Posted by BE on November 5th, 2010A couple of days ago, I received a personal email from Duncan Woods, whose 4-year-old son Nayan was killed when when 18-year-old Ashley Austin lost control of his illegally modfied car and ploughed into the Woods family on the pavement. It was clear from the tone of Duncan’s email that my post had caused him considerable distress.
We have corresponded several times since I received Duncan’s original email, and Duncan, who was at first understandably reluctant, has now generously agreed to my publishing a composite version of his emails. I have done the same with my own fairly brief replies.
I suggested to Duncan that I should not publish any comments on his statement, since the aim of the exercise from my point of view is to provide Nayan’s father’s perspective on the issues raised in the post, not to reopen the debate.
Many people have expressed many opinions about the decisions my wife and I have made in reagrds to dealing with the death and injury of our children. Unfortunately these opinions are formed from the perceptions they hold based on the limited information they have access too. Many assumptions have been made yet not once has anyone, media or otherwise, asked me why I am choosing to behave the way I am. I have yet to read, view or hear any representation that comes close to being accurate.
It is easy to spout position and opinion, be outraged and angry. It is not easy to see your dead four year old son in pieces in the dungeons of the hospital whilst dealing with the significant injuries suffered by your wife and other child. Each day gets a little harder, I sleep maybe three or four hours a night, it takes every ounce of strength I have to throw my feet on the floor each morning and face the day.
I bet it is easy to write down an imaginary victim impact statement where you can imagine screaming at another human being that you don’t want their remorse. It is somewhat more difficult to write an actual one and deliver it, particularly when, uninvited, the eyes of the nation are upon you.
I understand your job as journalist and that opinion pieces are or rather can be controversial. I appreciate that you indicated an admiration for Emma and me. My real issue was with the the next part of the sentence where you wrote: “I find their plea that Austin not be sent to prison (for however short a term) misguided…”
How you have reached such a conclusion without knowing the thinking that informed the decisions we have made is where I am troubled. I have to behave in ways that I think will best serve my living son. I don’t believe that if he grows up in a family dominated by anger and hatred that his needs are best served. To that end I am as thoughtful as I can be with the messages released to media. At seven years old he is not old enough to fully understand what has happened to him, but as he gets older I am sure he will have questions and feelings that will need to be supported. Our judgement based on the knowledge that we have of our son is that behaving with compassion and empathy towards Ash is the best thing we can do for him (Jacob). Time may show this to be a mistake. I hope that it is not. At this stage Jacob has no desire to meet with Ash. We have given him that opportunity, but he may feel different at 17 or 27. If so, the decisions we make now about preserving a relationship with Ash and his family are safeguarding future opportunities for him to have questions that he may have answered . It is not only Jacob we have a responsibility to, however. He is our most significant focus, but our wider family don’t deserve a life of bitterness and anger, so we believe we are helping them also by the position we are taking.
Many people make assumptions that our “forgiveness” comes out of a christian faith. I wish I had such faith. I believe in no god and that there will be no reunion with my son at the pearly gates. With no faith I can not allow anger to invade me and spread those feelings through my already reeling family under the belief that we all end up okay for eternity anyway. I don’t have this luxury of a belief structure. My behaviours are not directed in the best interest of the man who impacted my life so severely, but at the life that remains. I don’t believe that anything I do matters to Nayan, but I know it does to Jacob. So I conduct myself with grace, I find forgiveness (it is genuine), I let go of anger and hatred so that I don’t be a contagion of these things for my living son. My actions are not noble, they are born of what I believe are the best things I can do for him.
I have read comments that say we don’t blame Ash for what has happened, that our forgiveness was instant. These are simply untrue. We chose not to use the word blame because of the emotive content that it engenders. We certainly are under no illusions, however, as to who was at fault. A thorough reading of my victim impact statement reveals that we do see him as solely responsible for what has happened. Forgiveness has not been quick or easy for us, but we have genuinely moved ourselves to that position, mostly for our son’s sake, but for other reasons also. Emma’s initial media statement and the eulogy I delivered at Nayan’s funeral were pounced upon by the media as statements of forgiveness. They were not. We simply expressed that we were not feeling angry.
We did not ask for the situation that has befallen us, but we are faced with it. I would have thought that behaving in our own best interests as we see them is reasonable. To live through this ordeal and have the uninformed judge us seems so incredibly unfair. It is irresponsible to report also that Ash was spared a jail sentence because of my and my wife’s statements. I don’t recall seeing you there as the police disclosed he had no previous records, that in their opinion this was an error in driving and not an intentional drift and that they felt home detention was an appropriate sentence. I also do not recall your presence as the judge delivered a lengthy explanation outlining the decision he had reached, disclosing the numerous mitigating factors that informed his decision. The impact statements played only a part role in informing the sentence. In fact from what I observed I could have yelled at him as you would have had me do and I doubt the outcome would have been any different. The only difference I see is that a different sector of society would support and condemn my actions.
Anyway, I know this speaks to issues beyond the scope of the article which you wrote. I guess I am just trying to convey that we have (and keep in mind that it has been under extraordinarily difficult circumstances) simply tried to make informed decisions about how we behave and what we must do for the good of our son our family and ourselves.
I have no issue with people holding opinions about sentencing and feeling that the outcome should have been different. But I am dismayed by those who call for tough sentencing as a deterrent to others. Where is the evidence that this is effective? How is justice served if someone is punished for a crime someone else may or may not commit in the future? Surely we want a justice system where all the evidence is considered and judgement is passed on the merits of the case and not on the basis of misinformed public opinion.
Good Morning, Duncan
Thank you very much for your email which I really appreciate. I am very sorry to have caused you any pain, though you will note that I expressed admiration for you and your wife in the post. The vast majority of responses have also been in your favour.
My job as a blogger is to look at issues and it may well be that I sometimes overlook the fact that those most intimately affected may read what I write and be hurt by it. As I say, I’m very sorry that that is the case here.
As I said in that earlier email, I would like to publish your email on my site. Your first-person description of your and your wife’s feelings and motives would be incredibly valuable and counter many of the false interpretations both in my original post and in some of the comments.
I accept your observation that I based my post entirely on newspaper reports and therefore missed much of the relevant detail heard in court. That is a fair criticism.
And I find we have much in common, both in terms of our lack of religious belief and, ironically, in the way we perceive the issue of victims’ impact statements in court. I also support those statements entirely. My anxiety is that if judges feel obliged to respond to victims’ pleas for a lesser sentence, they may also feel obliged to listen to victims’ pleas for a much harsher sentence. That, if I read you right, is not something you would wish to happen either.
May I thank you once again for having approached me directly and for the remarkable honesty of what you have written. As a parent of five children and grandparent of 11, I have at least an inkling of how you and Emma must be feeling and of the long term impact this will have on your lives.