This annual event, sponsored and assisted by Always a Chance, commenced on the 12 May Friday evening with some of the 17 old and new members re-acquainting themselves, or socialising for the first time, in the bar and hospitality areas of the Sunley Conference Centre, University of Northampton. The 17 attendees plus the four Trustees came from as far afield as Ireland, Scotland and Spain (one of our members now lives in Spain) covering tragedies occurring in 12 different countries around the world.
A busy weekend had been planned with some serious guest speakers leading the way on the Saturday, followed by a more relaxing wellbeing day on the Sunday.
Tea, coffee and biscuits were provided by the University on arrival. On display were some of Murdered Abroad’s new publicity material - leaflets and banner stands carrying the striking new Murdered Abroad logo.
After the Welcome and Housekeeping matters, Saturday began with a presentation by Simon Hare, Producer and Documentary maker of the BBC's Inside Out programme. His topic was "Dealing Effectively with the Media". As an example of his work he showed a video featuring two of our members (who were present at the meeting) that had been broadcast earlier this year. These weekly regional Inside Out features are 9 minutes long and are produced, in turn, by 11 different BBC regions (Simon being responsible for the East Midlands area). The video had been filmed and produced with investigative help from the University of Derby's Justice for All team, headed by ex-Senior Investigating Officer, Tony Blockley, and opened new insights into our members’ yet unresolved case in Italy.
Simon's general view was that whilst journalists have no power as such, they can at least shine a light into areas of concern. His top tips for victims dealing with the media, were for families:
- to take control of who to speak to (or not)
- to set parameters
- to supply carefully chosen photographs
- to always ask for details of interviews beforehand
- to give feedback to the media afterwards.
Simon stressed the benefits of developing good relationships with trusted local media presenters, where continuity can be of more benefit than occasional fleeting interest from National media.
This was followed by a round-table 5 minute introduction by each of the members present. Each victim’s family member had the opportunity to summarise and give an update of the progress made on each of their tragic cases. This part was ably chaired by Bren, always a difficult job to keep within the allotted time. Members find that the ability to talk openly and honestly about their circumstances with similar, understanding families is extremely therapeutic, but it is very difficult to condense this into 5 minutes each and this part therefore eventually spilled over into the afternoon session.
An excellent lunch was served in the ample reception area of the Sulgrave building.
The afternoon session started with a dynamic Question & Answer PowerPoint presentation given by Sophie Scragg, an Outreach Officer for Parliament, on the subject of "An introduction to your Parliament: Engaging and Influencing". To illustrate her point she asked some searching questions, probing how much we, the general public, actually understand about the differences between Government, Parliament, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. She then moved on to cover the different campaigning buttons that can be pushed to either champion or to promote specific causes, or to cause investigation of particular problems. There are many ways to gain attention, from petitioning, to Parliamentary questions (PQ’s) and Sophie covered the activities of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG’s) and Select Committees.
This was followed by an update on our Charity's activities. Eve led the way with a summary of meetings attended by Murdered Abroad Trustees during the early part of 2017. They included meetings with politicians, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Murder & Manslaughter Team and the UK police. Kim outlined the on-going process of developing our new Murdered Abroad website, Bren talked about the Helpline activities and Newsletter and Brian gave a summary of the Charity's finances, both spending and funding.
Saturday evening was spent on site. The University provided a private session in the Student Union’s Pavilion. It was very informal, everyone was relaxed after a fairly intense day, socialising and getting acquainted. A fantastic buffet was served by two very helpful students.
Sunday morning formally commenced with a Reflections and Remembrance service - an extremely moving session by Philip Painter, a retired police officer from Kent with 30 years experience including homicide investigations. He now runs his own consultancy business assisting the Charity sector. He read poems and had prepared a very touching and thought -provoking non-denominational service, remembering each of the victims, with an individual candle lighting ceremony. Background music 'Sailing By' and 'Across the Bridge of Hope' was played. It was an emotional and therapeutic ceremony. Philip asked attendees to review the individual hopes and aspirations that they had written down at the previous year's meeting, and maybe set some new ones. After REM's 'Everybody Hurts', attendees wrote personal messages on yellow ribbons provided by Hazel Kouzaris and everyone moved out into the sunshine to attach them to the Stephen Lawrence Memorial tree, a permanent feature on the University’s Park campus.
Attendees then had the option to be involved in any one of three separate Well-Being activities; Neck andShoulder massage with Kate Hetherington; Reflexology (feet or hands) with Belinda (Bee) Burton; or simply a walk around the open fields surrounding the campus in the pleasant summer sun.
At the conclusion of the day, all participants were asked, as always, to complete a Feedback questionnaire covering all aspects of the Conference, the venue, and their thoughts on what they had enjoyed, or not. Murdered Abroad analyse and use this feedback to help plan and improve future years’ events.
The Trustees of Murdered Abroad would like to express our sincere thanks to Nick Allen of the University of Northampton, Always a Chance for sponsoring this meeting, Hazel and Pete Kouzaris who worked hard on the organising and who are our link with the University, Jeanne, Helena, Kate and Bee. Thank you all for making the weekend a success.