Victim Impact Statement: Susan Hollows

Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013
Phillip Cottrell
KILLED: Phillip Cottrell, the Radio NZ journalist who died after being beaten in Wellington's Boulcott St.

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The victim impact statement from Susan Hollows, the sister of journalist Phillip Cottrell, read to the two men accused of his killing and the Court. 

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I have written this statement in an attempt to let both of you, and the Court, have some idea of the type of man my brother Phillip Cottrell was; a caring, wonderful, intelligent man who met with a brutal and violent death.

I also hope my words explain the devastating effects of his death on his loving family and friends.

When his life ended, my only brother Phil, aged just 43, was simply walking home at just after 5:30am after doing an honest night's work as a respected news journalist for Radio New Zealand.

Phil had made an enormous success of his life. He had an immense passion for his job as a journalist which had started at an early age.

Back in England as a child he would record his own pretend radio station and write his own newspaper. He did voluntary work on hospital radio to gain more experience and it was obvious where his career would head.

He left school with top exam grades, learned four foreign languages including Russian. He gained a Bachelor of Honours in Media from London Polytechnic and quickly found employment at the esteemed British radio news agency IRN, then the BBC, and finally here in Wellington at RadioNZ as news bulletin editor.

Phil always insisted that the truth be told and not elaborated in the news reports he edited. This earned him enormous respect among work colleagues.

He was always calm and understanding but to the point. If you wanted something resolved, he was the man you went to.

Phil was also at the centre of a loving family. He was my brother, my rock, my confidant. We'd talk on the phone for hours putting the world to rights. He was a great listener with wise opinions.

When Phil died, it was just two days before a planned visit to see me, my husband Heath, and our two young children, Caitlin and Liam, for an early Christmas celebration at out home on the South Island.

Instead, we made the heartbreaking journey to Wellington to watch him die.

I had to phone my parents in England and break the news to them that their only son had been savagely attacked for no reason, and was in hospital, and the doctors were saying the injuries to his brain were so severe that he would not survive.

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The doctors were recommending his life support machine should be turned off the next day.

My parents understandably found it hard to take in such shattering news.

I am so glad my parents were spared the gut-wrenching horror of watching their child lying in an Intensive Care Unit, beaten black and blue, on life support.

My husband and I had to suffer that horror, which we will never forget.

During those final hours of Phil's life, we clung to the glimmer of hope that the doctors might be wrong and Phil would miraculously open his eyes and pull through.

When we arrived at the hospital the doctor was putting a plaster cast on Phil's left arm. Both Heath and I though this must be a good sign. Why would they do that if he was beyond medical help?

It was explained that each patient is treated the same no matter the severity of their condition. A plaster cast would make his shattered elbow and wrist feel more comfortable. Yet this still gave us hope when there was none.

It was hard to tell that it was Phil lying there, his injuries were so horrific. His skull was smashed into more than 20 pieces. Several of his vertebrae were crushed. His wrist was broken, his elbow was broken.

Heath and I stayed at Phil's bedside all that night and I held his hand as the machines were switched off the next day.

I will never forget how tightly he gripped my hand in his last moments. I told him to be brave and he'd feel better soon.

When someone close to you dies so violently and suddenly, there is much to be done and when you are feeling at your worst.

While in Wellington, far away from our home on the south island, we had to make funeral arrangements, meet the police, and arrange a financial loan so we could afford to fly back to England to be with my mum and dad and return Phillip's ashes to them.

During this time we were away from our children, one of them a baby, for almost two weeks.

On hearing the news of Phil's attack we had been forced to leave them with friends which was hard for us and for them. They were too young to understand why mum and dad had suddenly left them for so long.

Christmas was, of course, non-existent. We flew with the children to England the day after Boxing Day to take Phillip's ashes back to mum and dad and arrange a second funeral service for the family and friends on that side of the world.

My mum and dad have lost their only son. Mum and dad hardly spoke during the six weeks we were there. They suffered in silence. They were still in denial and experiencing terrible shock.

As Phil hadn't died in England it was hard for them to come to terms with it, and they hardly received any support.

I feel so helpless hearing my mum tell me she had lost the will to live.

I then had to return to New Zealand, my home, and the home of my husband and children, but also the country where Phillip had been killed, leaving my parents so far away, trying to make sense of something so ultimately senseless.

My mum still won't leave the house now and is inconsolable, drowning in depression. My dad has to take care of her.

Phil had planned to return to England in five years time to look after mum and dad as they grew older.

We both had a sense of guilt about being so far away from them when they would need us the most. Phil knew how difficult it would be for me, to leave New Zealand, having a family to uproot and move back, so it was decided he would be the one to take on the role of carer. A role he was more than willing to do.

A good man has been taken from us in the prime of his life.

