A grieving mother whose 12-year-old son was mown down by a paranoid schizophrenic who repeatedly warned police that he would “kill children” says they are “the real criminals” after an Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation concluded that no further action is needed.
Speaking following “two-and-a-half years of hell” since her son Harley Watson was killed by schizophrenic motorist Terence Glover, 52, outside his Essex school on December 2, 2019, Jo Fricker, 35, branded the IOPC findings “insulting” after an inquest jury in June found the actions of both the police and the mental health services “possibly contributed to his death.”
Jo Fricker, of Loughton, Essex, said of the report: “It is insulting to me and my family and it is mocking Harley’s memory.
“My son should be 15 right now and enjoying his summer holidays with his friends. Instead, all we have are his belongings.”
She added: “I was there at the inquest. I heard the evidence and saw the multiple failings.
“The IOPC report contradicts everything we heard.
“As far as I am concerned, the police are in the firing line alongside Glover.”
Unable to even kiss her son goodbye on the day he died, as his body was regarded as a “crime scene,” after Glover mounted the pavement in a Ford KA and hit nine children and one adult as they left school, Jo’s pain has been compounded as she sees his death as “completely avoidable.”
The mother-of-two, who was forced to have her final hug in the Chapel of Rest a week after Harley’s death, where a funeral director held his lifeless body up for her to embrace, said: “The police had all the evidence there to know Glover was a dangerous man.
“I cannot find the words to describe the frustration I feel knowing they were so close to putting him where he needed to be and that my son might not have died.
“Glover was effectively going up to police with his hands in handcuffs and saying, ‘Take me’ and the police were turning him away.
“They have no idea what trauma I have been through and to produce this report finding no one accountable is a mockery of my son’s memory.”
Jo last saw Harley alive on the morning of December 2, 2019, when she kissed him goodbye at Debden Tube station before she headed into the City of London, where she then worked as a PA and he made his way to nearby Debden High School.
She said: “I gave him a kiss and a hug and told him I loved him and then he went.”
But, at around 3.20pm, as Harley and his friends exited the school gates carrying their backpacks and began to walk home, they were mown down by Glover’s car.
He had been known to the mental health services since 2012, after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia following his arrest for threatening his neighbour with a knife.
And in January 2021 Glover was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act, after pleading guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility of Harley Watson and the attempted murder of one 23-year-old and nine children, aged between 12 and 16, at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court.
On June 30, 2022, at Harley’s inquest, a jury reached a narrative conclusion. They found that actions of Essex Police “fell short” of what they would deem adequate, highlighting a mental health assessment of Glover on September 30, 2019, as inadequate, leading to a failure to detain him under the Mental Health Act, which “caused or contributed to” Harley’s death.
The inquest heard that the mental health assessment in question had lasted “less than three minutes” and had led to Glover being released from police custody just two months before he killed Harley.
Essex Senior Coroner Lincoln Brookes said Glover had told police in previous 999 calls that he “might run some school children over,” as well as making other calls telling them he “felt persecuted by neighbours, their children or others.”
But the IOPC summary report released on August 2 did not identify any additional learning opportunities for officers as a result of Harley’s case.
It found there to be “no indication any police officer had behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings or had committed a criminal offence.”
It also found that Essex Police operated “within the policies and procedures in place” and “considered options that were available to them” in attempting to deal with Glover.
It concluded that Essex Police had already begun to “review their relevant existing policies and develop new strategies” at the time of the IOPC investigation and that “no additional learning” opportunities were identified.
Jo, who split up with Harley’s dad – who had no contact with him – when he was two, and lives with his stepfather, PE teacher, Ryan, 36, and their daughter, Jessie, six, said: “They are putting all the blame on the Mental Health Assessment in September 2019, but there were multiple times they could have done something before then.
“They had what they needed to take Glover off the streets and they didn’t.
“We heard in the inquest that they failed and they are still not putting their hands in the air and accepting the failings.
“They are only putting more distress on our family by failing to put their hands up and admit that they got it wrong.”
She added: “I am supposed to go back to work in four weeks’ time and they have only added more fuel to the fire and caused me more anger and more upset.
“It is disgraceful, embarrassing and insulting to Harley’s memory.”
Jo also condemned police treatment of the man who killed her son.
She said: “It’s so hard for me to be angry at Glover when there were other people that contributed to his actions that day.”
She added: “I am more angry at the services that are meant to protect us than I am with him.
“Certain individuals failed to do their jobs properly, which ultimately led to Harley’s death.
