The mother of one of the students stabbed to death in Nottingham has told of how she “could not see” beyond her son’s loss soon after his funeral, but vowed she will have a happy home again as she backed the call for a public inquiry into any failings that led to the attacks.
Emma Webber laid bare her grief in an interview with the Daily Mail, in which she told of seeing her son Barnaby’s phone location in Ilkeston Road – where he and fellow student Grace O’Malley-Kumar were attacked – and then in a police station before finding out what had happened.
Valdo Calocane stabbed the 19-year-olds and school caretaker Ian Coates, 65, to death with a dagger in Nottingham in the early hours of last June 13.
A judge handed down a hospital order to the 32-year-old, who has paranoid schizophrenia and whose pleas to manslaughter by diminished responsibility were accepted earlier this week.
The families of the three people he killed have reacted angrily to the sentencing and accused prosecutors of a “fait accompli” in accepting a manslaughter charge rather than pursuing a murder verdict.
Sir Keir Starmer, a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, called the deaths “absolutely awful” as he backed the demand for an inquiry into the case.
Mrs Webber told The Times her family “fully support” the calls for a public inquiry.
She told the Daily Mail she was on a video call with work colleagues in June last year when the breakfast news reported a major incident had happened in Nottingham.
She said: “It said a man and a woman had been killed. I didn’t think of my son as a man. He’s 19. He’s my boy. I said to my work colleagues, ‘Sorry, I’m a bit distracted. There’s something going on in Nottingham. I’m sure it’s all fine. I just want to make sure Barney’s okay.’
“We tried ringing but he didn’t answer. We tried again. Barney is normally good about answering his phone.
“I thought he was probably a bit hungover, but Dave (her husband) said, ‘Let’s have a look [on the Find My Phone app] to see where he is.’ The phone wasn’t in his halls. It was on a road we’d never heard of before. We rang it for about five minutes. That’s when I began to worry.”
She told the paper she texted her son’s friends who confirmed he was not in his room.
“Almost at that exact moment it came up on the news that the incident had taken place in Ilkeston Road,” Mrs Webber continued.
“Dave said, ‘Barney’s phone is in Ilkeston Road.’
“My body just went cold. Then his phone started moving. We thought he’d picked it up. We were ringing and ringing but still no-one was answering. That’s when we saw it had been taken to the police station.”
“That was the worst. I haven’t looked at that app since.”
The police phoned them when they were en route to Nottingham and delivered the news, the Daily Mail reported.
The parents diverted to pick up their other son, Charlie, who was on a school activities week in Torquay, according to the newspaper.
Mrs Webber said: “I remember so clearly seeing my poor boy on that bus looking so worried and thinking, ‘I’m going to destroy your life now with what I have to tell you'”.
She went on: “We had to tell Charlie and it was the most awful thing in the world to watch his face. He couldn’t — wouldn’t — believe it for ages.
“He was crying and screaming, ‘He’s not dead. This hasn’t happened to Barney. It wouldn’t. It can’t be true.’ I remember him saying that over and over.”
The mother went on to tell the paper about the vigil at the university campus where she met Ms O’Malley-Kumar’s parents.
“When they arrived we hugged each other and wept,” she said. “Instantly we found this… it’s really hard to explain but the fact we were together was a solace in as much as they know how we are feeling. As families we’re linked for the rest of our lives.
“Hopefully, we’d have met anyway. Barney spoke to me about Grace. He said, ‘Mum, you’ll really love her. She’s just like me. We’re so similar.’
“Grace said the same to her parents. I’ve thought about what might have happened between them in the future and then stopped thinking about it because, in the scheme of things, it doesn’t make a difference now, does it?”
Mrs Webber described seeing her son in the hospital mortuary the following day where she kissed him goodbye on his forehead.
Her son’s funeral took place on July 14 and Mrs Webber told the paper how she carved a heart onto a wooden plaque on the lid of his coffin and added the message: “You have my heart forever”.
The next week, the parents attended Ms O’Malley-Kumar’s funeral where Mrs Webber said she hit “my really low point”.
“The grief was so overwhelming I couldn’t see beyond Barney’s loss,” she told the outlet.
“I couldn’t see the point of doing anything other than being with him. The turning point came when I said to Dave, ‘I think if I’m with Barney then he’s got me and you can have Charlie and Charlie can have you because I don’t think it’s worth me being here.’ I felt Barney needed me.
“That’s when I was put on medication and had some therapy to stabilise me.”
Mrs Webber spoke about meeting the team involved in her son’s case after learning the CPS had decided to accept Calocane’s plea of diminished responsibility.
She told the paper how she was shown stills from CCTV footage across “the most traumatic” six hours, during which she left the room before seeing images of the attack.
“We can’t change what happened, but we can make sure Barney’s memory lives on,” she told the outlet.
“We have to try, for Barney’s sake, to change what is going wrong in this country with our mental health care and in our policing and judicial system.
“It won’t bring Barney back so the sadness and grief will remain, but he will have justice.”
Mrs Webber vowed: “This will be a happy home again — one in which my beautiful son Charlie will flourish. I owe it to him and to Barney.”
A donation can be made to the Barnaby Webber Foundation at: gofundme.com/f/in-everlasting-memory-of-barnaby-webber