To the jury in Greece, John Hogan was insane. They concluded that the self-employed tiler from south Bristol was not guilty of murder, having been overcome by an “earthquake” of psychosis when he leapt from a hotel balcony, four floors up, with his two children. Six-year-old Liam Hogan died from his injuries; Mia, his two-year-old sister, survived.
John Hogan maintained throughout the trial last January that he felt “no guilt” about Liam’s death because the real Hogan had not done it, a cuckoo-like madness having displaced his good nature. He frustrated cross-examination by claiming to remember nothing about what he referred to as “the accident”.
For Hogan’s wife, Natasha, who remarried a month before the trial, the verdict was a travesty. Liam had “died for nothing” and Hogan had “given the best performance of his life”. The Greek authorities had conspired to expedite the hearing, concentrating on Hogan’s state of mind, while failing to call essential British eyewitnesses whose statements contradicted Hogan’s claim to have jumped with his children in his arms on the night of August 15 2006 and suggested something far more calculating.
The dispute would transform the so-called “balcony leap case” – a story of how a British family on holiday bloodily self-destructed in public – into one of the most talked about in living memory: was Hogan a father driven mad or a murderer feigning insanity to escape conviction?
On March 27 2008, at Liam Hogan’s belated inquest in Bristol, the coroner intervened, setting aside consideration of Hogan’s state of mind and calling the overlooked British eyewitnesses. Their original unpublished statements, taken by Avon and Somerset police eight days after Liam’s death, placed Sarah Davidson, from Hull, outside the Petra Mare hotel in Crete at 11pm, just moments before the tragedy occurred. She told the police that, startled by the sound of a “horrific argument” coming from a top-floor bedroom, she had looked up to see two blond-haired children standing on a balcony wall. They were silent and motionless. She said: “I struggled to comprehend why [they] would stand in such a dangerous position.” Where were their parents? Then she saw a man appear behind the children and lunge forward “with an open-armed movement”.
Davidson’s friend, Kerry Jackman, who was standing beside her, cried out: “Oh my God, he’s pushed his kids off.” Jackman told police, “I got the impression that the boy was trying to grab the little girl’s hand.” Davidson was mesmerised by the sight of children falling “like stars”. The man jumped seconds later. There were three loud thuds. “It then went very quiet,” Jackman said.
These chilling testimonies, which portrayed Hogan as having pushed his children over, rather than having leapt with them in “a moment of madness”, led Paul Forrest, the Avon and Somerset coroner, to reach a verdict of “unlawful killing”, opening up the real possibility that Hogan would be charged again with murder if he returned to the UK. Although the Crown Prosecution Service announced in late September that it did not intend to press charges unless compelling new evidence was found, the possibility of a private prosecution remains.
John Hogan, who had been due to be released from psychiatric care shortly after his trial, has stayed in Greece while his family’s legal team struggles to make him immune to prosecution in this country. On November 4, the high court in London will hear an application by the Hogan family for a judicial review of the coroner’s verdict, calling for it to be quashed, enabling Hogan to come home a free man. He has not seen Mia since the night of Liam’s death, and has spoken of his desire to be reunited. Her mother, Natasha, who suspected he was trying to speak to his daughter on his Greek mobile phone, has pledged that Mia will not see her father until she is 18 and specifically asks to meet him; the family moved to Australia last summer.
But the debate continues about who John Hogan really is and what he has done. He’s an “emotional imbecile” Germaine Greer said in this newspaper; a “killer dad”, the Sun claimed. It is difficult to glimpse the real man amid the speculation and name-calling.
The Hogans, an Irish Catholic family, have remained tight-lipped throughout. Back in the south Bristol suburb of Bedminster, where John Hogan grew up, it has been the same, the community closing around him like a zip-lock bag.
However, now that Hogan’s return to the UK is imminent, some have begun to open up, those closest to him pointing to a particular location in Bristol that underpins his personal story. This is a well-tended family plot on a sweeping grass slope in South Bristol Cemetery, overlooking Clifton suspension bridge, which they say shows why Hogan’s state of mind is every bit as important as the bare facts.
Here, six-year-old Liam was interred beneath a black granite headstone engraved with a Dalek and Thomas the Tank Engine. When we visited, it was still scattered with cards from schoolfriends left on what would have been his eighth birthday (May 30 2008), as well as gifts: a plastic Cyberman and Dr Who’s Tardis.
Just two rows behind lies a similar granite headstone, this one with flowers placed by Josephine Hogan, John’s mother. This marks the grave of John Joseph Hogan, John’s father, who died from a chronic illness at 55. It is shared by Stephen Hogan, John’s youngest brother, who died at 17 in what a coroner ruled was an “accidental death”. And, just visible above the grass verge, on the thin side of the headstone, is an inscription for Paul Hogan, John’s elder brother, who killed himself at 35.
