(Vocab point for non-native speakers of English: “Es hätte auch mich erwischen können.”
It’s October 1989. I arrive as a fresher in my room at Nottingham University, ready to start my degree in Russian Studies.
“What a big room,” say to myself on entering, then a few seconds later, I find out why. I’m sharing the room. Room-mate: John, a New Zealander, studying Classics (Latin and Greek an’ all that.) He seems a fairly reasonable bloke. If I can share a room for nearly two decades with my own brother and survive, I’m sure I can share a room with John for a few months.
In the end we tolerated each other. I was a little immature (which fresher isn’t?). He was somewhat alpha-male. I was a bit of a scruffy, unwashed student. He was often the life and soul of any party, albeit occasionally passive aggressive.
Cut to April 1991.
An Oxford undergraduate goes missing during exam time. More “Dog bites man” than “Man bites dog.” Then it turns out the fingers is pointed at the boyfriend, my ex-roommate.
“Nah,” I think, “it’s just the ‘meejah’ (media) turning on the scruffy, long-haired student. A fortnight later she’s still missing. Ex-roommate gives press conference, begging her to come back.
His body language.
Her body. Found under the floorboards of her student house. He had killed her.
Cut to December 1991. I am on my year abroad in Russia. My fortnightly call to my mum. She tells me ex-roommate had been convicted of murder. A few days later I receive in the post newspaper clippings from the British newspapers.
I am still stunned. You don’t meet someone, especially a fairly affable person, thinking, “Hmmm, potential murderer?”
Since his arrest and conviction I have given two TV interviews, shortly after his arrest, and then shortly before his release. My assessment of him then was that he was fundamentally a decent, likeable guy, but something must have gone wrong in the months leading to the crime.
My assessment now after a quarter of a century of thinking is less generous. Let’s leave it at that.
In the end I can only admire his victim’s parents, devout Christians, who forgave him and even said they’d like to visit him in prison.
In the end he “only” served 12 years. (The average life sentence in England is 13-15 years.)
In my younger days I was a stereotypical fiery redhead. The whole case made me think and made me calm down. It made me re-assess people. First impressions aren’t always right.
After his sentence, John returned back to New Zealand. I hope he has been a decent member of society post-sentence.
Have a decent day, won’t you!