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Bea's Essay in National Press
'I will never forget the Friday morning when a police officer knocked at our door and said a body had been found. At that moment, everything changed for me, my husband Hu, and our son Grant.
Everyone reacts differently, and I just felt utter confusion and shock. My whole body was shaking but my head wasn’t. I couldn’t take it in. They said the body had been found the day before, but I couldn’t understand it. I had phoned Moira the day before, twice, and I had thought, “She’ll get back to me, she’s busy, she’s always busy”.
Her battered body had been found in Queen’s Park in Glasgow’s South Side in May 2008. She was in the park across the not road from the front door of her flat. I couldn’t take in that someone had done this to Moira. When I called family members that day, their reaction on the phone was what you might have expected ours to be, a shout, a shriek, a “No-no-no!” I didn’t do any of that. I just knew I had to sit down because my body wouldn't hold me up.
It was many, many months before I could take in the enormity of it and how it would change our lives forever. When we were taken to Queens Park to see the floral tributes, everything went into slow motion and it was like we were floating down to this empty park. I felt I was looking at a film set, as if it had nothing to do with me.
I had trouble sleeping and have been on sleeping pills ever since because my brain would not stop. I was going over everything, even trying to solve the case. I was constantly asking questions, fully occupying my mind for every second, maybe so I didn’t have to confront the reality of it. One police officer even said to me, , “This is our job, Bea, you don’t have to do this”.
Moira was 40 when she was brutally attacked by Slovakian Marek Harcar, who fled abroad to evade justice. Following a complex and lengthy investigation, Harcar, then 33, was eventually brought to trial in 2009 and found guilty of rape and murder at the High Court in Glasgow. He was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison.
The verdict brought resolution, but we struggled to bring meaning to our lives.
It was when the long, handwritten letters came in from Moira’s friends, all telling stories of how she had helped them, that I think the idea of The Moira Fund started, the thought that we could help people in Moira’s name in little ways that would help them as they struggled with the emotional trauma of losing a loved one to homicide.
The idea crystallised when we were stuck at Glasgow airport when a flight was cancelled and we were faced with the prospect of a four-hour wait in a public place. I didn't think I could have coped if I had been without Hu and Grant and so what would a single pensioner with or a single parent do if they were alone?
I must stress that we were well looked after by the Scottish police and courts service and were fortunate to have great family support. Hu and I were both in our late 60s, had continued to work after our retirements and had savings to pay for unexpected funeral expenses, Every family suffers emotionally when a loved one is torn from them suddenly and violently and everything will be even worse if they are struggling financially at the same time. Our son, Grant, gave up his job and his home in Western Australia to be with us. He has not gone back. It cost a huge amount to bring his dog over, his constant companion of ten years and tho' that may be little to some, it was worth every penny to us as the dog meant the world to Grant and probably helped him cope in the awful months ahead.
That is just one example of need. It has been officially estimated that losing a loved one to murder costs a family around £36,000. In the immediate aftermath of such tragedy everything changes, life changes- there are things you cannot bring yourself to do - go out in public, shop around, think about meals. You may send out for takeaways instead of cooking, take taxis instead of public transport, forget to pay bills, drink more heavily. These may sound like small things but they build up. You know you don’t have any control over the most important things in your life and you feel as if you can control nothing. It becomes a struggle to survive.
And Mr or Mrs Average probably have enough money in the bank to cover their next month’s rent or mortgage and little else besides. Suddenly, they are devastated by the terrible loss of a loved one and at the same time are faced with a raft of extra costs, including a funeral, through no fault of their own.
As chair of The Moira Fund, a national charity set up to alleviate the stress of those struggling to cope financially as well as emotionally with the loss of a loved one through murder, I have become increasingly concerned at the lack of joined up support on offer in Scotland. There are many agencies which offer help but they are disparate and since families will be severely traumatised and distressed, it is unlikely that they will have the strength or even the will to self-refer to a help agency - some may not even realise how much help they need, particularly with mental health.
In England and Wales, we work closely with the Homicide Support Service, set up in 2010 to provide one-to-one support for victims’ families with a dedicated homicide caseworker liaising on behalf of the family with police, funeral directors, courts, employers, schools, social services, counsellors, and so on.
The caseworker normally maintains contact with the family for 12-18 months and if needs arise during that time which cannot be met by official funds then we will be asked to help. Our response has always been a positive one.
Sadly, in Scotland, there is no such service to act as that vital go-between, meaning families fall through the gaps. This has been the case for a long time. I have discussed the issue with Crown Office officials, MSPs and charity leaders and it is widely agreed that change is needed.
