Conversations With… Sharon Hattle (Subject: Knife Crime)

When researching for this interview, I found out that there was one fatal stabbing every 1.45 days in England and in Wales in 2019. That statistic, however shocking it may be, only reflects fatal stabbings, but if knife crime kills people that frequently, then how often does it injure people? How many more lives are forever changed by it than that statistic suggests?

To understand the impact of rising knife crime, I spoke to Sharon Hattle, someone who unfortunately knows about it all too well.

Sharon is a mother of two – Chloe, 28, and Josh, 23. She has been married to Steve, a man she calls her rock, for 35 years. Sharon lives in Bradford in a house that is up the road from where she was born and has worked for nearly 20 years at the same school that she went to. I taught at that school, Sharon is a friend of my mum’s and I worked with her daughter Chloe at Morrisons when I was at university. I’ve known her and her family for years. They are normal people, like me and my family, like you and yours.

But in July 2018, knife crime – that abstract, awful problem that seems such so far away – became their reality. Their son Josh was stabbed and in that moment everything changed for Josh, for his family and for everyone who knew them who thought that knife crime was something that only happened to people in gangs or in London, something that was too barbaric to think of as affecting real people.

But it did, it does.

This is one of very few interviews I have done that has upset me. I’m not ashamed to say I had to step away from it for a few days because it was hard to read, to cut down and edit words that were so raw. Reading Sharon’s account of what happened made me want to cry because I couldn’t help think of her words being words my mum would say if this happened to one of us or how Josh could have very easily been myself or my brother on a night out, unaware of what was to happen. I felt her anger, her pain, and I wanted to do something about it. I wanted justice. I wanted to make a change.

Because things can’t keep going the way they are. How many more lives need to be lost, how much more blood needs to be shed before people realise that?

 

In your own words, can you describe the night that Josh was stabbed?

It was a lovely sunny weekend in July 2018 when it happened. After spending the day in the garden, I’d gone to bed late like I usually do on a Saturday night. Josh was out in Bradford with his mates. I worried about him – show me a mum who doesn’t worry when their children go out – but he was a big strong lad who could look after himself.

Our nightmare began at 4.20am with Chloe knocking on our bedroom door. I had left my phone downstairs on the coffee table and Chloe had fallen asleep on the sofa. The ringing had woke her up. It was Annie, the owner of the bar. She said Josh had been stabbed and it was bad.

All I heard was Josh has been stabbed.

In a blind panic, I jumped out of bed – it’s amazing how quickly you wake up when you hear those words… STABBED. All I remember is stumbling around in the dark and putting the first thing I could find on. Within minutes, we were in the car.

I remember saying maybe it’s just his shoulder or something, hoping it wasn’t going to be that serious, trying to convince myself it wouldn’t be as bad as I was thinking. I needed to be there but I didn’t want to be there because then it would be real.

In the hospital, we were met by his friends, his girlfriend who we hadn’t yet met and a police officer. We were told he was critical. There were 22 doctors and nurses working on him and we couldn’t see him. I could hear him – he was in pain. I later found out they were inserting drains because his lungs had filled with blood and he couldn’t breathe. I begged to be let in just for a minute. I remember saying to the doctor if he was going to die I needed to see him and for him to know I was there.

They let us in for literally a minute. He had been stabbed twice in the back, with one stab wound puncturing his lung and the other severing an artery. They were giving him one blood transfusion after another, trying to stabilise him. I saw him again briefly when they put him in the ambulance to transfer him to the Leeds General Infirmary. He should have gone there straight away but the paramedics they explained that they didn’t have time – the Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI) was closer and he wouldn’t have made it to Leeds. He said it was touch and go whether they got him to BRI in time because he had lost so much blood. I was so so grateful to them – they had saved his life.

We made our way to Leeds, with Steve driving through every red light. At the LGI, we got chance to spend some time with Josh whilst waiting for him to go down to the operating theatre. Quite a few of his friends and a couple of the bouncers were there too. It was good to know they cared and were there for him.

After spending over 4 hours in theatre he was left with 38 staples in his back. I think we left him at about 9am and didn’t get to see him again until 7pm. It was the longest day of my life and I now never go to bed without my phone.

Reading that was hard enough, but I cannot imagine being in that situation. Can you put into words how you were feeling?

I think I went in to panic mode when I heard the word stabbed. I was in shock, almost numb with shock. You don’t think this can happen to your family – it’s something you read about in the news. I was absolutely distraught inside – how could I go on if I lost him? – but I think on the outside, although I cried a lot, I was quite calm. It feels like you’re in a dream but one that you remember every single tiny detail of later on.

