I was crushed when my beautiful boy, Harry, died mysteriously. But then the shocking truth behind his killer was revealed… By Lauren O’Neill, 23

‘We’d better not be too late for the babysitter,’ Joe smiled across the dinner table as he asked for the bill. ‘I hope Harry’s ok.’ 

It was typical of Joe. He loved to take me out for slap-up dinners and shower me with compliments, but really he couldn’t wait to get home to see my two-year-old son, Harry.

As a single mum to little Harry, I hadn’t been expecting to find Mr Right, but after meeting Joe on Facebook, it felt like my life was complete.

Most importantly, Harry had taken to Joe almost immediately. ‘Daddy Joe Joe,’ he called out after him as he toddled around the house.

Harry loved being outdoors and he’d squeal with delight when Joe offered to take him to the park or out to walk the dog.

Joe was my rock and the look on Harry’s face when he looked up at him, told me it was clear my little boy loved Joe as much as I did.

March 2016 was our first Easter together and I was determined we’d have a traditional, family day. ‘I’m just nipping to the shops to pick up some veg for the roast, keep an eye on Harry,’ I called out to Joe as I grabbed my handbag.

I wasn’t gone long but when I got home, Harry was screaming and he had blood gushing down his face.

Joe was desperately dabbing at my little boy’s cheek with a flannel in a bid to stem the bidding.

‘Harry!’ I cried out as I rushed to him. ‘What happened, I’ve only been gone five minutes?’ I turned to Joe, panic stricken.

Poor Joe was besides himself as he explained that Harry had fallen into a plate and cut his face. ‘We need to get him to hospital,’ I cried as I rang an ambulance and was rushed to A&E.

Doctors stitched Harry up, treating the huge gash from his mouth to his ear, but Joe was still inconsolable.

I knew toddlers were always getting bumps and into all sorts of scrapes and tried to soothe him. ‘It was an accident, it could happen to anyone,’ I reassured Joe.

All that mattered was that Harry was on the mend and it wasn’t long before I took my brave boy home.

A few weeks later, as we prepared for my dad’s birthday, Harry was jumping up and down with excitement.

Harry was going to stay with Grandpa and Grandma for the weekend and he couldn’t wait. ‘We’re going to make Grandpa a birthday cake, aren’t we?’ I grinned at Harry as he played with Lego in his room.

I nipped out to buy the eggs and flour and left Harry with Joe. The shop was only around the corner, I could see it from our back garden, I couldn’t have been more than a few minutes.

‘Can you check on Harry?’ I asked Joe when I got back. He was lying on the sofa and I needed to unload the washing.

I was putting the shopping away when I heard Joe hurtling down the stairs. ‘Harry needs a sick bowl and some water,’ he gasped. ‘He feels sick.’

I calmed Joe down as I went up to comfort Harry. Harry had had a bug earlier in the week, so this was to be expected.

But when I got back, I knew immediately this was no stomach bug. Something was seriously wrong.

Harry was white as a sheet and he stumbled around his Lego bricks as he wobbled on his little legs.

‘I’m fine, Mummy,’ he mumbled as he tried to smile. But I knew my precious boy was far from fine.

I got to him just as he was about to topple over, and scooped his little frame into my arms.

‘Joe! Ring an ambulance!’I yelled as I lay on the bed with Harry. Panic rose in my chest as my little boy became unresponsive.

I tried everything to rouse him, including dousing him in water, but nothing was bringing him round.

Where was the ambulance?

Harry had been pale but now he was turning blue and then he let out a strange gasp, unlike anything I’d ever heard before in my life.

I desperately willed him to hang on as we remained like that as we waited for the paramedics to arrive - but deep down, I knew that Harry had gone.

The paramedics spent 45 minutes trying to resuscitate Harry, but nothing was working. ‘Please save him,’ I sobbed. ‘Please don’t give up on my boy.’

But it was too late, my precious boy was dead. Harry was gone.

I could hardly see straight as the ambulance crew and then the police swarmed in and out of the house.

