It was such a sad little affair that I couldn’t even find it on Google this morning.
I got to know Bob Day at Aberystwyth University. In fact it was at the Cwrt Mawr bar we first met. Bob was in his forties, an ex-butcher who was studying International Affairs. Both being mature students and somewhat outsiders, we became friends. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when Bob graduated that I got to meet his family. It is so long ago now that I can’t even remember everybody’s name but there was Jenny his wife, and their teenage children Jasclene (pronounced Jacqueline) and her slightly older brother, whose face I can still see. I spent weekends down in Cardigan with them and it was a great time. Jenny helped improved my cooking techniques; we all played badminton and board games together and shot pool when down the pub. As I recall, Jasclene was a little sweet on me but all was innocent.
As is usual with any Arcadia though, there was darkness beneath. I had noticed that over the past year Bob was becoming increasingly pedantic. He would take the time to explain in detail the most prosaic functions of daily life. Once Jenny got to know me, she started to express worries about him. Bob had a large vertical indent right in the middle of his forehead which Jenny told me had been put there in a car accident six years previously. Since that time, Jenny said, she had been married to a different man.
It was the autumn of 1995 when the cracks started to open. I usually called the family once a week but this time Bob called me. Jenny had started to have an affair with a neighbour. Although I was in my late twenties in many ways I was still pretty immature. Relationship management was certainly outside my remit at that point. I didn’t know what to say.
Two weeks went by. I called but no answer on their telephone. I tried again and again with the same result. It was my final year, I had no clue what was happening so it was with some surprise and upset that in December I received a letter from Jasclene that told of a road accident involving both Bob and Jenny. He was still in hospital but Jenny had died after six days in a coma. Naturally I wrote back; which hospital? Where can I visit Bob? How is everybody else? No reply.
It wasn’t until April 1996, just before my finals, that Bob himself got in contact. He was still in hospital in Haverfordwest. I added the cost of a hire car to my overdraft and hit the road south. Incidentally I think that was the drive I also started my hate-affair with GM cars. It was a green 1.7 diesel Astra with all the reactions of a startled sloth.
Bob was in hospital, either in bed or a wheelchair for in the accident his back had been broken, losing the ability to use his legs. He was also in police custody, charged with the murder of Jenny. To my face Bob said he simply could not believe it; it was such a vast misunderstanding. He had taken Jenny out for a drive and on a dangerous mountain bend above Cardigan had lost control, plunging them both over. A tragic accident. He asked me to help and the following week I gave a statement to his solicitor. That was the last time I saw him.
After graduation, I passed through Cardigan en route to Aberystwyth in order to say farewell to friends. I was starting my current career in Aberdeen that October. Between buses, I went into a pub in Cardigan. Naturally Bob and his family were high in my thoughts.
“Tragic about that accident last year.”
“What accident?” asked the young barman.
“The one where Jenny Day was killed.”
“That was no accident,” he stated with some anger.
“If it was an accident, why did the bastard leave a note for her boss telling him what he meant to do?”
Bob, what have you done?
I was in training in Texas when the trial came up. The defence wanted me to testify. I agreed to have my statement read out in court. Robert Day was found guilty of murder and sentenced to three years on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Naturally the wheel-chair is a life sentence.
* * *
The murder of Jenny Day was the closest I have been involved in the killing of another person but I have known other victims. A colleague and friend lost his entire family at about the same time. A guest at my wedding subsequently lost his life and my mother-in-law lost other friends to violence. So it was with some interest I pricked up my ears this morning when changes where suggested to murder sentencing. In the brief debate I tended to support Lord Faulkner’s view that there should be one charge of murder and then it is up to the judge to decide the sentence. However, I would support a greater degree of flexibility on how the judge lays out the sentence. Perhaps there should be a grading at this point; from whole life term, down to first and second degree through to man-slaughter, each with its own minimum term before parole can be applied for. The jury could perhaps issue a private recommendation to the judge but the judge would have the final decision. Naturally the licence system, the power of the courts to recall any murderer to prison, would stay in place.
This structure would help those involved to understand that the current “life” sentence doesn’t mean life but the crime of murder always is held in the highest seriousness.