I was so angry. How could someone do this? How could someone actually stick a knife into someone, not once, but twice?! To take a person’s life, or almost take a person’s life, is incomprehensible.

An act that took just seconds has changed ours lives forever. I felt powerless. There was nothing I could do or change to stop it happening. It’s like a bereavement for the life your child should have had but has now been taken away. It’s changed him. He views the world and people differently now. I’m just grateful Josh is still here. Sometimes I look at him and can’t quite believe what has happened. He’s my son, my baby and thankfully still here to give me one of his big bear hugs.

What was Josh’s recovery like?

Josh only spent five days in hospital, and the first two were in the high dependency unit. It was hard seeing him in so much pain, struggling to breath, talk and move. When they removed his dressings, I was shocked to see all the staples in his back. I wasn’t prepared or expecting that at all.

After a couple of days, they removed the 2 drains which eased some of the pain. So many people came to see him in hospital, all mostly girls! They brought him all sorts – drinks, sweets, food, takeaways. He was never alone, which was good to see and really helped get him through those first tough days.

Getting him home was a milestone. I gave the surgeon the biggest hug and thanked him for giving me my son back. He said he was a very lucky lad – he had virtually lost all the blood in his body. The surgeon didn’t know how he managed to stay conscious the whole time.

At home, Josh needed most things doing for him. Steve had to help him shower, me too on a couple of occasions, but day on day he was improving.

Another milestone was finally getting the staples removed which was very scary for Josh. The wound was so long – would it hold together? Thankfully, it did. They took every alternate staple out first, then on another visit to the hospital they took out the remaining staples.

Josh went for short walks which were difficult because it was still painful to breath, but slowly that got better. I think it was a month, maybe six weeks later that he was discharged from the hospital officially. He went back to work just six weeks after the stabbing, which is unbelievable really. He couldn’t do much as his job is very physical but the lads all carried him so he could still earn a wage. They’re absolute legends in my eyes! Although it was difficult, he needed to get back to some sort of normality. It wasn’t easy, he was still in pain, and even now, a over year on, he still gets pain in his back and is still dealing with it mentally.

It sounds like there was an incredible support network around you all during this time which I imagine made all the difference. As a family, how has the stabbing impacted you all?

From Josh’s point of view, he can never get away from it – the scars and pain are a constant reminder. At one point he hardly came out of his room for two weeks. He couldn’t sleep for months and had constant flash backs. He wouldn’t go to the doctors and I didn’t know how to help him. I felt helpless and useless.

At first he was just glad to be alive, then came the anger – as far as he was concerned, his life was over, ruined. It was heartbreaking. He didn’t talk about it much because it made him angry. Even now he dislikes people asking what happened – he’s fed up answering the same questions – but he knows people are only asking out of concern. He can’t cope with anyone coming up behind him. He’s paranoid and he trusts no one. It’s hardened him, and in some respects not in a good way. He’s given up his beloved rugby, a sport he’s played from the age of 7. Maybe one day he will play again.

I, on the other hand needed to talk about it a lot to try make some sense out of it all. My sister has been such a good sounding board. Steve doesn’t say much about it – I think that is a “man thing”, but I know he is angry. They tried to kill his son and we couldn’t be there to stop it.

Chloe is the calm, the voice of reason who puts everything into perspective. She’s strong and a calming influence in difficult situations. Although she is a worrier, she doesn’t always show her emotions, she just gets on with it.

For me, my life has been consumed with what’s happened. I think about it every day. On the outside everything looks ok – I get up, put my face on and go to work – but sometimes I break down at the smallest of things and in random places. It comes out of nowhere and I have to pull myself together. Other times I’m angry and bitter. I’m sick of life, sick of the world we have to live in and sick of not feeling in control of anything anymore. All Josh is is a statistic amongst thousands of others and nobody is doing anything about it. It’s like he’s forgotten about now. At times I feel like an emotional wreck, then I think if I feel like this how much worse must it be for Josh?

Some people have the capacity to forgive heinous crimes. I don’t and I make no apologies for that. We are dealing with the aftermath of what happened on a daily basis in one way or another. They say time is a great healer, so I’m wishing time away to get to a place where it’s a distant memory for Josh.

What was it like for you when Josh started to go out again?

It was awful – I couldn’t settle at all. I feel like I’m constantly living on my nerves. Josh knows this and doesn’t mind how much we text him just to makes sure he’s ok, which we do frequently. I want to keep him in, keep him safe, but I know that’s not realistic. He has to and needs to live his life like any normal person. I secretly do a dance when he’s says he’s working on a Saturday because I know he won’t go out Friday night or if he falls asleep I don’t want to wake him up.

