Mum’s legal fight over son’s death
AFTER the re-release of the movie portraying her struggle, a mother who fought the establishment to prove the truth about her son’s death has broken her long silence to speak to Great Yarmouth Mercury reporter John Owens.
TWO decades ago, a couple fled from Luton to live in their much-loved holiday retreat of Great Yarmouth after a struggle for justice and that saw them thrust into the glare of the national media spotlight.
Pauline Williams, of Great Yarmouth, had fought alongside her husband Ray to make sure that the man responsible for administering the drug that killed their 19-year-old son John was held to account- and in the process brought about the first ever successful case of a private criminal prosecution in British history.
It was a fight which saw her attend 58 court hearings and write more than 1,800 letters to the authorities in an effort to bring the truth to light, as well as take up correspondence with Margaret Thatcher over the issue. And now, following the re-release of Death of a Son, the movie in which Pauline is played by the Oscar nominated Lynn Redgrave and Ray is played by Malcolm Storry, they have recalled the years of struggle and sent out an urgent message.
Grandmother Pauline, now 70, said: “We came here to get away from it all and have a chance to grieve - people don’t know about us here - but I think it’s important to speak about drugs at the moment.
“The reason we agreed to the film, and to talk now, is in the hope that youngsters listen and think ‘I don’t want that to happen to me.’ The message needs to get out there again, especially now that drugs have got cheaper and unemployment is going to be on the up.
“Drug dealers ruin lives, and I think they should go to the morgue to see the consequences of their actions.”
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On the night of September 2, 1982 the couple received a knock on the door of their Luton house from the police, who told them that their son’s body had been found dumped by the gutter. He had died of an overdose following an injection of Palfium.
After this devastating news came more. Even though a jury brought about a verdict of unlawful killing the drug dealer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to prosecute the drug dealer who had administered the fatal dose, or any other involved.
“We heard that no proper charges would be brought despite the jury verdict. I was disgusted with how the DPP treated our family and the case when the proof was there.
“So I said right, I’m going to do it myself then. I started off knowing nothing about law or medicine but I soon was reading all number of books, and it was about 6,000 hours of work in total.”
So it was that, facing all manner of obstacles and surviving being stabbed 30 times in her own Luton home by a local drug dealer who said she was “bad for business”, Pauline painstakingly built up a case on her own.
Often relying on her local mobile library, she built up a knowledge from scratch that meant she was able to disprove one of the key issues of the case - that the drug could not be held directly responsible for John’s death, and revolutionise pathology in the process.
Though it meant the family had to sell many of their possessions, Pauline’s work made her a national figure in the fight against drugs.
Four years after her son’s death, it brought about the crown court hearing the couple thought they would never get.
Their efforts led to two men being found guilty of manslaughter, and although the longest imprisonment term of the two was only 15 months, a sentence that Ray said “enraged” them because of its brevity, it was a sign of some kind of justice at last. So it was in 1989 that, still coping with their grief, Pauline and Ray had the strange experience of seeing themselves played by Hollywood stars.
Pauline, who emphasised they have never benefitted financially from the movie, described the late Ms Redgrave as “an absolutely lovely lady, who would pop into our house from time to time and, and had never smoked a cigarette until she played me, though I never smoked as much as they made me out to.
“She also liked us because when she called in to see us from time to time we would never tell the media.”
Since then, the couple, who have an older son, have offered a helping hand to those who need it most. Whether assisting with murder cases, launching anti drug campaigns and spreading the word in schools, their efforts brought international attention and a letter of support from US President Ronald Reagan.
However, it was a need to mourn properly, and escape the glare of publicity, that brought them to Yarmouth in 1990 - a place of happy memories for them and John, who had been in the town just days before his death.
“We’ve been here two decades and people have been absolutely lovely to us. John always loved the area and I think he would have been happy that we were out of Luton and in this part of the world.”