In the Media

Parents of murdered 11-year-old 'let down by legal system'

PUBLISHED November 9, 2006

The parents of the 11-year-old cystic fibrosis sufferer stabbed to death by a teenager from his school yesterday said they felt let down by the legal system despite the life sentence imposed on his killer.

Joe Geeling's parents said the 12-year minimum term imposed on Michael Hamer for the horrific murder was too short given the amount of planning the 15-year-old put into the crime.

And they spoke of their frustration that as relatives of a victim of crime they were "impotent" in court proceedings, left looking on and feeling like "voyeurs."

Giving their first in-depth reaction to last month's court case, Tom and Gwen Geeling also told how they dream that he is still alive, only to wake up to "the smack in the face of reality" that he is dead.

The youngster, who led an active life despite his illness and was described by teachers as "a shining star", was duped by Hamer into accompanying him to his home in Bury, Greater Manchester after lessons on March 1.

Hamer, a bullied loner traumatised by a sense of rejection by his absent former policeman father, had forged a letter purporting to be from a deputy headteacher appointing himself Joe's mentor.

After stabbing him 14 times with kitchen knives, he bundled Joe's body into a wheelie bin, dragged it across a park, hid it in a gully and then went home and did his homework.

But after he pleaded guilty to murder last month, the judge, Mr Justice Richard McCombe, said he believed the killing itself had not been premeditated, and had only happened after Joe rejected a sexual advance made by Hamer.

The Crown Prosecution Service is seeking to have the minimum 12-year tariff fixed on Hamer's life sentence increased, and yesterday Mr and Mrs Geeling said they supported its bid.

"We do feel the judge missed the point," said Mr Geeling, 48. "He was murdered and his body was treated like a piece of garbage."

"He was disposed of and then that lad went to school as though nothing had happened."

"The level of premeditation as far as we are concerned is very, very deep. We feel Joe was never going to come out of that house."

"If he's capable of this now, what is he going to be capable of when he's coming out of prison? It's not out of sour grapes. It's just that we don't think 12 years stacks up."

He added that the couple wished Hamer had not pleaded guilty so all the facts would have come out at a trial, and that they had feared the sentence would be "weak" because it was such a high-profile case.

They issued a moving and eloquent victim impact statement about how they had been affected by Joe's death which was read to the court before Hamer was sentenced, but yesterday the couple said they felt cut off from the whole legal process.

"What a lot of parents won't understand is that you're very impotent," said Mr Geeling. "You can help, but you've no control over anything."

"You've no rights to any files or witness statements, you're treated as a third party. You can't instruct a QC."

"It's your child that's been murdered but it's not you that's taking the killer to court. You're like a voyeur."

They said they had been shocked that no personality disorder had been detected in Hamer and criticised the judge for failing to place him on the sex offenders register, saying they regarded him as a paedophile despite his age.

They fear Hamer will kill again when he is released but have not ruled out the possibility of forgiving him.

Mr Geeling and his 39-year-old wife, who also have a seven-year-old son, James, also spoke movingly about trying to cope with their loss and revealed that they still dream about Joe.

Both broke down as Mr Geeling said: "You can speak to him. You can hear him so clearly. He had a little husky voice because he was chesty, and he had his cough."

"It's very vivid. We're always having good times."

"When you wake up it's like a slam in the face. It's hard to remember which is real - the dream or the waking up."

The Government has set up a pilot scheme to enable families of victims of murder or manslaughter to speak directly to the judge before a killer is sentenced.

Joe Geeling's parents have set up a medical fund in his memory.

Cheques can be sent to the Joe Geeling Trust Fund, which ultimately goes to Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Manchester, where Joe was treated, and to cystic fibrosis research, care of: Nexus Solicitors, 16-18 Albert Square, Manchester M12 5PE.