Fatal Friendship

I left my John alone - but what did they get up to that terrible day?

Published by: Judy Broadbent & Amy Thompson
Published on: 14th April 2011

How long does it take to really get to know someone? Days? Months? Years? When I met John, 34, it took minutes.
Walking into a local pub with my mates, I’d bumped into my friend Andy. ‘Let me introduce you to my mate from Liverpool,’ he’d smiled. Then he led me over to a guy with a shaved head and a body that made my knees go weak. ‘Alana, meet John.’
That was it – the second our eyes met, I felt like I already knew the guy beaming back at me.
And the whirlwind that swept us together didn’t end there. When John went back to Liverpool, a two-hour drive from where I lived in Coventry, we stayed in touch.
He told me how he was a fitness instructor, and I told him about my daughter Maddison, three. And, the next time he visited, I introduced them. It didn’t take long for Maddy to be smitten, too – especially after he’d cooked us a delicious roast dinner and read her a bedtime story one night. ‘I love John,’ she told me.
‘Me, too,’ I whispered, kissing her goodnight.
Just two months later, he moved in with us and we opened up our own gym. And, a year after that, we had a new addition to our family… ‘Can you help me get something from the car?’ John said one day.
‘Sure,’ I smiled, following him outside. As he pulled the car door open, though, a huge grin lit up his face and I heard a little yap from behind him. Two fluffy white paws hung over the side of a box on the passenger seat. ‘You bought a puppy?’ I said, beaming.
‘Thought you’d like her,’ he replied, gently lifting her out. ‘She’s a Bichon Frise.’
‘She looks like a snowflake,’ I cooed, hugging her. ‘In fact, that’s what I’ll call
her – Snowflake.’
‘That won’t be embarrassing to call out,’ he teased.
Maddy adored our new pup, too. Every night, Snowflake would cuddle up to her on her bed while John read her Matilda, putting on all the different voices. I couldn’t help smiling as I listened outside Maddy’s bedroom door.
We had the perfect family and, two years after we met, John suggested making it official.
‘So, what do you think about being my wife?’ he asked casually over dinner. I almost choked on my chicken. Of course, we’d spoken about marriage before, but it’d never gone any further…
‘Seriously?’ I smiled.
He nodded. ‘I love you and Maddy,’ he said. ‘And Snowflake, of course. Let’s get married.’
I leapt out of my seat to wrap my arms around him.
From then on, it was full steam ahead. We wanted to get married in September, so I only had nine months to get everything sorted.
Maddy was thrilled when we told her she was going to be a bridesmaid. ‘I’ll get to wear a princess dress,’ she cheered.
‘That’s right,’ John laughed, picking her up so they were face to face. ‘You and Mummy will be my princesses forever.’
While I got busy with wedding plans, John kept out of the way, walking the dog and going to the gym. He’d never been one for sitting around, he was too active.
‘Where’s my little love?’ he said one night, as soon as he got in.
‘In here,’ I called from the lounge. Popping his head round the door, he gave me a wicked grin.
‘Not you,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘I meant Snowflake. I’m taking her for a romantic stroll over the park.’
There was never a dull moment with John, he was always making people laugh.
I guess that’s why, when his best mate Ben, from Liverpool, started suffering with depression, he asked if he could come and stay with us for a while. ‘Is that okay?’ John asked me.
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘He’s been your best friend for 20 years. Besides, he can keep you company while I go for my dress fitting.’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ he smiled.
I’d met Ben, 37, a couple of times.
He was a nice bloke, and it was a shame he was feeling down.
Although, if anyone could put a smile back on his face, it was John.
After Ben arrived, I’d often leave him and John to spend some time together, while I got on with wedding plans and taking Maddy to school. After all, if he was depressed, he’d want to open up to his mate, and me being around might stop him doing that.
Best I stayed out of the way.
But, after a few weeks, John was still really worried about his pal.
‘He’s lost weight and he’s drinking loads,’ he sighed. ‘I can’t seem to snap him out of it.’
‘He’ll be okay,’ I soothed. ‘It’ll just take time.’
Problem was, time was something we were rapidly running out of. So far, I’d provisionally booked our wedding venue and put a deposit on the perfect dress.
And, as if that wasn’t enough to get on with, we’d also decided to move house before the wedding! In April, we packed our stuff up early and me, Maddy and Snowflake moved into my mum Jackie’s while John split his time between staying with us and at our old place with Ben.
Waking up one morning at Mum’s, John made me a coffee and grabbed his jacket and keys.
‘I’m going to check on Ben, but I’ll be back in an hour to walk the dog,’ he kissed me goodbye. ‘See you soon, love you.’
‘Love you more,’ I smiled.