I have also written to successive Justice Secretaries, Kenny MacAskill and Michael Matheson. There have been no improvements and families in Scotland are still not getting the help and support that English families do. This cannot be right. They deserve better than this.
Generally, the referrals we receive from Scotland come from police family liaison officers (FLOs) who are about to pass the family over to the Crown Office’s Victim Information and Advice service, which exists to guide them through the criminal justice process.
My many concerns came to a head earlier this month when I spoke to a FLO about helping a recently traumatically-bereaved family. The FLO had already contacted Victim Support Scotland(VSS), but was told that the victims’ “pot was empty”. When I contacted VSS to voice my concerns, they confirmed the Victims Fund (VF) was “depleted”. The Moira Fund had donated £5,000 to VF at the beginning of 2016 and the same in 2015, ring-fenced to help families of murder victims, because we knew of concerns then.
I am alarmed. If the VF is “depleted” now, what is going to happen to those traumatically bereaved through murder in the three months remaining of the current financial year?I was told VSS were talking to the Government now. I don’t know what to think. The VF, I know, is to help victims of serious crime but what could be more serious than murder? Should there not always be money in such a “pot”, just in case. Is all of this a result of under-funding by the government? Or what? This needs sorting. Without help and support families become isolated, go into debt, increasing debt and a downwardspiral of depression, they become fractured and, if they were already dysfunctional, it will only become worse. They need help.
We are a small, volunteer-run charity and it was never our intention to top up Government funds. I am sure our supporters wouldn’t want us to do that either, but we did, and do, want to help those in the depths of despair.
I want things to be better for Scottish victims. They are the poor relations in the justice system and this is not right. At present, families are asked if they want to be contacted by VSS and handed a booklet naming all the various charities and organisations that could help.
But those tortured by grief often don’t want to pick up the phone to a host of strangers in officialdom and explain yet again the horrific details of the tragedy that has been visited upon them.And that booklet may well go into a drawer as their minds anyway are consumed with what has happened to their loved one and what they have endured, while practical, every-day concerns are ignored.
A dedicated Homicide Service means that, while you focus on your grief, there is someone who is focused on you. And having that one continuous point of contact instead of seeing a stream of different people helps build up real trust which might encourage victims to open up more, another added benefit.
The English model – which has an 85 per cent take-up rate with bereaved families - could be easily adapted to Scotland. England and Wales is split into five regions covered by a manager and 35 staff, including caseworkers and support staff. With around 70 homicides a year in Scotland, compared with ten times that across the UK, it would require far fewer staff. It would cost money to set up, but investing in a system which aims to heal people might save us money in the long run – and improve lives.
Families who are helped to cope may require less intervention from healthcare professionals and the state benefit system. They may return more quickly to the workplace. Often murders cause great damage to already dysfunctional families. Children can go off the rails, leading to that familiar cycle of drugs, crime, and prison. Quite apart from the cost to the public purse, there is also a social cost.
Some of the most terrible stories involve a mother who is murdered by her partner or a stepfather, so suddenly mum is dead and dad is inside. We give a lot of help to grandparents or sisters who are bringing up grieving grandchildren or nieces and nephews, who find they don’t have enough room so they may need extra furniture, to redecorate to create a special place for the young person who is now living with them.
It is vital they receive as much help as possible to re-establish a bit of normality amidst the chaos. We can help by giving them a few days’ break at a holiday park to look forward to at the end of a trial. Just to do something considered normal as a family and to do it away from home and give them a chance to mix with people can be the most beneficial help we can give.
One recent case involved a father whose oldest son was murdered and within months the mum took her own life because she couldn’t cope with the loss. Dad was left with three sons and the request to us was for a respite break in a place where they had gone frequently as a family. He hoped that by taking his sons there, they would remember the good times and build on happy memories and it seemed to work. He wrote to say it was the first time he had laughed in 14 months. Hearing such things can be very moving indeed.
As a victim I know only too well the ongoing pain, grief, shock and bewilderment which will be experienced by other victims and how important it is that they are given both the practical and emotional support they need. I become agitated just thinking about those who are not getting this help, who are let down because help agencies are not joined up, or not run efficiently.
Moira’s murder ripped the heart out of our family and changed us forever. It affects me still. I think what saved me was starting The Moira Fund. It gives me something to focus on in Moira's name, has given me a way to cope with the terrible loss of my beautiful girl Others need to be helped to find their way to cope. And nobody should be left behind.'