A parent tells their story. Names and some facts have been edited to protect anonymity.
We’d not long got in from the school run when the phone rang. Steven had disappeared straight upstairs to his room like usual, and Milly was clinging on to my leg, like usual. I thought it must be mum as I picked up, leaving dinner on the side.
Our lives seemed happy enough. Two gorgeous kids, good jobs, lots of friends, somehow juggling work and family and still trying to have a social life. A moody teenager was normal enough, emerging out to be fed and watered, and a handful of a toddler about to embark on school life.
So, as I listened to this strained mother, somehow containing her anger, almost trying too hard to be balanced and reasonable, telling me that my son had been messaging her daughter, sending her pictures of himself, asking for returns, I couldn’t really take it all in. This wasn’t us. This wasn’t my family, my son. She’s only 12, the mother went on, she shouldn’t be seeing this stuff, and certainly not from a 15-year-old. But then how can we keep our children safe? Instagram really should do more. Has anything been shared online? We’ll have to tell the school of course, but did you know about this?
Know about this? As the evening went on, as the days went on that phrase rang round and round in my head. Why didn’t I know about this? How could I know about this? Shouldn’t I have known about this? Was it my fault? What had we done wrong?
There were meetings at school. Difficult, angry, recriminatory conversations at home. This bomb had landed on our home and there was nothing we could do to control the damage. No-one wanted to say it, but we all thought it. Will the police be involved, will Steven be arrested, will he have a criminal record, will he be labelled a sex offender? Steven was suspended whilst the school investigated, and it turned out there were three different girls he had been explicitly messaging and sending pictures of himself to. And some videos. What was he thinking?
I had never been into a solicitor’s office before I met Matthew. We had used them of course, two house moves and a will. But I still felt anxious, like I was going to be judged as a parent. I knew I was on trial, could feel the questions and the blame. It was nothing we hadn’t agonised over every moment since this began, but it was still a relief to have someone say straight that it wasn’t our fault. It was a bit of a blur, but in the space of an hour or so chaos somehow turned not only into a plan, but something that actually felt positive.
The police interview still feels unreal - something out of a film - and Steven to this day hasn’t spoken a word about it. He tried to be all grown up, but never have I wanted more to wrap my boy up and carry him away. They rip away childhood innocence in a moment, even though I know that Steven lost some of that innocence without me even noticing. We had to stay focused on the outcome, making sure above all else that he didn’t get a criminal record. By this time Steven was back at school, but as much as he had done wrong, I knew that he was just a child, I knew he wasn’t bad. Surely all kids get up to mischief, try to grow up too soon, and with the internet it’s all too easy to go wrong online. Don’t ruin his life over it. Please.
Matthew showed me the letter of representations he sent to the police, full of policy and mitigating features and vulnerability and high principle. I found it impossible to read about my own boy. And it all took so impossibly long to sort out. I could never understand why the police seemed to need weeks and weeks to make a decision.
I was in a side office at work when I took the call from Matthew telling me that there was going to be no criminal record but instead some educational sessions for Steven with someone from the youth offending team. I don’t know if I had really realised how consumed I had become by the whole process, how the worst-case scenarios just kept spinning round and round in my head. To be told it was all going to be OK was unreal somehow. I wanted to see it written down, to hold it. I know that Steven was fortunate, that for some families it is more difficult still. But I also knew my son, and knew what he wasn’t.
From my experience the most important thing is to make sure you’re there for your child. It’s easy to get so wound up in the process, which I found terrifying, to forget how they must be feeling.
Matthew Graham represented and assisted ‘Steven’ and his parents throughout this investigation. The Police marked the disposal on the police national computer as Outcome 31 in this force area, meaning there was no record of criminality at all.
To contact Matthew Graham please call 01225 485700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org