This annual event was kindly sponsored and assisted by "Always a Chance" for the fifth year running.
The weekend commenced on Friday 11 May, as those people who were coming from further afield arrived to check into the on-site accommodation.
On the Friday evening, 14 old and new members were re-acquainting themselves or socialising for the first time in the bar and hospitality areas of the Sunley Conference Centre, University of Northampton. A further six members arrived on the Saturday morning.
The 20 members and four Trustees were from as far afield as Portugal (where one family now resides), Scotland and the Channel Islands. The tragedies that had befallen these families occurred in 11 different countries.
A busy weekend had been planned with formal presentations on the Saturday, followed by a more relaxing 'wellbeing' day on the Sunday.
Saturday morning started with tea and coffee in the main reception area of the Sulgrave Building. Following a short welcome session plus housekeeping matters, Eve outlined some of the reasons that bring our families together. Everyone attending had experienced the tragic loss of a loved one whilst they were overseas. The victim could have been on holiday, on business or just travelling the globe. The second reason for attending was because all of us had been disappointed with some aspect of our treatment by the UK agencies with whom we came into contact in the aftermath of the tragedy. Following the event which was the most traumatising, painful and unexpected event in our lives, we expected clear and transparent information, practical support, compassion, understanding and assistance. It was probably the first time in our lives we were thrust into contact with three government agencies here in the UK, the FCO, UK Police and Coroners, about which we had hardly any previous knowledge. Inviting Guest Speakers from each of these agencies gives the attendees the opportunity to speak directly to those who are responsible for ensuring that everything that can be done, should be done for the victims’ families.
The Guest Speaker on the Saturday was from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Eve outlined the programme for the day and introduced our first Guest Speaker, the Head of the Murder & Manslaughter Team (MMT) at the FCO.
The first session commenced with a round-table "5 minute" introduction by each of the members present. Each victim’s family had a chance to summarise and update the progress on each of their tragic cases. It is an extremely emotional part of the meeting and we try to handle it as sensitively as possible. We felt it was important that the FCO heard directly from the victims’ families. This part was ably chaired by Bren McLaughlin – it is always a difficult job to keep running 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 just 5 minutes each. This session inevitably overruns.
The representative from the FCO then gave a short presentation, explaining their role and the way their team operates and their relationships with the UK police and Victim Support’s homicide service.
There followed a Q&A session and the Head of the Murder & Manslaughter Team answered a lot of members’ questions and was given some unhappy feedback about the families’ earlier contacts with the FCO. It was clear from what families reported that some cases fall “between the cracks” when homicide is not a clear definition.
An excellent lunch was served in the ample reception area of the Sulgrave Building.
The afternoon session was a talk by Alan Penny, a Trauma Therapist from 'ASSIST Trauma Care' followed by questions and answers. He explained the differences in bereavement due to natural loss, tragic loss, traumatic loss, and the uniquely painful traumatic loss of a loved one overseas. He talked about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and referred to a useful book entitled 'The Body Remembers Trauma' which goes some way to explaining the links between physical ailments and earlier trauma.
This talk was followed by an update on the Charity's activities. Eve led the way with a summary of meetings attended throughout the year with Parliamentarians, the FCO MMT and the UK police. Kim outlined some recent media liaison and awareness-raising work, Bren talked about the Helpline activities and Brian gave a summary of the Charity's fund raising successes, spending, and funding.
The evening was spent on-site at a private session held in the student's union Pavilion with everyone relaxing, socialising and getting acquainted. A huge buffet was served with many different options. The student bar staff were friendly and helpful and it was a nice gesture for the University of Northampton to provide this facility and donate the food.
Sunday morning formally commenced with a Reflections & Remembrance Service - led by Sheron Burt, a celebrant from Northampton. She read this moving poem:
There followed a candle lighting ceremony with members lighting a candle in memory of their loved one.
Sheron encouraged everyone to say something about what they most remember about their loved one and interestingly many people remembered their laughter or their smile which is a great comfort to them. Thoughts and aspirations were written by each member on a card and placed in a sealed envelope ready for next year’s meeting to review. Then, attendees wrote personal messages on their own yellow ribbons, and then moved out into the pleasant sunshine to attach them to the Stephen Lawrence Memorial tree, a permanent feature on the University campus.
After a coffee break, attendees then had the option to be involved in any one of three separate Wellbeing activities: Neck and Shoulder massage with Kate; Reflexology (feet or hands) with Bee; or simply a walk around the open fields surrounding the campus in the warm summer sun. Navigational errors led to a longer walk than was intended – thank goodness for maps on smart phones!
At the conclusion of the day, all participants were asked, as always, to complete a questionnaire covering all aspects of the conference, the venue, and their thoughts on what they had found useful, 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.
Trustees: Brian Chandler, Eve Henderson, Bren McLaughlin, Kim Spooner.