The studio audience was small, the applause polite. No doubt it would sound louder on the TV. He fixed his smile and trotted on to the stage. The presenter flashed a grin of her own and waited for him to sit on the sofa. She smoothed her dress and lowered herself into her own seat. The prompt cards she held in her hand were vacant props. Either she was well prepared or the questions were fed through her earpiece. He wasn’t sure.
“So, Paul. Great to finally have you here. I’ve been a fan of yours for some time. I picked up your breakthrough album Racers when it came out, what, five years ago?”
“Er, yeah. About five years ago I released that.”
“And you only went on to bigger and better things afterwards. Now, you’ve just come off your European tour. Tell us about that.”
“Sure. I flew in last night from Hamburg, the last stop on the tour. I played a few dates across the continent, a few festivals in Scandinavia and then finished up trekking across Spain, France and then Germany.”
“Will you be playing any British dates?”
“Yeah. I’ve got about ten days off. Then I play Cardiff, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield… I think that’s all.”
“The dates are on your website, right?”
“Yeah, they should be up by now.”
“Okay, great. Now, I like a solid guitar album as much as anyone else. We’ve had our fair share of musicians on here as you probably know. I’ve been listening to the review copy of your new album - just one of the privileges of my job - and it’s a cracker, it really is. When’s it out?”
“A week Thursday, then. Can we… which camera are we on? Can we get a close up of the cover? Great. It’s been in my car all week. I was surprised when I played it the first time. It’s got a much rockier edge than your last few albums. They were quite… reflective, I suppose. Not as loud as this one, and I mean that in a good way. Could you tell us what that’s all about?”
* * *
The interview room was small and stale. He’d been here for twenty minutes, awaiting the officers. A grid of polystyrene tiles hung above him, two light-bulbs glaring through frosted glass perspex. The walls were brown. The end of the steel table butted against the wall to his left. The table was fixed to the floor, as were the chairs. He wished he could move his closer. A small brown box was affixed to the wall, resting on the table. He wondered what it was for.
The door clunked and opened inwards. Two officers, a male and a female, entered and sat at the opposite side of the table, closest to the door.
The male officer spoke.
“Before we start I need to remind you that everything that happens here will be recorded, both in audio and video.” He indicated the small camera in the far corner of the ceiling, over Paul’s right shoulder. “If you’re ready to start, we’ll begin.”
The officer glanced at his colleague. She pressed a button on her side of the brown box.
“It is sixteen thirty-seven on the twenty-fourth of December, two thousand and fifteen. I am DI Winchcombe.”
“And I am officer McPartland, badge number one four nine.”
“We are in Downhope police station in custody suite ‘D’ to interview Paul Hatfield. Could you confirm your name for the record please?”
Winchcombe leant against the table.
“I’m sorry, we’ll need your full name. And you’ll have to speak up, else the microphone might not pick up everything.”
Paul straightened his shoulders and raised his voice.
“I’m Paul Hatfield.”
“You were arrested at approximately ten thirty this morning, at Tane and Worfold, where you currently work. Is that correct?”
“And at the time of arrest did the arresting officer read you your rights?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And at that time you stated you did not want a lawyer. Is that still the case?”
“Is there anything else you’d like to add before we begin the interview?”
Paul raised his head as a man hefts a boulder. “I’m guilty. I killed him. With these hands.”
* * *
Paul opened the door. The small plastic chair was vacant. At the far side of the cheap flat-packed desk, Esme sat in her black swivel chair. He noted his personnel file open in front of her. She closed the manilla folder and looked up.
“Thanks for coming in today. I know you’re due on shift this afternoon but until we investigate the allegation against you, we can’t allow you into any of the homes. I have to inform you you’re suspended without prejudice, on full pay, until this is sorted. I expect it’ll take only a few days. I am going to have to write this all down, so apologies if I’m writing while you talk. I am paying attention. Now, can you tell me what happened last weekend, the evening of the… seventh?
* * *
“Sure. It’s been a kind of back-to-my-roots thing. At school I was the kid who eschewed whatever everyone else was listening to. For me it was all about Free, Zeppelin, Sabbath. I mean, it was the nineties bands that kicked off my interest in the guitar. Pearl Jam were cool, but Nirvana set it off for me. Loud, angsty power chords anyone could play. And once I got my guitar -a beat up second hand Jackson, nothing like any grunge band would touch. Man, it was loud. But anyway, once I’d thrashed out power chords for a few months I started listening again to that seventies stuff.”
“And is this album an attempt to recapture those early experiences with music?”
“Yeah, in a sense. Certainly, with my kids being a little older. I’ve been looking at what the next few years may hold for them, and kind of comparing that to my own experiences. I mean, you can’t hear that in the music, but I think it’s there in the lyrics.”
