Last Christmas, Liam Rogerson was knocked over and killed by a car that didn’t stop. In the months that followed, his family had to come to terms with their loss – and, when the driver was due to be sentenced, prepare for an outcome that they might not like. They told their story to the BBC’s Georgia Catt.
Liam Rogerson is 28 years old and has just arrived in Kent from his home in Sunderland to spend the festive season with his younger brother and sister. He’s walking back to his sister’s flat, and is just a few minutes away when suddenly it happens.
Later, witnesses will say the black car was moving so fast, it made their own vehicles shake. They will describe a bang, and a bag floating into the air. The car will drive off, leaving Liam on the pavement.
Thirty-five minutes later, Liam is dead.
It’s nearly 18:30 and Faye Rogerson is sitting in her living room, waiting. Her younger brother, Niall, and her fiance, Chris, are with her, but Liam is late.
It’s uncharacteristic of her older brother. They’re going to have Christmas Eve drinks with Chris’s parents, and Liam has told Faye how excited he is about meeting them.
“He was sending me pictures of outfits he was thinking about wearing,” Faye says. “I mean he actually bought a cream blazer.”
Liam is really late. Niall rings his older brother, and an unfamiliar voice answers.
“Niall went over to the kitchen just looking like he was going to be sick,” Chris remembers. “Faye was screaming at her brother: ‘What’s going on?’ Niall, he couldn’t say anything.”
The rest happens quickly: Chris throws on a jacket and shoes and runs. Faye and Niall follow. They can see the ambulance lights along the road.
Running to the scene, they see paramedics leaning over Liam’s body.
Faye shouts for someone to find Liam’s glasses. He’d be upset if they lost them. The paramedics try to calm her down.
“They just kept saying that they were trying their best and that someone hit him and just went – as if it wasn’t important, they just kept going,” Faye recalls.
“He hit Liam and kept going,” she says, her voice breaking. “I don’t know what sort of person could do it.”
His name is Jamie Burchell-Reeves.
He is 23 years old when he illegally takes the driver’s seat on Christmas Eve, the keys handed to him by his girlfriend, Sophie. He has no driving licence and is uninsured. He runs a red light.
The police catch up with him later that night. He will plead guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, failing to stop after a collision and failing to report a collision.
“I know sometimes there’s accidents,” says Sandra, Liam’s mother. “But in this case, the lights were red. He overtook cars that had stopped. My son didn’t stand a chance. You will know if you’ve hit somebody.”
For Faye, even the maximum sentence of 14 years Burchell-Reeves can receive isn’t enough.
“I wish he’d just go in and not really come out,” she says. “Because at this rate he’s going to be out when he’s about the same age as Liam. I don’t think that’s fair that he’ll just be able to continue his life after doing this.”
When Liam was 12 years old, he was hit by a lorry on the way home from school. He was put on life support and kept for 24 hours in an induced coma. Sandra says she knew it was bad when the doctors asked if the family had ever considered organ donation.
The accident stayed with Liam his whole life. Sandra remembers that because of it her son was “always overly cautious” when crossing the road.
It is July 2017. In the months since Liam’s death, the Rogerson family has remained in a state of shock. Sandra says they’ve been up and down. Sometimes they don’t speak to each other.
“Faye just felt as though I was blaming her for what happened to Liam,” Sandra says. “And I’m not. I’ve told her that from the beginning. It wasn’t her fault. As far as I’m concerned, all this started because Sophie gave her boyfriend the keys to her car.”
For Sandra, these eight months have felt like “eternity”, but the family still has some weeks to wait before the sentencing.
“You can’t settle, you can’t get on with your life,” she says. “The system has gone too far on the side of the person who’s done it. The victims are just left in the aftermath with very little support or help.”
For a mother, the ache is constant. Sandra rarely sleeps through the night now. When she wakes up, she’s been crying even in her sleep. When her phone rings, a part of her always thinks it might be Liam. She’s terrified that when her phone eventually dies, she’ll lose the last messages and words from her eldest son.
“I don’t want to be one of these stupid women who’s always crying, but at the moment I am,” she says. “You don’t expect to lose a child. Not in the way it happened with Liam.”
Faye and Chris got engaged in September 2016, but since Liam’s death they have pushed back their wedding day again and again.
“She doesn’t even think or know when she’s going to do it, or if she’s going to do it, because Liam won’t be there,” Sandra says.
Find out more
Liam’s family tell their story to Georgia Catt on Radio 4’s The Untold
Listen at 11:00 on Monday 20 November, or catch up later on the iPlayer
Faye is trying to be rational about it.
“The court case is taking so long,” Faye says. “I don’t want to do anything until it’s sorted because otherwise it’s just going to be hanging over us the whole time. We’ve lost, like, half a year on this already.”
