole life. You can be put in a safe house, you have to change identity you know, I mean are you going to, are you prepared to do all that to, because most people aren’t. And this is the barrier that people face.
And it, it’s also the same with when there’s shootings and the police and the media say, “There’s a wall of silence.” Well it’s a wall of fear, because people do come forward, people are prepared to talk but they’re not prepared to sign what they’ve said, for fear of you know. And then having to move and uproute themselves, that’s the big problem.
And so how can Victim Support help?
Well, gosh.
You don’t know?
Yes, I don’t know, I think they should come, I think with what they’ve got, and what they, what they work with in terms of supporting victims, I think that they should go out perhaps after three months, not; initially go around yes. But its, you’re in such a daze after someone’s killed, I mean the last thing you want to do is sit down and talk and I don’t even think you you’re emotionally ready to start, even accessing counselling and things, so if nothings took up in the three month they don’t make another call.
And what did you do yourself for Victim Support?
We made a visit to victims in houses.
And what sort of help would you provide for them, a listening ear or anything else?

Yeah, but not for gun crime or anything like that, it was for people that was distressed from burglaries and robberies and things like that.
And it was listening ear and support. The role that I do now with Mothers Against Violence, we do provide that role. We do go out and see people, we do support women for as long as it takes and we do keep going back, and that’s where, a need that we’ve met, you know it’s like a gap that we’ve met. And also now with my other job, my paid work, working for Women’s Aid, I work very closely with Victim Support now, because we get a lot of referrals from them, so, there’s a lot of gaps but I think there’s other agencies as well working alongside that are meeting them.

Erykah saw herself as a survivor rather than a victim. She found help via Mothers against...

I found help from Mothers Against Violence. A member of the group who had lost her son goes to the same church as my Nana does, so she heard about it, and she came round when it happened, and they attended the funeral. I don’t quite remember them actually, I was just, I was in a daze but they came to the funeral and then, they used to send letters of their meetings and things that was going on to me and my Mum, but we just, we wasn’t interested, it was too traumatic and I wasn’t ready for going and speaking to people or helping other people.
But it was persistent in the letters even though it wasn’t the, they’d come every month letters about what they was doing, and the work they was doing, and cards of hope, and it was those cards and perhaps the persistence which wasn’t in your face because you didn’t have to open the letters, that led me to join the group in the first place. And campaigning and doing what we do, and meeting with other people in the same situation is such a help.
Is it?
It’s amazing because you, you’re with Mums that have carried the you know the children for nine months who’ve lost, who are still sat round the table with you, and it’s only though, people that have lost in that way that can kind of understand what you’re going through. So it’s such a valuable support network. It it’s so underrated, it’s such a valuable support network, yes.
Do you have regular meetings?
We meet once a month but we’re constantly, daily, well I’m still like text, but we’re constantly on the phone, because I believe that we’re a victim of our own success.
So Mothers Against Violence have their meeting where anybody can come once a month?
Do you have that in this building?
We have it in this building, in this room, but additionally the meeting was once a month, it wasn’t so much as, it wasn’t so much as a “How are you feeling?” meet, it’s more “What can we do?” meeting. The meetings have never been meetings for victims, I always think of it as a meeting for survivors because it’s strong women and I must admit I don’t know why it’s women. We are Mothers against violence, but we are open to men.
We do have a few men in the group, but you know often up and down the country wherever we go, it’s only Mums and sisters that come out when loved ones have died, and we want to see change, we want to change something. We want to change something in our society, it’s not about pity it’s about strength, and it’s about supporting those who haven’t got the strength to do that. And we do have women that come to the group that do require support and don’t particularly want to go out and do the campaigning, and we give that as well. 

After some delay Erykah’s brother’s body was brought home. He lay in an open coffin while people...

So was it, was it good for the family to have an open coffin with him in the house?
Yes. Yes. It was a bit strange because I examined him really, it was really bizarre, it was good but I don’t know if I’d choose that again because  his wound, he got shot in the neck. He got shot eight times, nine times he got shot. They removed a hundred odd pieces of bullet out of him, but it was only nine times it was just that the bullets must have fragmented, but they shot him in his neck at close range, and because he’d been brought out of the fridge, I don’t know why this was but the wound was still bleeding, I think it was because he was thawing out, so his shirt, blood started to show up in the shirt which was a bit weird you know?
And his hand, on the palm of his hand he had grit, so he’d obviously fell, it was it was like he’d tried to put his hand out, and one of his teeth was knocked back, so I can’t, I don’t know if I’d do that again because I still can remember that.
You know.
Was there a ceremony in the room?
We had lots of people round. We believe in celebrating life, and the life that he had, it wasn’t a sad occasion. It was very scary for me to see my brother not alive, in the sense that I thought, what if he sits up or? I can’t, it’s quite, we had music, we had food and we had lots of people round.
Was this Caribbean music?
Yes, we had his favourite songs on. And family and friends came to pay their respects.
Oh that was nice.
Yes. We kind of turned this awful situation around and that’s what he would have wanted. So it wasn’t a morbid kind of…
Was anybody saying prayers at that stage?
Yes, my mother said lots of prayers, and we said lots of prayers and my partner he wrote a lovely letter, well I’m saying it’s lovely I haven’t seen it, but he wrote a letter and put it in his hand in the coffin so.
So he came home. Was that just for one night?
He came home for one night.
And then you had the funeral the next day?
Yes, we had the funeral the next day. It was, oh gosh, there were so many people it was unbelievable. We walked from his house behind the hearse, to the church and had the service. And then we went on somewhere else for,
What sort of church was it?
It was a Church of England church. 

The liaison officers called at the house for three months and then suddenly disappeared. This...

And then what happened when the police liaison officer arrived at your parents’ house?
Well oh gosh, at the time…
Were you there?
Yes, at the time to me, because they came continuously for three months, at all different hours of the night, and I think when you watch the, the, because this has never happened to me before, I don’t know anyone it’s happened to, when you hear of this you kind of think the police come, and you, there’s the crime, and you have a court case, and they was our hope, they was all we had to hold onto. But they was consorting to build up intelligence, and their job is to solve the crime, and that was their objective, it was to, it was to build up a case and it wasn’t for the help that I thought they was providing.
Not to provide help did you say?
Yes, because after the three months was up, they disappeared and you never see them again.
And that’s quite sudden?
It was, it was like another death to me. I often say that at the end of the three month, because your house is bombarded with people, they all come, people you’ve not seen for years, the house is packed, then three months down the line everything’s empty, and the police don’t come, when you phone them you can’t get hold of them and they’re all working on different cases then.
Whereas before that you had a police liaison officer coming to see you regularly.
Oh constantly. They’d phone up, they’d phone you, but they was phoning to build the case and not as your support you know so, then it’s just cut off.
I’m so sorry. 

Erykah thinks that her mother felt better having her brother’s ashes at home. His sudden death...

...we had music, and we had hymns and we had readings, people did readings. And at the crematorium, he was cremated he’s not buried, at the crematorium we had one of his favourite songs played.
And then are his ashes there? Or did you take them somewhere else?
His ashes are at my Mum’s, still, to this day. I think I’d like them buried now, but I think my Mum just wants to keep them there. I think because when somebody’s took so suddenly, there’s no warning and there’s no closure, it’s very difficult to then remove the body and I don’t know how I’d feel. I think my Mum feels better knowing that he’s in her house.
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