A very special charity in memory of TomPosted 11th January 2024
The tragic loss of his son to knife crime devastated Kevin King, but now the Milton Keynes man is launching a new initiative in a bid to stop others having to suffer as he has.
Kevin spoke with Pulse Magazine’s Sammy Jones about his plans for STAK…
It is an incomprehensible horror; a dad finding out about the passing of his son through that most modern of ways, a Facebook post. And yet, in 2016 that was the awful reality for Kevin.
“It was the worst possible way to find out,” he said, “I spent time panicking, trying to contact others, trying to find out if it was even real, or just some awful rumour.”
Tom Webb was just 22 years old when he was attacked during a night out with friends in his adopted home of Derby. He was stabbed in the heart by 16-year-old Haris Mohammed.
Father and son shared a strong bond: “He would spend all his school holidays with me, and we would just have fun. He loved music, film, animals, and had a wonderful sense of humour.”
When the uncertainty of that social media post was confirmed, Kevin was left reeling.
“Apart from the initial panic, I don’t really remember much except being in shock and unable to comprehend what had happened. I went into shutdown mode for a long time, I completely isolated myself from everyone.”
The inability to be able to begin to make sense of something so pointless, was overwhelming for Tom’s dad.
“For the first few months, the grief was all-consuming – I think I just blanked everything out. But it wasn’t purely coming to terms with the loss either; because there was a police investigation it was the distress of the ongoing communication with police, the new evidence, and trial, I wasn’t able to grieve on my own terms.”
That split second act by a teenager with a knife didn’t just rob Tom’s parents of their son, it robbed Kevin of his health too.
“By the time of the trial, my physical and mental health had become so bad that I didn’t have the capacity to cope with it. I’d developed a heart problem, was having anxiety attacks and spiralling into a mental breakdown.
“Emotionally and mentally, losing Tom took its toll – but the physical repercussions were a big part. Anxiety and stress are not just in your mind; they affect your health drastically.
“Losing a child is so different from losing a different family member, particularly due to murder or manslaughter,” Kevin says, “There is a real stigma and lack of acceptance in society about it.”
The death of a child is one of the most traumatic things anyone can face, but while some friends and family rallied, many more kept their distance.
“People don’t really know how to talk to you, so more often than not, they will just lose touch with you entirely,” Kevin says, “I had quite a wide social circle, but after people heard what had happened, it was reduced to just a few close friends and relatives. I don’t blame people as it’s such a difficult thing to be able to process – the more people avoid you the harder communication gets, as they feel guilty for not helping.
“The Ripple Effect was a metaphor that really stuck with me – the pebble thrown into the pond is the incident; everyone close to that person is the first ripple, everyone close to them is another ripple, and so on. Just one death can irreparably affect more people than you realise: it affects entire communities.”
The headlines disappeared and the court case was completed – Tom’s killer received a 14 year prison sentence.
But for Kevin there was no closure.
“It took at least three or four years before I began to feel like myself again,” he told me, “It was painful to do anything such as watch TV or browse the internet without there always being some reminder – a name, a news story, or just seeing others with their children.
“I was uncontrollably sad, even the phone ringing was enough to trigger a panic attack. I didn’t allow myself to stop feeling numb from the pain, so I didn’t process anything that had happened for a very long time.”
Before Tom was taken from him, Kevin had a business working from home, but the ensuing trauma robbed him of his motivation.
“I didn’t feel as if I had a reason to succeed…”
It was only when Covid restrictions were lifted that he felt able to reintegrate into the workplace. Even so, it was a challenge to mix with people.
‘When you become a parent, you become completely wired to provide for this new human being; they are your whole world. To have that suddenly gone leaves such an awful void – it’s as though you have no purpose in life anymore…”
But now Kevin is using his experience for positivity, with the launch of a new charity, Standing Together Against Knives, or STAK as it will be known.
“All I want to do now is help others; people who have gone through or are going through something similar to myself, and to inspire the youth to feel good about their lives and their futures.”
Kevin wants to offer a safe talking space for those who, similar to himself, have ensured such wanton and devastating loss.
“…developing an organisation where people can meet as a group, rather than just online or over the phone, is the ideal. It’s so important to have support, when it’s likely that none of your friends or family can truly help or comprehend what you’re going through.
“I found that a lot of people I was being recommended to speak to, were not suitably qualified in what I needed them to be; specialists in bereavement are not necessarily specialists in murder and manslaughter.
“Talking to people who’d been through similar experiences to me helped a lot in coming to terms with what had happened.”
STAK will be a place where people can be helped to begin to put their shattered pieces back together again; to find a life beyond tragedy.
“I see it as an outlet where people can be heard, and feel that they are not alone, and to help them eventually feel able to reintegrate into society. That was the only thing that helped me start the process of seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”
Younger people and youths will be encouraged to step up and help steer the charity with positive drive and clever events.
“I want it to be an organisation where people, especially younger people, can get involved. We will be organising a variety of events which will appeal to all ages but especially concentrating on inspiring projects for youngsters.”
A large focus for the offering will be on music, sport and art – passions that were shared by father and son.
“The aim is to put on high-profile events that will really enthuse and inspire, something that people will really connect with, and that will leave a lasting impression on those involved. The scene here was hugely influential, and provided a positive way to express myself rather than getting involved in crime. I became professionally involved in music and the arts and don’t think I would have had that confidence had it not been for my teenage years in Milton Keynes.”
Tragically, Tom’s hopes and dreams were snatched away in a moment of madness, but his father hopes that this new venture will help persuade others away from a life of crime.
“He was working so hard to build a life for himself and his girlfriend,” said his dad, “Tom was only just starting to become the man he wanted to be, and that he never got the chance to grow up is heartbreaking.
“If people don’t have a meaningful purpose in life, if they are not using their energy doing something positive, then it’s easy, particularly among the youth, to fall into crime and a culture of violence will flourish.
“I want to fight the knife crime epidemic by countering the mindset of negativity, anger and hate with positive and exciting projects.”
For more details on the charity, and how you can help, click to stakmk.org