The day before the sentencing hearing sees the whole family gathered at Faye’s home in Kent.
Niall, the youngest of the Rogerson siblings, hopes it will allow his family to move on as best they can – knowing that so much of what they’ve gone through will stay with them forever.
“The noise of my mum crying just stayed in my head… It’s not going to leave me,” Niall says. “I know this sounds horrible, but I want to go get it over with.”
The court has asked the family members to write statements about the effect losing Liam has had on their lives. They have been told they may be asked to read their words aloud in court.
From Sandra’s impact statement
“I now have images forever in my mind that no mother should ever have to endure. Seeing my son in his coffin is something I will never forget. The anguish of having to say goodbye to your little boy is soul-destroying. I had to carry my 28-year-old son’s ashes home in my arms.”
On 4 August 2017, Burchelle-Reeves tells the court all he saw was a cream-coloured coat on the pedestrian crossing.
The hearing lasts a little over two hours. Only Liam’s father Bill is asked to read his impact. The sentence is announced, and it is all over.
Burchelle-Reeves has been sentenced to four years, four months for Liam’s death. It’s likely he’ll only serve two years.
When it’s all over, Sandra wonders what Liam would make of it all. “I hope he’s up there, looking as if he’s got justice.”
Exactly three months after the trial concludes, Sandra, Faye, Chris, and Niall are together again, this time in Durham. It’s a special occasion – they’re looking at Durham Castle, the venue for Faye and Chris’s forthcoming wedding.
“Liam won’t be happy with us just sitting around doing nothing,” Chris says. “We’re moving forward. It’s what we can do.”
As the family tours the castle, they’re remembering Liam, his love of all things medieval, how he said he wanted to buy a suit of armour for his house. There is laughter among the Rogersons again.
“You have to be grateful for what you have,” Sandra says. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve lost my son. And it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes I think, ‘Why am I here?’ But I still have to go on. I’ve still got two other kids to be here for and their lives to enjoy. That’s what keeps us going.”
Faye and Chris will marry in 2019, and the Rogersons now have a date to look forward to.
When asked if she’ll be a happy mum on her daughter’s wedding day, Sandra smiles.
“Yeah, a very proud mum.”
Sandra’s impact statement in full
I wish with all my heart Liam was here today so I could introduce him to you.
I know that you all would find him to be an intelligent, caring and very unique person. You would have walked away from him having been enriched by his character. How do I know this? From my own treasured daily experiences. From having repeatedly been told this by Liam’s family, friends, work colleagues and fellow parishioners. I can sum Liam up in the quote he had engraved on the ring he wore. “They condemn what they do not understand.” Liam always strived to understand.
Every time my phone rings, for a split second I wish it could be Liam’s name that appears on the screen. Instead I have to watch his name disappearing from my favourite contacts list.
The last conversation I had with my son was when he and Niall rang me to say they had arrived safely at their sister’s house. The journey had been a pleasure in his prized new car. Liam was looking forward to meeting his future in-laws and spent a long time deciding what to wear to make a good impression. He was anticipating telling them about his plans for the future. Sadly that never came to pass.
Then, as I remember that my son is no longer with us, I am taken back to the excruciating pain of Christmas Eve. It torments me as I relive every second. When Niall rang me to say Liam had been knocked down, I couldn’t believe it. Surely there was no way it could happen to him for a second time? Liam was overly cautious with road safety since he had already been knocked down when he was 12. I was hit with the horror of knowing that my children were so far away and I needed to be with them. I have never prayed harder in my life that Liam would be lucky again and pull through. Knowing that the paramedics and people around Liam were doing their very best for him gave me hope and kept me going for the longest 35 minutes of my life.
Thirty-five torturous minutes of helplessness which I relive every single day and night!
I now have images forever in my mind that no mother should ever have to endure. Seeing my son in his coffin is something I will never forget. The anguish of having to say goodbye to your little boy is soul-destroying. I had to carry my 28-year-old son’s ashes home in my arms.
Writing this impact statement has been very difficult. It has only been a few short months since Liam died but our world has been turned upside down. I miss our Monday teas at his Nana’s and our Saturday lunches in the shopping centre. He was my rock who helped me through some bad times which made us all very close.
I no longer feel a whole person as a huge piece of my heart is missing. It has made me question my faith, which has always been at the very core of our family.
On the morning of Christmas Eve my future was bright and filled with love. I had dreams of prospective family Christmases. The future impact of Liam’s unnecessary and needless death is just devastatingly heartbreaking. Not only for my family, but for the defendants and their families too.
Text by Ritu Prasad, photographs courtesy of the Rogerson family
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