“Ah yes, the lyrics. I was going to come to those.”
* * *
The two officers looked at each other. Mcpartland nodded at Winchcombe to continue.
“So Mister Hatfield. Can you tell us what led to the events of this morning?”
“I think so. Our new supervisor came in about eight months ago. He’s given me nothing but grief since he started. Like, I’ve been ill this year. No more than some of the others. But he’s never spoken to anyone else about it. It’s like he looks for reasons to have a go at me. Anyway, after I was ill last he threatened to fire me if there were ‘any more problems’. There’d never been any problems until he started. And I’ve been there about four years, longer than most of the team. But, zero hours, no rights… I’ve been losing hours since he took over the rota. I pretty much live week to week. I’m single, no kids, get no state help. As long as you’re in work nobody gives a shit how difficult it is to get by. Anyway, at the end of last week a big order came in last minute. Somebody else had let the customer down and we got the order. Could lead to more things for the company. The rest of the factories on site close over Christmas. Not us. I turned up on time for work that morning, and the front gates to the site were locked. The key holder, he works directly for the site owners, he doesn’t work Christmas eve. So the gate’s locked. I had to walk to the mews at the rear of the site. Anyway, I come in to work a few minutes behind the clock. I pass my supervisor on the stairs and he blanks me. I say good morning and he blanked me. And I don’t mean just walked past me. I said ‘good morning’ and he looked the other way. Actually turned his head the other way. So I threw my stuff into the locker and walked double-quick to my workstation. I’ve been working less than two minutes -he was still switching his computer on when I swiped in- and in front of everyone, he calls me out to his desk. Summons me, like a naughty pupil. He’s pissed because I went straight to my workstation instead of grovelling at his desk for being late. Like, he wasn’t complaining about me being late, not at first. It was about how I’d not explained myself to him. Even though he was late, and for the same reason. It’s about manners and courtesy, he said, I’d at least expect an apology. Manners and courtesy. After he blatantly ignored me on the way in. Then he talked about reliability and timekeeping, not that my punctuality has ever been an issue. Then, in front of everyone, he threatened to fire me. Now, I’ve got nothing. I work all the hours I’m given. I rent a room. Can’t afford my own place. I read a lot, what I can get from the local library. When it’s open. Don’t holiday. Don’t do much except work and pay bills. I’ve no backup. Nothing to show for the hours I work, nothing but empty pockets and frayed jeans. Now this guy wants to take even that. He knows if I lose my job I’m homeless. And he’s grinning as he’s speaking. Manners and courtesy. That’s when I lost it.”
“Could you explain? What do you mean ‘lost it’?”
The cuffs rattled as he gesticulated.
“I grabbed his head. Smashed it into the desk. Twice. Then pinned it to the desk with my left hand as I punched it. Over and over until somebody pulled me off. I don’t remember who.”
* * *
“Okay. Where to start? I know you hardly get a chance to visit the homes, so I guess I’ll start with the lads. Marcus and Jamie have both lived at Waterchase House for a while. They’re of similar ages, though Marcus is a bit older. I’m Jamie’s keyworker, helped him move in. Marcus has been there slightly longer. I was on shift with Aiden. Both boys are supervised.”
“At all times?”
“Both boys are one-to-one. But the previous shift hadn’t done the grocery shop. I don’t know why. Anyway, I gave Aiden some petty cash to fetch bread, milk, a few other things.”
“Even though both boys are one-to-one?”
“What else could I do? We needed the shopping. Anyway, Jamie’s in the lounge playing X-Box. He’d been there since the morning. Marcus was offered to go to the shop but he refused. Declined. He knew we needed the shopping. It’s his little bit of control. He thought we wouldn’t be able to go to the shop if he stayed home.”
“Because both boys are one-to-one. I don’t buy into that sort of behaviour, so I sent Aiden off site to the shop. I was sat with Jamie. Marcus came to the door, demanded to go out in the car. I told him he’d have to wait. He asked why. I told him I couldn’t leave Jamie. He said, Jamie’ll have to come too. I told him that wasn’t happening, I wasn’t interrupting Jamie’s X-box time just so he could go for a drive. I said, if you wanted a drive you should’ve gone to the shop. He said, I don’t want to go to the shop. Jamie’s got to come in the car with me. I could see he was getting agitated so I got off the sofa and asked him to leave. There’s also a history of Marcus bullying Jamie that’s gone unresolved. As I went to the doorway Marcus pushed past me to get into the room. He switched the X-box off and said, He’s not fucking playing it now, he can come. At that point I ushered Marcus out.
