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'I forgave my son's killer and even cried when he killed himself'

A recovering alcoholic has told how she forgave her son’s killer after overcoming a drink addiction that began when she was a teenager.

Esther Wright has channelled her grief over 18-year-old Lee’s death into a promise that she will be sober when they are reunited in heaven.

The football fan’s murder made her want to ‘drink gallons’ but she has continued with her recovery and even met his killer in prison.

Esther was in recovery when Lee was fatally stabbed by Thomas McKinnon in a pub screening of an England World Cup match on June 7, 2002.

The personal assistant, from Corby, Northamptonshire, felt the urge to lapse back into a habit that had led her to drink litres of super-strength lager and spirits on a daily basis.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk on Alcohol Awareness Week, she said: ‘When I saw Lee for the last time I was five years sober.

‘When he was murdered two days later I wanted to drink gallons. Instead, I made a promise to Lee while he was lying in hospital that I will be sober when we are reunited in heaven.

‘I still have bad days and some days I have to take it an hour at a time. But I still don’t go back to the drink, because I want to stick by the promise I made to Lee.’

Esther traces her drink and substance misuse issues back to her father’s death when she was 13.

Beginning with glue, the shy teenager moved on to a bottle of Eldorado wine for her first drink as she tried to drown out her anxieties.

Her source of solace spiralled out of control as she moved into her teens and became a habit that would take more than two decades to break.

The author said: ‘As the years went on I just couldn’t cope without drink, I needed it all the time.

‘The real trigger was when I split up with Lee’s dad. At the height of my drinking I would drink everything and anything.

‘I would have it hidden all over the house. At one point I couldn’t find anything so I drank hairspray gel because it had a little label on the back saying it contained alcohol. That’s the way my mind worked, that was the real depth of my addiction, but I still continued to drink after that. By the end I didn’t care what it was. I would just drink until I crashed out.’

Esther tried counselling with no success before she reached a cross-roads, leading to her attending an alcohol recovery fellowship and doing to church.

‘I woke up one morning and I knew if I didn’t stop I was going to die,’ she said.

‘My last drink was a bottle of whisky and since then I haven’t gone back. I’ve reached out to others who have gone through what I have gone through and taken strength from them, and I would urge anyone who has issues with alcohol to seek help.’

Lee’s murder almost tipped Esther back into oblivion.

The Newcastle United fan, one of two brothers, had gone to the White Hart pub in Corby to watch England play Argentina during the World Cup.

During the post-match celebrations, he was followed into the toilet by McKinnon, who had armed himself with a kitchen knife and a bread knife.

Attacked from behind, Lee received 10 wounds to his hands, face, neck and a fatal blow to his chest.

Alcohol Awareness Week

Alcohol Awareness Week runs between November 16 and 22, 2020, with the theme of alcohol and mental health.

It’s a week of awareness-raising, campaigning for change and more.

There’s still time to take part. You can find out more or find support here.

He staggered out and collapsed in the pub as McKinnon and an accomplice, who raised both fists in celebration, made for their getaway car. McKinnon, then 20, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, while the second man received a four-year prison sentence.

Esther, now 55, felt the pull of drink again after receiving the news but instead turned her loss into a catalyst for improving her life and helping others through the Guiding Young Minds youth intervention charity.  

She met McKinnon in prison shortly before he was released in 2013.

A family liaison officer had invited Esther to write a victim impact statement, but she wanted to say the words in person.

Though McKinnon said nothing, she feels there was a connection.

‘I knew he was remorseful, even though he didn’t say it during the murder trial,’ Esther said. ‘He didn’t say anything at the meeting, but I could tell from his whole aura how he felt.

‘I just told him that I’d forgiven him and that was setting me free. After I’d been there I just knew that he needed to hear that as well.’

McKinnon took his own life six months after his release.

‘That was the day I knew I had truly forgiven him,’ Esther said. ‘Because I cried for the man who took Lee’s life.’

Esther now works as a personal assistant to adults with additional needs.

She also speaks in schools and prisons to raise awareness about substance misuse and knife crime.

Esther has used Lee’s memory for her memoir, entitled Esther’s Promise, in which she sets out to provide inspiration for those struggling with addiction, abuse and grief.

Her youngest son Jack, 28, has also forgiven his brother’s killer and spoken in the same settings to raise awareness about violence and addiction issues.

Find out more about Esther’s Promise here.

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