The reality of our loss only really began to sink in once Heath and I returned to New Zealand.

My two young children have lost their uncle, who loved them so much. Phil had a deep bond with Caitlin especially, (Liam still being a baby).We use to joke that Phil would have to help the children with their homework as they got older as he was the brains of the family.

I feel lost without my brother. We were supposed to grow old together. Even now I still go to pick up the phone and call him. I miss him every day.

Heath and I attended the whole trial and it has been an awful experience; having to hear all the evidence surrounding Phil's death day after day for two weeks; having to sit in such close proximity to supporters and relatives of the two accused.

This is an experience I wish on no-one.

Before the trial, I used to lie in bed, unable to sleep, going over and over what could have happened.

Now the trial is over, I still lie sleepless but the difference is I know what happened; and I can picture Phil's senseless attack so clearly. Things I only wondered about before, I now know in detail. Every time I close my eyes, I visualise it.

Before the trial I took some slight comfort from the belief that as soon as his head hit the floor he would have lost consciousness. The evidence of the trial has taught me this isn't true.

I feel I have lost him all over again only this time with so many questions answered that the feelings are even more intense. Tears appear out of nowhere. The pain of his loss is physical. I get stabbing pains in my stomach, the trauma and grief is so severe.

I am having counselling and I am trying not to take antidepressants despite my counsellor explaining that after this much suffering and grief it is more than reasonable to accept any help available to me.

I am serving my own life sentence of pain and torture knowing the horrific way Phil died.

While I may be emotionally biased, I am an intelligent human being who sat through the evidence regarding Phillip's attack, including evidence from an orthopaedic surgeon, a neurosurgeon and an endocrinologist.

This evidence leaves me to believe that Phil's injuries were multiple but also diverse, and his body heavily and variably bruised, indicative of injuries from multiple impacts.

The guidelines for victim impact statements such as this one advise victims to include details of financial loss. I find this a little insulting given my family's enormous emotional loss. There is no value you can put on a loved person's life; their value is infinite.

However, it is true that my husband and I have incurred costs and debt of more than $16,000 in travel and other expenses. I can't even begin to calculate the amount lost in wages; we have both taken more than 12 weeks off work in the past year.

Both our employers have been immensely generous and understanding in the circumstances, however with no holidays left, it does leave us with a difficult predicament if we have an appointment to attend or one of the children are sick. We tend to rely on the support of friends rather than ask for another day off work.

Let me draw to a conclusion by telling you a little more about my wonderful brother and the much wider circle of people who loved him too.

Phil was, quite simply, a remarkable and gentle man. He was a real gentleman who touched many lives and was loved and respected. He made friends wherever he went.

Heath and I weren't the only ones at Phil's bedside when he was dying.

A group of close, faithful friends were also there to say their goodbyes. He was surrounded by loved ones during his last moments.

Phil lived life to the full and was known for his legendary travels. His first big trip overseas was to Africa. This gave him his wanderlust and also his first connections with a vast network of friends from all across the world.

Sometimes we would worry about the places he chose to visit. He would go off the beaten track and see the real side of a place rather than stick to the tourist route. For us back home it was always a relief when he touched down again.

It is hard to fathom that he had been to so many far flung places but met his death with brutality here in New Zealand.

Phil had an ambition; to visit 100 countries before he reached the age of 50. He'd reached 73 by the time he was killed.

In memory of Phil, we are fulfilling his wish. With the help of family and friends who loved him around the globe we are visiting the remaining countries on his list and taking 'him' (a specially engraved torch key ring) with us wherever we go.

We post our photos and comments on a Facebook page. In just under one year we have ticked off another 17 countries, so we're already up to 90 and it looks as though we'll reach his target well before 5 June 2018, which would have been his 50th birthday.

The enthusiasm and commitment among the people involved has been inspiring. It shows how people cared so much about Phil that they are willing to travel the world so hecan see it through their eyes.

As I have said, Phillip was a news man, who told things like they were.

If he was here today, he would know there is nothing elaborated in this victim impact statement. He would agree that his death, quite simply, was senseless devastation.

Violence without provocation crossed his path and ended his life one morning as he was simply walking home from work. Deliberate aggression cost his life for no reason.

But Phil knew what it felt like to be truly loved and respected by friends and family. Those feelings are precious beyond words.

I cannot presume to know whether the men who were accused of Phillip's attack have experienced or felt such love, or if they can even understand the value of it to my family and Phillip's friends.

No sentence can be long enough to bring retribution for the death of my beloved brother.

My only hope for the two men who were accused is that perhaps, with the help of my words, you can have enough understanding of the precious value of life to understand that violence is evil and causes nothing but misery, and ultimately go on to cause no further harm to others.

- The Dominion Post

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