I think Jamie’d had enough. He got up as if to fight Marcus, something he’s never done before. Marcus didn’t expect it either. He tried to run from Jamie as I got between them to break up any fight. Marcus tripped over my foot, fell to the floor. Jamie took advantage. I think he was paying Marcus back for all the punches and slaps he’s given Jamie over the months. He pounced on Marcus, gave him a few punches before I could get him off. It’s all in my incident report.”
“Marcus says you tripped him on purpose.”
“He would. Jamie won the scrap. He’s embarrassed and needs an excuse for why he lost. He’d just pushed Jamie too far too often.”
“Aiden says you were stood back allowing Jamie to hit Marcus when he got back from the shop. That you only intervened when he arrived.”
“Not true. I’d told Jamie several times to get off Marcus. I’d delayed physically intervening as pulling Jamie away would have risked putting him at physical harm if Marcus then attacked him, or myself at harm if they both attacked me. With Aiden there it made any intervention a lot safer.”
* * *
“The lyrics on this album are more… angsty, I suppose, than your others. You’ve always tackled big themes in your work. Global politics, religious hypocrisy, corruption of all kinds. But the lyrics on this one are somehow more oblique and more personal at the same time.”
“But there are discernible themes here. You sing at one point about refusing to be a victim and not wanting your son to make a different decision. I wonder, can one choose to be a victim? There are parallels with some of your older songs in terms of how you describe the system treading on the little guy, victimising him or others on the way. But those songs seem fuelled by a more focused rage - at how things are, at people’s refusal to see that, and to see there can be a better way. These lyrics, though, are more personal and reflective. I get the feeling throughout the album that you’re circling a specific incident or event without ever describing it in detail. Would you say that’s true? If so, what incident? I’m assuming it’s from your teenage years. Would you share?”
* * *
“It seems, Mr Hatfield, that you have a long history of violence. You are no stranger to the judicial system, let’s put it that way. Ever since your teens, there’s a record of violence playing a bigger and bigger part in your life. Playground scraps that led to expulsions. Affray. ABH. GBH. And now this. Your family background seems pretty stable, according to what I have here. No suggestions of DV at home. You describe your father as someone who was absent due to his work, but a warm figure when he was present. Your mother didn’t work while you were growing up, and kept ‘a good home’. You say you’re largely self-educated, having dropped out of school with few qualifications despite being a promising student. During your years in primary school and for the first few years of your secondary education you showed no propensity for the kind of violence that has dominated your life since. All of this leads me to believe there may have been some sort of critical incident to set you on this path. Is that correct? I’d be interested to hear.”
* * *
“What concerns me is that there have been a few incidents over recent months. None as severe as this. But staff have raised concerns over the way you talk about Marcus. Not in front of him, but in the office.”
“That’s just banter. Decompressing after a hard shift. He’s a damaged kid. Seen a lot of things at home he shouldn’t have. Been moved around a lot. He’s really challenging, and sometimes you need to let off steam. We all do, it’s an intense job.”
“It is. All our children can be challenging. My concern, from what I’m hearing, is that you seem to focus on Marcus’ behaviour more than Jamie’s. Or Dan’s, when he was here.”
“I have huge concerns over the way he treats other kids. I always have. He’s a bully, and he doesn’t have the right to treat others like that.”
“So you let Jamie get a little payback?”
“That’s not what I said. I’ve raised my worries about Marcus several times in team meetings and in supervisions.”
“I know. And those concerns have been dealt with.”
“They’ve been brushed aside.”
“They have been dealt with. I’ve looked through a lot of your paperwork -supervision notes, team meetings, seniors’ meetings- and this is a recurring theme. Marcus is a very complex young man with a lot of issues. His disordered attachment, his ADHD, his appalling view of women. Yet you appear to ignore all this, focussing instead on a perceived bullying issue which, and both your manager and our psychologist agree on this, is not bullying but a function of his inability to form relationships. It was a similar scenario with Dan. And with May and Shanelle, when we had the girls. I wonder if there’s something in your background we don’t know about, something that causes you to frame everything in terms of bullying to the exclusion of almost everything else. Because if so, I suggest you take this chance to be honest with us before we investigate this safeguarding issue any further.”
* * *
I never really fitted in as a kid. I mean, I had my niche, my clique. Always three or four of us who didn’t fit in anywhere else and came together by default. I’ve no idea where any of them are now. But I never fitted in with the cooler kids. Never tried to, and never hid the fact I never tried.
We moved around a lot. The kids in my clique changed and were interchangeable. In each school I was the kid with the cheap clothes, the different taste in music, the odd accent, the funny slang. I didn’t give a toss about fashion or sport or any of the other superficial glue holding youths together. Still don’t. I couldn’t tell you who won the Premier League last year, who the world heavyweight champion is, or who beat who at Wimbledon over the summer. For as long as I can remember I’ve preferred reading and music.
