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Kerry Roberts is determined no other family has to endure the torment she has felt since Leah Heyes collapsed after taking the drug during an evening out with friends.
The schoolgirl died after 17-year-old county lines recruit Connor Kirkwood preyed on her and her friends.
But when Kerry agreed to meet Kirkwood’s mother Tammy, they realised they both had “lost something” because of the drug.
Kerry, 37, said: “People will look at us and think it’s an unlikely friendship. People will see us as two separate things, but we are both grieving. They are both our children.”
Leah suffered a heart attack and died in hospital after collapsing in a car park in her hometown Northallerton, North Yorks, in May 2019.
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The drugs were taken into the market town by Kirkwood and 18-year-old Mitchell Southern.
Kirkwood, from nearby Dishforth, was sent to a young offenders’ institution for 21 months for supplying MDMA, known as ecstasy. He was released for good behaviour after serving six months.
The two mothers were introduced through the restorative justice process after it was suggested that by meeting they might understand each other’s stories. The encounter gave Tammy a chance to explain how she had been struggling for years to find help for her son. Tammy said at 15, her son went from being “presentable” to “not speaking to anyone”. She knew he was involved in drugs and reported him to police but he refused to give any information about county lines gangs.
She says the family was not offered a drug referral programme or support, leaving her with “guilt and shame” over whether she could have prevented Leah’s death. She said: “I thought ‘Where have I gone wrong? How did this happen? What did I do?’ And there’s the guilt of my child being involved in someone else’s child losing their life. I lost the child that had a passion for sport, was always smiling. I don’t see a smile any more.”
Kerry, who called Leah her “best friend”, was initially against meeting Tammy: “There was hatred for Connor, for the situation. I thought ‘How is it going to do me any good? I have nothing to say to her’.”
But she added that hearing Tammy’s story had helped to ease those emotions: “There’s more of an understanding and I’m thinking ‘He was a child, he was 15. He wasn’t a 21-year-old dodgy drug dealer.’
“People who didn’t know Leah would probably think she came from a rough family, that her mum didn’t care. People have their own thoughts and I had those thoughts about Connor’s mum. I didn’t realise the story.”
Both women are working on a campaign called Do You Know MDMA? to warn that illegal drugs can kill.
Kerry is also petitioning the Government to make the supply of drugs to under-16s a specific offence. She said: “Leah died and I can’t let that be for no reason.”
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