Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui - 20/08/2012

A few years back my middle son who was around 7 years old at the time, had cycled away from home without telling anyone. It was a mild summer evening and there were many children playing in their gardens. Our new house was in a family friendly estate and despite trying to keep calm for the 40 minutes that we couldn’t find him, I felt as if my life had stopped; there seemed to be no past and no future just a desperate present filled with every possible what ifs…he came back cheerfully on his bike having made some new friends and completely oblivious to the desperate panic at home.

Forty minutes may have seemed like a lifetime to me but I was lucky because some people really do spend a lifetime living with the disappearance of their child. Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett who was murdered by Ian Brady in 1964 died this weekend. She died at the age of 78; forty seven of those years had been spent looking for her son’s body, the remains of which may still be somewhere on Saddleworth Moor. I grew up in in west Yorkshire and would often pass the sign for Saddleworth as we drove along the motorway. They are bleak and rolling moors but like many I came to associate this place only with the tragic murders of innocent young lives.

Most of us can’t even begin to imagine Winnie Johnson’s torment. The letters she wrote to Ian Brady with her pleas that perhaps he might in a moment of remorse tell her where Keith’s body lay, her desperation to give Keith a Christian burial, before she died herself when she became ill. But it is her relentless hope as a mother which makes this story even more poignant. Her hope that in finding Keith’s remains she would have done all in her power as a mother and finally made peace with herself. But holding onto such hope must have been a kind of torment itself always demanding courage and patience. Maybe Winnie Johnson’s Christian faith gave her some solace in her darkest hours but I think that keeping faith in the face of despair is God’s biggest challenge to us. Her son was the victim of Brady’s murder but she became the victim of his silence. And although her family will continue this search they too may never find out. In trying to keep her son’s memory alive she took flowers and toys to the moors. Perhaps in years to come it is this tender image which will gradually eclipse the dark secrets of these moors and the infamous faces of the murderer – an image in which lies the haunting hope of a mother’s love.

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