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Dean Evans: 'Courageous son' died fighting IS

Tracey and Dean Howell Image copyright Howell family
Image caption Tracey and Steve Howell say they are proud of their stepson

A British man who died fighting the so-called Islamic State in Syria has been described by his stepfather as "courageous, not stupid".

Dean Evans, 22, from Reading, died in July in the Syrian city of Manbij, after joining the People's Defence Units (YPG), a Kurdish military group.

His stepfather Steve Howell told the Victoria Derbyshire programme his stepson was "a martyr".

And both he and Dean's stepmother Tracey are "proud of what he did".

In their first television interview, the Howells said their stepson was "prepared to stand up for what he believed in".

Dean's mother Joanne split from his father, who was a soldier in the Army, when he was six, before meeting Mr Howell two years later.

Joanne then died when Dean was 18, and Mr Howell later remarried.

"He was my son in my mind," Mr Howell said. "From the age of six to when he died at 22, I brought Dean up. I believed in him.

"We didn't stop him. Didn't want him to go, but we wouldn't stop him. This was what he felt passionate about."

Image copyright Ragihandina YPG
Image caption Dean Carl Evans died fighting the so-called Islamic State group

Dean had always wanted to be a soldier and was a cadet as a boy. But when he tried to join the British army, he was turned down because he had asthma.

"Being rejected from the Army was so tough for him," Mr Howell said.

"His desire to serve his country and fight was something he was passionate about. He would have done anything to put on a British uniform.

"He was not a glory hunter, he wanted to feel like he'd done something with his life. Was he well informed enough about the risks? Yes, he knew the reality."

Mr Howell said Dean spent eight months researching and studying the situation in Syria, and had contacted people who had been there.

He first arrived in Syria in March 2015, having been smuggled over the border by Kurdish fighters.

Image caption Dean is seen with members of the YPG, who described him as a "man with the noblest of intentions"

"He called me on my birthday in 2015 and said he was in Syria," Mr Howell said.

"I couldn't accept it. I could understand why he wanted to be there, but it wasn't easy to come to terms with."

After being plunged into weeks of fighting for the first time in his life, Dean returned to the UK in June and went back to his former job on a farm.

"When he came back the first time I couldn't open up to him. He told us he wouldn't be going back and we thought that was that."

Image copyright Howell family
Image caption Dean Evans wanted to become a soldier from a young age

Eventually, the calling of war proved too great, and he flew out once again to fight in January. Months later, he was shot and then killed in a rocket attack.

After his death, the YPG described Mr Evans as a "man with the noblest of intentions who planted a seed of love into the hearts of [his] friends and all the peoples of Rojava [Western Kurdistan]".

"I'm not bitter, I let him live," Mr Howell said. "He was a quiet, clever lad who would sit and play video games. His mum's death hit him hard.

"He was a humanitarian. If he was doing something breaking the law or harming people then it may have been different.

"He wanted to help people and stand up and be counted."

Dean is now buried in a cemetery in Syria. His will asked for him to be laid to rest with his "brothers and sisters" in the war-torn country.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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