Three hours later, he still wasn’t back, though. I tried calling his mobile, but he didn’t answer.
‘Has he called you?’ I asked Mum, after Maddy’s other nan had picked her up for the afternoon.
‘I haven’t heard a peep, love,’ she shook her head. ‘Maybe he’s taken Ben out.’
‘Maybe,’ I murmured.
But a horrible niggling feeling had started to form in the pit of my stomach.
Just as I’d felt like I’d known John the moment I’d met him, I knew something was wrong…
I was about to try calling him again when my phone rang. It was my friend Mark.
‘Hi, Alana,’ he said. ‘My dad just drove past your road and it’s been blocked off by police. I wanted to check you were okay.’
‘I’m at my mum’s,’ I replied, alarm bells ringing. ‘But John went to the house earlier, and he’s not answering his mobile.’
There was a pause, then… ‘I’m coming to pick you up,’ Mark said.
In minutes, he pulled up outside and I jumped in his car. As we approached my road, I was gob-smacked by the amount of police.
They’d cordoned off the entire street, blue lights on patrol cars and an ambulance flashed, and a police helicopter hovered in the air – right above my house.
Gasping for breath, I pushed open the car door and raced over to an officer standing guard. ‘What’s going on?’ I begged. ‘Please, that’s my house! My fiancé’s in there!’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t let you in, it’s a crime scene,’ he replied.
‘A… what?’ I frowned. My blood ran cold as I caught sight of a stretcher being carried out of my house. All I could see was a man’s legs. But it only took seconds for me to know whose they were. ‘John!’ I screamed, my heart pounding. ‘God, no.’
Three officers held me back. I struggled with all my might, but couldn’t break free. Finally, I calmed just enough for one to speak to me. ‘There’s been an incident in your house,’ he said gently. ‘One man was shot, and another has been arrested.’
I felt sick, my eyes blurred with tears as I held up my keys and fumbled through them      for a keyring with a photo of me and John on it.
‘Is this the man who was shot?’ I asked, my voice cracking. Please say no… please say no…
His eyes filled with pity and he quickly glanced away. ‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you any more, but one of my colleagues will take you to the hospital.’
That meant yes then.
I felt like the journey would never end as I was rushed to Wolsgrave hospital in a police car.
But the sound of the sirens blaring wasn’t enough to drown out the questions racing through my mind.
How had John been shot in our own home? Had someone broken in? Where was Ben? Had he been at the house too and managed to escape? Was he injured somewhere?
I called Mum to meet me and Mark at the hospital. When we arrived, we were taken to a family room to await news. The next half hour dragged by.  Then a doctor came to see us. ‘Miss Regan?’ he asked. I nodded.
‘John was shot in the chest at close range,’ he said, gravely. ‘I’m sorry, we tried everything, but… we couldn’t save him.’
Fighting the urge to be sick, I slumped to my knees. Pinpricks of light danced before my eyes making me dizzy as heavy sobs shook my body.
My John couldn’t be dead. We were getting married in five months… we were soulmates…
Suddenly, an image of him reading bedtime stories to Maddy popped into my head.
How was I going to tell her he’d never do that again? How would I explain to my six-year-old that we wouldn’t dress up like princesses for the day, that the man who’d been a second dad to her for three years was gone?
There was something else to deal with before that, though – police wanted to question me about what had happened.
‘Can’t it wait?’ Mum wept, her arms wrapped protectively around me. ‘She’s just lost her fiancé.’
But I needed answers, too. ‘It’s fine.’ I brushed away tears. ‘I’ll go now.’
At the station, I told officers how John had nipped home to check on Ben. ‘Where is Ben?’ I asked, my head snapping up as I suddenly remembered I hadn’t seen him. ‘Is he okay?’
The two officers in front of me exchanged a look. ‘Alana,’ one started gently. ‘Ben was the one who shot your fiancé. He told us they’d sat down to watch a DVD and he was looking at a gun John kept. He didn’t realise it was loaded and pointed it at John on the sofa, messing about…’
I hadn’t even known John had a gun. Nothing made sense.
I told Maddy that John was in heaven because of a poorly heart. ‘Will I see him again?’ she asked.
‘One day,’ I said, forcing a smile. ‘But not for a long, long time.’
She clung to me, heartbroken.
In August last year, two months after John’s funeral, Benjamin Phillips pleaded guilty to manslaughter and possession of a firearm. He was handed two five-year prison sentences to run concurrently.
I still have so many questions. I’d love to be able to ask John about what happened. I’ve even written to Ben, asking him to see me so I can ask him about that day – I need to know every detail. But he refuses to speak to me.
It’s been almost a year since John was killed. It only took minutes for me to know he was the man I wanted to spend my life with. I never imagined it would only take minutes for him to be stolen from me by his best friend.
Alana Regan, 28, Coventry, West Midlands