Saturday 25 November 2017

Review: Biography: Meredith: Our Daughter’s Murder, and the Heartbreaking Quest for Truth by John Kercher

Hodder & Stoughton,
£16.99, hbk, 304 pages
Available with free P&P onwww.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Beloved 'Mez': John Kercher has used this book to write his daughter Meredith back into her own story
Beloved 'Mez': John Kercher has used this book to write his daughter Meredith back into her own story

Rachel Dugan

Meredith Kercher, the 21-year-old student brutally murdered in the Italian university town of Perugia on November 1, 2007, has become a forgotten victim.

In the intensity of the publicity which focused on Amanda Knox -- tried, convicted, and then acquitted of her killing -- Meredith seemed to vanish.

The young Londoner was pushed into the fringes of her own murder by the fevered concentration on the accused. This book by her father, an author and journalist, is an attempt to right that wrong.

"The media's glare throughout the trial and appeal process has been fixed almost entirely on the accused. It seems if Meredith has all but been forgotten as the victim," he writes.

He refers several times in the book to his beloved "Mez" having been "written out of her own story" as he despairs at the newspapers' hurtful obsession with what Knox -- quickly dubbed Foxy Knoxy by a glamour-hungry media -- was wearing rather than the details of Meredith's gruesome last minutes.

John Kercher does not fall victim to the same trap as the media he castigates. Bar the foreword, the first hundred pages of his book are a father's tribute and devoted entirely to memories of his "beautiful girl".

He returns again and again to the flashbacks that continually assaulted him in the first few days after her murder, "piling on to me as we lurched from one day to the next".

So who was the forgotten "Mez"? She was born in 1985 to her British father and Indian mother, the youngest of four children.

The happy family lived in Croydon, South London, and "Mez" attended a private school there before going on to do European Studies at the University of Leeds. At the time of her murder she was on an Erasmus year at the University of Perugia.

A good student, bright and popular, her ambition was to be a journalist like her father. After her murder, the degree she would have received in 2009 was awarded posthumously by the University of Leeds.

When John Kercher does move on to the investigation, trial and appeal, he tries to bring the reader beyond the legalese of the Italian judicial process to distill the facts as they unfolded to him and his family -- Meredith's mum Arline, sister Stephanie and brothers John and Lyle.

The picture that emerged of Meredith's final few hours is a complicated one, often confused by the conflicting and erratic testimonies of the three main players: Knox; her boyfriend, the Italian student Raffaele Sollecito; and Ivory Coast immigrant Rudy Hermann Guede, who opted for a separate fast-tracked trial and remains the only one still behind bars for Meredith's murder.

Does Kercher believe that these three were responsible for the death of his daughter? The answer seems to be yes, but he refrains from saying this outright, instead presenting the case in such as way that it seems like the logical conclusion.

He and his family remain convinced that Guede did not act alone, that it took more than one person to subdue Meredith while simultaneously inflicting her numerous injuries and stab wounds.

Kercher does not convict Knox, but he leaves the reader wondering what other explanation there could be.

What he is unequivocal about is the ridiculousness of the outcry that drifted across the Atlantic from the Americans in the wake of Knox's conviction.

Politicians accusing what Kercher says was a "fair and full trial" of being tainted by anti-Americanism seems preposterous to him: all the more bizarre considering one Italian national and an African were also found guilty.

For Kercher, this was just another example of Knox's hijacking of the quest for justice for Meredith.

"Knox's supporters had created a groundswell of noise and opinion. Meanwhile, my family and I, still upset by the media frenzy focusing on Knox, felt like we were a tiny, quiet voice crying out in the wilderness," he laments.

In October of last year, Knox and Sollecito's conviction for the murder were overturned, and the pair walked free, leaving the Kerchers right back where they started -- with no finality on what happened to their daughter.

The family are now trapped in a painful purgatory and, even with a prosecution appeal of the acquittal in the pipeline, Kercher accepts they will probably never find the closure that, for a short time, they thought they had secured.

"For my family and me, everything is in limbo. It could be a long time before any final decision is reached -- but perhaps we will never know the truth," he muses.

He can take heart in the fact he has done what the obsession with 'Foxy Knoxy' so cruelly denied him and shared the story of his "wonderful daughter" with the world.

But Kercher is right, this story is not over and just as Meredith was eclipsed by the living during the investigation, this book, perhaps, is ultimately bound to suffer the same fate.

Sollecito, whose story, Kercher insists, suffered a similar fate as Meredith's, is due to release his own account of the trial this autumn. But ultimately, Knox seems likely to have the last word.

The 24-year-old signed a $4m deal with HarperCollins, promising to "give a full and unflinching account" of her arrest and trial that is provisionally pencilled in for early next year.

With Knox poised to steal the limelight once again, it's unlikely Meredith's story will be centre stage for very long.

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