Steve and I will sit there on a night watching tv and one of us will say Josh has been a long time at the gym and one of us will text him. We both have the same worries. Usually he texts straight back, but the odd time that he hasn’t we panic and we’ve been ready to get in the car to go on there. We can’t protect him like we could when he was little. That’s just the way life is for us now.

If you could say anything to the person who stabbed Josh, what would it be?

I would ask “why?” But I wouldn’t get an answer – they don’t care. It would be wasted on them to let them know how it’s affected all our lives. They have entered a not guilty plea. What can you say to people like that?

What do you think needs to be done to prevent knife crime?

To stop knife crime becoming even more of a problem we need MONEY. The government needs to invest a serious amount of money into the police force. It has been cut to the bone for the last decade. Since 2014, knife crime has risen at the fastest rate in West Yorkshire out of the whole country.

Money needs to be pumped into education, with police going into schools talking about knife crime. We teach children the dangers of crossing a road, but we need to teach them what is relevant in today’s society. They need to know the devastation knife crime causes when you injure or take a life. Show graphic photos – sometimes people need to be shocked to take notice.

The whole justice system needs a massive shakeup. It’s not fit for purpose and it’s not working. We need more courts and judges. We got a court date 10 months after the stabbing, which is a long time to wait. Naively, we thought we had got our day in court only to find out we were what they call ‘floaters’ and we would only get into court if a judge became free on that day. We were second inline floaters, meaning another family were before us, so in reality we needed 2 judges to finish their cases and become free. There were 8 courts but only 4 judges which is absolutely ridiculous! People need to be told this beforehand. We had never been to court before, we had no idea what to expect or how it works but we were just expected to accept it.

I broke down completely after being informed court was being adjourned for another 5 months. We had waited 10 months for this day, worrying and dreading it but needing answers. I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to get justice for what they had done. To find out that we could be floaters up to 3 times is deflating, devastating and soul destroying.

We feel massively let down by the justice system. Victims need closure one way or another to be able to move forward and start living their life again, but the current system isn’t allowing that. I fully understand how people take things into their own hands when they are let down time and time again by the outdated justice system in this country. We need more prisons and harsher sentences. Prison is too easy today – you commit the crime, you should do the time, WITHOUT privileges. Criminals need to fear a prison sentence.

Install knife arches/detectors in all schools, pubs and clubs, do more stop and searches – who cares who gets offended if it saves a life? Nobody is immune to these crimes. The list is endless but without investing money it will only continue to get worse, as it has done for the last 10 years.

What would you say to someone who was considering carrying a knife?

DON’T DO IT.

If you’re carrying one then you are likely to use it if you find yourself in a situation, but that split second decision WILL change someone’s life forever, not just the victim but their whole family and not just physically but mentally also.

It’s not big, it’s not tough, it’s pathetic and cowardly. I truly believe everyone has a conscience, that voice inside our head that tells us we are stupid or we’ve been an idiot. Just take a few minutes to think about what you are doing. If nothing else think about the consequences for yourself and your family.

In the end no one is a winner.

How do you think victims of knife crime and their families could be supported?

I suppose there is support out there for victims – you are given a telephone number for victim support and that is all – but it’s often difficult to pick up the phone and ring it. At the beginning, the victim is just focussed on dealing with the pain, lack of sleep, flashbacks and adjusting to what’s happened. They have so much time on their hands for it to go round and round in their heads. They are dealing with thing like the police coming round for statements and DNA samples.

As time moves on, I think it gets much more difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help. A family liaison officer or councillor should come with the police, that way the victim will open up about how they are feeling. We all know the most difficult thing is to admit you need help and then have to make the choice to actively get the help – many people can’t do that. At the time when Josh was so vulnerable I think he would have accepted help had it been there right in front of him.

If you could describe your outlook on life, what would it be?

My outlook on life now is to I cherish the ones close to me. My family are everything. You don’t know what’s around the corner and tomorrow is not guaranteed. It only takes seconds for your life as you know it to be changed forever. Can you afford to take another holiday? Take it! I find it to be a great escape from everything that’s weighing me down, to recharge my batteries and carry on. Whatever your escape is, do it as often as you can. Do the things you enjoy, not what others think you should be doing. As difficult as it may be when times are hard, try to look forward to better times because they will come.

Often it’s the simple things that give the most pleasure. For me, it’s my little family all together maybe sharing a take-away, talking and having a laugh… I cherish those times even more now.

During the trial, the man accused of stabbing Josh was found not guilty as his barrister claimed that the evidence was too weak to secure a prosecution.

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