Mums of drug death teen and dealer become 'unlikely' friends

  • Published
Media caption,
Kerry Roberts and Tammy Kirkwood shared their experiences at an emotional meeting

A mum whose daughter died after taking ecstasy has struck up an "unlikely" friendship with the mother of the teenager who supplied the fatal drug.

Kerry Roberts' daughter Leah Heyes, 15, collapsed after taking MDMA supplied by Connor Kirkwood.

After agreeing to meet his mother, Tammy, Ms Roberts said she realised both had "lost something" as a result of the drug.

They are campaigning together to raise drugs awareness among young people.

Leah died in May 2019 after she took the Class A drug with a group of friends in a car park in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

The drugs were brought into the town by Connor, then 17, with another boy, Mitchell Southern, handing them over to Leah.

Connor, from Dishforth, was jailed for 21 months last year but was released after serving six months of his sentence.

The mothers were introduced to each other through restorative justice - a process in which victims of crime can meet those who committed the offence against them.

Although Ms Roberts did not want to meet Connor, it was suggested that by meeting his mother they would be able to share and understand each other's stories.

Image source, Kerry Roberts
Image caption,
Kerry Roberts said she and daughter Leah had the "best relationship"

It gave Ms Kirkwood the opportunity to explain how she had been struggling for years to get help for Connor.

He had become involved in county lines gangs, which target vulnerable teenagers and use them to supply drugs.

Ms Roberts said: "People will look at us and think it's an unlikely friendship.

"People will see us as two separate things but we are both grieving. They are both our children."

Image source, North Yorkshire Police
Image caption,
Connor Kirkwood and Mitchell Southern both admitted supplying ecstasy and were jailed last year

Ms Kirkwood described how, from the age of 15, Connor went from being a "presentable young man" to "wearing trackies and not speaking to anyone".

She knew he was involved in drugs and had reported him to police, but when questioned he would refuse to give any information about the gangs.

Despite police involvement and her constant requests for help, Ms Kirkwood said they were never offered a drug referral or other support.

She said she had struggled with "guilt and shame" over whether she could have prevented Leah's death.

"I thought where have I gone wrong? How did this happen? What did I do?" she said.

"And there's the guilt of my child being involved in someone else's child losing their life.

"I lost the child that had a passion for sport, was always smiling. I don't see a smile anymore.

"I have this 19-year-old man. I don't know who he is. I get to see him in bed and why do I get that?

"That's my guilt because that's not fair."

Image source, Family picture
Image caption,
Leah's mum said they had spoken about drugs together but neither of them had heard of MDMA

Leah's mum, who described her daughter as her "best friend" said she had felt "a lot of hatred" and was initially against the meeting.

"There was hatred for Connor, for the situation. I thought how is it going to do me any good? I have nothing to say to her," she said.

But she said hearing the other side of the story had helped ease those emotions.

"I've read about county lines and there's more of an understanding and I'm thinking he was a child, he was 15. He wasn't a 21-year-old dodgy drug dealer.

"I get how my friends and my family were like: 'why are you meeting her?', but I think it's done us both some good."

She added: "People who didn't know Leah would probably think she came from a rough family, that her mum didn't care.

"People have their own thoughts and I had those thoughts about Connor's mum. I didn't realise the story."

Image caption,
The two mothers said they had both been affected by the devastating impact of the drug

Both women are working together on a campaign called Do You Know MDMA? to get the message out that drugs kill. Ms Roberts has also launched a petition urging the government to make supplying drugs to under-16s a specific criminal offence.

She said: "I feel like if we've told our story and tried to educate people then we can't do much more.

"Leah died and I can't let that be for no reason."

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