A fatal friendship

My dad's kindness turned out to be a killer

Published by: Gemma Aldridge and Amy Thompson
Published on: 4th October 2010

They say being a parent is tough, constantly worrying about where your kids are, who they’re with, what they’re doing…
My dad David, 54, was always worrying about me. He and my mum had divorced when I was 10 and, unlike my two older sisters Lauren and Sarah, I’d chosen to live with him.
We were like two peas in a pod, dancing around to UB40’s Red Red Wine and larking about.
By the time I was 18 and a parent myself to Lewis, now 11, I’d moved away from Dad’s home in Essex to London. And rather than Dad checking up on me, it was me calling him 10 times a day.
‘Are you eating properly?’ I fretted over the phone. ‘Because I can freeze something and bring it over or…’
‘Julie relax,’ he chuckled. ‘I can look after myself.’
Of course he could. But he hadn’t had a proper relationship since he’d split up with Mum. I just wanted to know he had someone looking out for him.
As the years passed and I had Megan, now nine, and Ebony, now seven, it soon became clear Dad wasn’t alone though. Whenever we’d visit, he’d walk us to the park.
‘Hi David,’ I’d hear people call as we strolled along. ‘All right mate?’
He’d get stopped by at least half a dozen people.
‘Someone’s popular,’ I smiled, nudging him playfully.
‘What can I say?’ he beamed. ‘Your old man knows how to make friends.’
That was true. He had a knack for meeting new people and getting to know them.
‘Hey David,’ a guy shouted suddenly from across the park. I looked up to see a tall man with long dark curls waving at us.
‘Who’s that?’ I asked as the bloke bounded over.
‘Oh, that’s Gary,’ Dad smiled. ‘Met him here a few months back.’
Before I knew it, Gary was beside us.
‘Hi,’ he nodded shyly at me.
‘Hello,’ I smiled, leaving them to chat while I helped the kids feed the ducks.
From then on, every time I called Dad for a catch-up, he’d tell me about his week, how he’d had his mates over for beers the night before or how he’d bumped into Gary walking his dog at the park again.
‘I think he’s going through a bit of a rough time,’ Dad said one weekend when I saw him. ‘He was at mine for drinks the other night, but he’s started acting odd lately.’
‘What do you mean?’ I frowned.
‘Well, when he’s had a few he seems to get irritated by the smallest things,’ he replied.
‘Hmm…’ I mumbled. ‘Maybe you should steer clear of him.’
‘Oh no, don’t be daft, he’s not that bad,’ Dad smiled, slinging his arm around my shoulders. ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine.’
Only, a few months later I heard how Gary had just been released on bail for attacking his girlfriend!
‘He hit a woman?’ I fumed, having a cuppa with Dad. ‘You shouldn’t be friends with him. He’s bad news.’
‘Yeah,’ Dad sighed. ‘Apparently he suffered a head injury a few years back. Looks like it knocked the sense out of him. I never would have thought he was capable of that though. He’s always seemed pretty quiet.’
‘Well, I don’t want you hanging out with him,’ I warned sternly.
It was like the tables had turned, me being the parent all of a sudden!
Dad laughed. ‘Who are you? My mother?’
‘No,’ I shook my head. ‘I’m your daughter and I’m making sure you don’t get mixed up with the wrong sort.’
‘Right,’ he nodded, fighting a smile.
The following three weeks passed in a blur as I rushed about after the kids. We didn’t even have time to visit Dad like we normally did.
‘When are we going to see Granddad?’ Ebony kept asking.
‘Soon darling,’ I promised. ‘Maybe next weekend.’
A few nights later, as I climbed into bed though, I was ready for a good night’s kip when our dog Molly was sick all over the carpet.
‘Great,’ I groaned, dragging myself out of bed to clean it up.
By the time I’d finished, I was wide awake so decided to have a quick look on Facebook, see if anyone else was up to chat. It was unlikely since it was already 11pm but I did have a message from my best mate, Tina.
‘Call Lauren, it’s urgent!’ I read.
Odd. If it was that urgent why hadn’t my sister called me?
Picking up the phone, I dialed her number.
‘I couldn’t get through on your phone earlier,’ she explained.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, worried.
‘I-it’s Dad,’ she sobbed. ‘You’ve got to get to the hospital…he’s been stabbed.’
Before her words had even sunk in, I was grabbing my coat and keys.
Luckily, the kids were at a friends’ so I raced out the door.
Dad’s been stabbed…
The words tumbled through my head as I rushed to the hospital.
Had he been mugged? Had some loser at his local had a few too many and got violent?
It didn’t make any sense for someone to attack Dad. He was always making friends, not enemies!
I arrived at the hospital to find 15 of my relatives squeezed into the family room.
‘The doctors are seeing to him now,’ my auntie Ann told me.
Minutes later, the doctor came to see us.
‘He was stabbed in the heart,’ he said gravely. ‘I’m sorry, we couldn’t save him.’
My world shattered as everyone around me crumpled into tears. I was numb with shock.
‘Who did this?’ I croaked.
‘It was one of his so-called mates,’ my sister Sarah spat. ‘Some bloke called Gary. A few of them were having drinks at Dad’s place and that nutter just came at him with a kitchen knife!’
I stared in disbelief. I’d told Dad not to hang around with Gary. But in my heart I knew he hated confrontation. He’d probably only agreed to let Gary come over to avoid an argument. This was what he got for being a good friend…
I felt sick.
The hardest part was breaking the news to the kids. They were devastated.
Two months after he was killed, we buried Dad. I couldn’t believe I’d never see him again, never hear him chuckle down the phone.
In October, I went to see Gary Cartwright, 53, stand trial at the Old Bailey for Dad’s murder.
It turned out Dad had bumped into him in the park and invited him back to his house for a drink along with two other friends.
But Gary had already been drinking heavily and when he started getting abusive, Dad had asked him to leave.
Only he hadn’t left. He’d walked into the kitchen and picked up a knife before plunging it into Dad’s chest.
In court, we heard how Gary was described as a sweet and gentle person who was prone to sudden violence after he’d been hit over the head with a metal pole.
Because of that and his guilty plea, the judge reduced his sentence from 15 years to 10.
It’s outrageous! He’d only ever been nice to Gary, now he was dead and Gary would soon be out to live his life again, go on to make more friends.
They say being a parent is tough, but being a daughter without her dad is so much harder.
*Some names have been changed.

Julie Trott, 30, Bromley, London