In a case tragically echoed just two weeks ago by the beating to death of a 20-year-old man in Berlin, Marie Heath’s son Lee was attacked in central Frankfurt last year; so badly battered that he died two days later.
Marie Heath told The Local how she had spent nearly six months flying to Germany and back to see the German justice system deal with the four men who had attacked her son Lee.
“I have been at a bit of a loss since I got home to be honest,” she said.
“We took more than 90 flights to go to the trial. It had to be done; I couldn’t have sat in England not being there, even though it was sometimes really hard.”
In September she was in Frankfurt to see jail sentences handed to the four bouncers who beat him to death.
The men, only identified as Athanassios G. and Ömer H., were jailed for ten-and-a-half and nine years respectively after being convicted of manslaughter. A disco employee was given a five-year youth detention sentence for manslaughter and a third bouncer was given a two-year suspended sentence for grievous bodily harm.
I don’t feel like I have got justice
“My worst nightmare would have been that they walked out of that court as free men,” she said, speaking from her home in Essex.
“I don’t know how I would have coped with that. I don’t feel like I have got justice, but if they had got 50 years in prison it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. Yet ten-and-a-half years doesn’t seem like a long time – I just hope it does to him.”
She told how Lee had been in a long-term relationship with a German woman and had moved with her to the Frankfurt area about 18 months before he was killed. During a night out at the U60311 nightclub last Easter Lee was horrifically beaten by bouncers and dumped on the street.
“You don’t expect that phone call. He wasn’t the kind of person who went looking for trouble. He was with his girlfriend that night, he wasn’t an aggressive person,” she said.
“I’m grateful that my partner got me a flight that night. If I hadn’t been in a position, or had the family behind me that I did, or perhaps didn’t have the computer to book that flight – Lee only survived a day and a half after we got there. I had the chance to say what I wanted to say to him.”
Now Heath’s exhausted grief is mixed with anger – at the Frankfurt authorities for the fact that the regulations covering doormen, or the enforcement of those rules, were not enough to keep her son from harm.
Still feel like I’m in no-man’s land
She said she could not talk about the details of the case because the convicted men were appealing their sentences and she did not want to do anything to jeopardise the legal process.
Now she is back in the UK, tentatively trying to find the pieces of her life to put them into some kind of order. “I know we have got to get back on track, but I still feel like I’m in no-man’s land.”
She is not sure whether she can return to her job driving a minibus for adults with learning difficulties, even though she would love to. “It is a big part of my life, I would hate to lose my job,” she said.
She said the five months of arriving home from Germany on Friday, dumping clothes into the washing machine and doing what was necessary to keep the house going, before packing things ready to leave again on Monday for the Tuesday court hearing in Frankfurt had been exhausting.
“I was so focussed on getting out there every week,” she said. The first few trips were extremely difficult, arranging hotels and finding her way around Frankfurt, although with experience the whole process became more doable.
You cannot fall to bits
“We are now trying to get back to some kind of life here. The last 18 months we haven’t even had any time to start mourning him, we just had to keep things together and not collapse. That is perhaps a mother thing – when it’s one of your kids you cannot fall to bits.
“There were times when I worked with children with disabilities who had grown up to become adults, and you see their parents who just cope; that is strength. I think it’s in everyone, you just have to do it.”
She said she had become friends with one of Lee’s friends in Germany, who had been an enormous help. “That will be a life-long friendship. We didn’t know anyone over there, and she was a tower of strength.”
Lee had taken to life in Germany with gusto, taking a German language course and passing all three exams, she said.
“He was well up for it. When I was there he took me round with great pride, he loved it. He would compare it with England when we talked on the phone – when we were stuck in the house because of the snow he was saying that would never happen in Germany – he loved it there.”
This Saturday would have been his birthday.