The next few hours were a blur. Somehow we got to the hospital and sat in a side room as we waited to be seen.

Numb with grief, Joe and I clung to each other for support. I was in shock, and I barely said a word that day.

Doctors came and went but no one seemed to know what had happened. ‘We can’t be certain, but we think Harry might have succumbed to leukaemia,’ a doctor said gently.

I just couldn’t make sense of it. Harry had been perfectly happy and healthy when I went to get the cake ingredients - minutes later he was dead.

What had happened to my boy?

We stayed at my parents’ house for a couple of days as I struggled to cope with what had happened. I could barely speak, let alone eat and dress myself.

Then a week later, there was a knock at the door. It was the police. ‘We’d like to speak with both of you,’ the officer said, looking at me and Joe.

‘Of course,’ I said, ushering them in. I assumed they had some news on what had happened to Harry, but then they explained they were here to arrest us on suspicion of killing Harry.

What on Earth?

I’d never harm my own baby and thought it was some sort of sick joke, but I quickly realised it was no misunderstanding.

‘I’d never hurt Harry!’ I cried as the officers explained that the results of the post-mortem had revealed Harry’s injuries were no accident.

Joe and I were separated and bundled to the station in police cars and I was taken to a cell. For 30 hours, I was interrogated about what had happened to Harry.

‘Please, you have to believe me,’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t know what to say, because I haven’t got a clue what happened to Harry. It’s the truth,’ I begged.

When I was finally released, I was broken. Overwhelmed with grief, and now with the dark cloud of suspicion hanging over me and Joe, it was almost too much to bear.

I spiralled into depression and that’s when I saw another side to Joe that scared me.

I knew he was grieving too but he’d become angry and short-tempered. It had been four months since Harry had died, and I was stumbling through life in a daze.

That day, Joe and I had gone into town. We were ordering a sandwich in Subway when Joe started an argument.

‘I reckon you killed Harry,’ he spat callously.

It was like he’d knocked the wind out of me. ‘How could you say that?’ I turned to him, incredulous. ‘I’d never hurt Harry but... did you?’ I whispered, terrified.

‘Yeah, I did,’ he shrugged, nonchalantly. ‘What are you going to do about it?’

My mind reeled as I struggled to take in the enormity of what he had just said. As I stumbled through town in a daze, Joe began raining down brutal blows on me.

I tried to get away, even running onto a train and hiding in the toilets, but when I thought it was safe to leave, Joe leapt out and attacked me again.

I cowered in fear as I faced the violent unthinkable truth - my boyfriend had killed my baby.

The next day I called the police and told them about the attack - and Joe’s confession. They checked CCTV images from that afternoon in town, and on the train, which showed Joe’s savage attack on me.

He was clearly capable of violence - but was he capable of murder?

Three weeks after Joe beat me, police stormed the house and arrested Joe as he tried to escape out of the bathroom window.

He was charged with murdering Harry, and I was told I was no longer under any suspicion.

Five months after my beautiful boy had died, my name was finally cleared - and I was allowed to see the results of Harry’s postmortem. The conclusion was clear.

It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t leukaemia - Harry had been murdered, brutally punched and kicked to death by that monster.

I felt an overwhelming sense of grief - and guilt. I’d let Joe into our lives and left him alone with Harry.

In December, over six months after Harry had died, I finally laid him to rest. Then, I faced Joe in the dock as I testified against him. I was offered a screen but I wasn’t going to hide, I owed it to Harry.

I was his mummy, I was meant to look after him. I couldn’t protect him in life, but I was determined to at least get him justice in death.

Joe smirked as I gave evidence but he wasn’t smirking when, in June 2017, he was found guilty of murder and jailed for life.

That monster is behind bars where he belongs, but it’ll never bring my Harry back.

He was such a special little boy, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact I left him in the arms of his killer - his Daddy Joe Joe.

Lauren will never get over the loss of her precious son, but the fact that his killer was someone she loved and trusted makes it even harder to bear. If you've been the victim of a shocking crime and are thinking about telling your story, contact our team for a gentle, no-obligation chat to see how we could help.


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