“As far as I am concerned, they basically gave Glover the weapon.”
Despite hating Terence Glover for taking her son’s life, Jo realises that he was very sick.
She said: “Deep down, as a man, I really hate Glover for what he’s done.
“But it’s really hard to be so angry with someone that is so unaware of his illness.
“When I look back at the evidence and I read that he rang the police and he told him he was going to do this, I think he’s a disgusting human being, but my gut tells me it was a cry for help.
“He was basically saying, ‘If you don’t help me, I will do this’. And that, to me, is him asking for help.”
She added: “He wanted someone to take him seriously and ultimately, that’s why he did what he did.
“Paranoid schizophrenia is not taken seriously enough and it’s not getting the coverage that it needs.”
Meanwhile, Jo is haunted by the events of that terrible day, when a friend called her at work and warned her that there had been in an “accident outside the school.”
Met by the police at Snaresbrook Tube station, she was driven to Whipps Cross Hospital in east London’s Leytonstone, where Harley had been taken.
She said: “There was a woman on top of him giving him CPR and they were saying all these medical things.
“Then I heard the doctor ask for the time and I knew they were giving his time of death.
“I just remember screaming, ‘No, don’t stop, please don’t stop.”
Moved to a separate room with Harley, Ryan, his grandparents and a police officer, Jo was shattered when she could not hold her son one final time.
She said: “I remember leaning on him and wanting to hug him, but I couldn’t because Harley was part of the crime scene.
“I just wanted to put my arms around him and hug him.”
Her first chance to hold him came a week later at the Chapel of Rest.
She said: “The people at the funeral director’s used to work with my mum and said they would lift him up for me, so that I could hug him.
“I felt such overwhelming emotion holding him, it was so personal.
“It was the most intimate thing I could have done in that moment.”
Left only with her memories of her “extremely generous, kind-hearted and happy child,” special moments, like their long weekend in Paris, just the two of them, in July to celebrate his 12th birthday are now even more precious.
She said: ”That was really the start of us becoming friends, and not just mum and son.
“I remember being sat on the Eurostar, talking about all the locations we could go to together, or with his stepdad.
“It was such a pivotal moment because I could see he was growing into being a young man.”
Another treasured memory was of watching Harley try indoor skydiving in April 2019.
She said: “He was petrified but I knew he would enjoy it.
“I was on the edge of wetting myself because it was so funny, the way his body was so uncontrollable.
“He came off and said, ‘I really enjoyed that Mum’.”
Now – as on his 15th birthday two days after his inquest – she is forced to mark important days without him.
She said: “His grandparents, my siblings and Harley’s school friends did a balloon release together when he would have turned 15 and Jessie was adamant that she wanted to sing Happy Birthday to Harley, with his favourite chocolate cake.
“She doesn’t know the real reason why her brother died. We told her that Harley was walking home from school and fell over and bumped his head and the doctors couldn’t make him better again, so now he is an angel.
“She is too young to know the truth and have her innocence taken away from her.”
For Jo, not only will she never see her son fulfil his dreams, which ranged from becoming a palaeontologist when he was tiny to being a footballer or an actor as he got older, but her loss has also damaged her faith in the services meant to protect us.
Calling agencies like the police “flawed” she says she has become hypervigilant, as she no longer feels safe.
She said: “I feel like I am no longer in charge of my life. It feels out of my control.
“You think these agencies are in place to keep you safe, but they are flawed.
“I have to be aware and on alert, vigilant all the time.”
And while nothing will bring Harley back, Jo will keep fighting for changes in the way individuals like Terence Glover are treated by the police and health services, to stop anyone else from enduring her pain.
She said: “There needs to be some accountability for the individuals involved and consequences for poor practice.
“Ultimately, I do not want any other family to go through anything remotely similar to what we’ve gone through.”
Both Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) and Essex County Council sent their condolences to Jo and her family, have accepted the Inquest findings and are also addressing their operating procedures.
And Deputy Chief Constable Andy Prophet said: “On behalf of the force, I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the failings by Essex Police identified at the Inquest.”
IOPC Regional Director Graham Beesley added his condolences.
He said: “We found no indication that any officer or member of police staff breached standards of professional behaviour.
“We acknowledge it is difficult to understand that no individual is accountable, however, the criticism from the inquest jury relating to Essex Police does not necessarily align with the threshold for disciplinary action against police officers and staff.”
Jo is asking for people to donate in Harley’s memory to the commissioned service of victim support Hundred Families at https://www.hundredfamilies.org/