So I stuck out. And kids are vicious pack animals. So are adults, mostly. The same feral creatures, with a veneer of respectability. Go into any Facebook group. People are anonymous there, they think it keeps them safe. Makes them feel powerful. See how they respond to the one or two people bucking the trend, showing an opinion that’s not peer-approved. Politics, religion, the monarchy… even pointless shit like TV shows or brands of trainer. Step out of line and people will crucify you, no matter how inconsequential the issue. I swear only the fear of losing the mortgage stops most people from going apeshit in public and beating the hell out of strangers.
Anyway. All through school I was the victim of other people’s bullshit. If I contributed to a class discussion I was a crawler for joining in. If I didn’t, I was a moron for not knowing anything. If I ignored their name-calling I was a coward. If I responded, others joined in to drown my voice. A fist, a kick, a shove. It was an unusual morning without one. A good beating was a termly event. And all the while a fire burned within me. You see, if I was getting this shit from the smartest kids, or the toughest kids, or kids who had a vendetta against me it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier to take. But these kids, these jackals, they weren’t that smart. That’s why they all laughed at the same stupid names and jokes. They weren’t that tough. That’s why they only confronted me when they were in a pack. They didn’t have a vendetta. It was a sport. And the more they realised I couldn’t stand up to the pack, the bigger the pack got.
That was school. An endless hail of names and fists.
The turning point came only a few months before our GCSEs. Most of the dregs had left by that point. ‘Bail before you fail’ as they say. The pack remained, though now it was a pack of rats rather than jackals. Most of them were from the year group below. They’d still give out the verbal abuse, but the physical stuff stopped.
Our school, the one I was in at the time, consisted of a single-storey quadrangle and a large tower block. I was between lessons, walking from the quad to the block, trailing a group from my class. One of these kids, one of the ones from the year below, shouted something at me. I don’t for the life of me remember what. Something inane. He was standing on the steps outside one of the demountable classrooms dotted around the grounds. Temporary buildings that’d been there longer than most of the staff. I turned to shout something back and flick the V. Before I could, a voice spoke into my ear. I don’t mean that in any metaphorical sense. I swear it was a voice as clear as any conversation I’ve ever had. It wasn’t a voice I recognised, and I haven’t heard it since. But it was close. It spoke as if sharing a secret. All other sounds -the chatting kids, the shoes crunching on gravel, the seagulls on the field behind the school- hushed.
These guys are morons. A few years’ time, you’ll wonder how they ever got to treat you like this. You’ll move on. They’ll be stuck in this shitty little town forever.
* * *
He tapped his leg with the ring finger of his right hand as he answered. A bespoke pair of 3x1 jeans only a week old.
“At that moment I knew. I knew I had to pick a direction and work until I made it. With my eldest now approaching the same age I guess it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I think it’s an important message. People can only make you feel worthless if you let them. If you’ve a talent and a passion, pursue it. If someone tries to judge you for the way you look or think or dress, well, screw them. It’s a reflection of their worthlessness, not yours. And I was right. A few years after school ended, before I did my music degree, I wandered into the job centre. I was looking for something part-time to earn a bit of cash over the summer. Anyway, browsing the vacancies I saw a face I vaguely recognised. I took a second, and realised it was one of the nobs who used to give me grief in school. The one from the steps. Ceri. He hadn’t worked a day since leaving. I don’t know if he has yet. He’s still in that shitty little town. And here I am.”
* * *
“And I knew then, at the sound of that voice, the only way to get anywhere was to make them afraid to make me feel like that. I mean, this kid was a year below me and thought he could fill the bigger shoes just emptied. So I walked over to him. The cocky little shit didn’t step away when I squared up. He laughed at me. And why not? I’d been in a few scraps in school, lashed out when they pushed me too far. I never won. The pack made sure of that. That laugh, that stupid little sneer he gave with it… it was like every time they made fun of me, every belittling comment, every time they disregarded my feelings in pursuit of their sport. I hit him. There were three steps up to the door on those cabins, and he missed every one on his way down. When he sat up I hit him again. Because it felt good. I finally understood what they gained from treating me like they did. I know it’s wrong. I don’t care. Because if life is a choice between feeling powerful or feeling the way they made me feel every day until then, I’ll pick ‘powerful’ every time.”
* * *
“I didn’t think much about the voice. I didn’t think much about the words either. Not for a while. But I felt different in myself. I realised they had no right to treat me like they did. From then on their words, and the words of others, had little effect on me. I also knew there was nothing I could do about the times already passed. The one thing I could do for myself was to make sure no-one made me feel like that again. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted also to help as many others as I could not to feel that way. To empower them. Protecting and safeguarding are fine, but too little. We’ve got to give these kids the chance to understand that they are in control of their lives if they choose. What else can we do?”
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