In between the flowers is an inscription family friends say explains some of what the Hogans have kept to themselves up until now, a suggestion that there was a real and invasive madness at the root of John Hogan’s crime. “When a family chain is broken things are not the same,” the epitaph reads, hinting at the tragic episodes that tipped Hogan over the edge. “But as God calls us one by one we will link that chain again.” Abject loss, the pain of separation and the pull of death were notions in which John Hogan was steeped for decades before the plunge from a Cretan balcony.
Family photos, videos and letters show how young Liam emulated his father. He gelled his hair like him, kicked a ball around with him; footage shows him dancing like his dad to Elton John’s Are You Ready For Love, the year before Hogan killed him. It was often John Hogan who read Liam bedtime stories and comforted him when he was hurt. The one thing John and his former wife Natasha still agree on is that Liam was “a real daddy’s boy”.
John Hogan’s childhood was spent in south Bristol, as leader of a close-knit gang of BS3 boys, the postcode for their turf in Bedminster. He bragged that he was the best-looking among them: Jeff, Bloomer, Wozzle, Popey and Martin. They all agreed he was the most promising footballer. Mike “Bloomer” Broad – named after a cheery underdog who once played for Bristol Rovers – was too overweight to match him, while his sister had an eye for Hogan and would send him Bristol City match programmes every week after his arrest on Crete. Martin Williams, the karaoke star of the group, whose back garden overlooked the Hogans’, was the organised one (and after Hogan’s trial would arrange regular trips to Greece to visit his best mate). Williams, Hogan and John “Popey” Pope all came from large Irish Catholic families, went to school at Holy Cross primary and in 1981 took their first holy communion together at the church next door. Chris Wilsford was Wozzle, boss-eyed and big-eared, who went with the crowd (and was among those who flew over to visit Hogan after he was transferred from prison to an Athens psychiatric hospital in January). And Jeff Hall was the timid one, who still has not a bad word to say about one of his oldest friends.
With Bristol City’s Ashton Gate stadium a stroll from their homes, it was football that brought them together – though none of them could afford tickets. As teenagers, it was Hogan who came up with plans to find money, such as stealing soft drink bottles, left for the Corona man in crates on people’s doorsteps, empties that the gang cashed in for Natch cider at the off-licence in North Street.
Broad, now a builder, and an ardent defender of Hogan, says, “We were just kids, but they didn’t care.” The centre of their world was South Street playing field, with its peeling all-weather pitch, and the old YMCA nearby. Bedminster was as tight as a half-hitch. The terraced homes here toppled into one other like playing cards and all news fed back to “Ma”, John’s mother, Josephine. Coming from a sheltered upbringing in County Kildare, she never missed mass at the Holy Cross, in Dean Lane, a 10-minute walk up and downhill from the family’s home at 215 Luckwell Road. Josephine turned to the church for all her emotional needs, a faith she brought with her when, in the 50s, she moved to Bedminster, where she met her Irish husband, John Sr; they moved into their home when she was pregnant with Christine, their first child, in the early 60s.
Today, the curtains are drawn, the front window broken, weeds strangling a once immaculate front garden – the Hogans moved out earlier this year, when Josephine was forced to sell up to pay for her son’s defence in Greece. But once this house, with its pebble-dashed walls, postage stamp front room, three bedrooms and a tiny strip of a garden – planted with apple trees by John’s dead brother Paul – was a nucleus for the family. Almost all the watershed moments in John Hogan’s life happened here, some of them tumultuous episodes that, he would later tell Greek psychiatrist Markos Skondras, culminated in a leap from a hotel balcony.
The Hogans went on to have a second daughter (Gabriella, born in 1966) and four boys: William (1965), Paul (1968), John (1974) and Stephen (1979). Most were home births. For John, six years younger than Paul and almost a decade younger than William, life would revolve around Stephen, his baby brother. The two of them, the youngest, could get away with anything. But in this intense and overcrowded house, John Hogan would later reflect to the psychiatrist in Greece, he never heard his parents say they loved him. On its own, this might sound like a petty complaint from an immature, self-centred boy, but it would become a factor in a cascade of events that ultimately drove him over the edge, Skondras concluded in 2007.
Hogan’s relationship with his father was distant. John Sr’s world revolved exclusively around the Irish community in Bedminster, the Holy Cross social club and Zanetti & Bailey, a local building firm that employed him as a tiler. Josephine made more of an effort to integrate, and was friendly with their next-door neighbours, Josie and Brian Woodward, who were West Country people. The Woodwards still live at 213 Luckwell Road. “Our families grew up together,” Josie says. “John loved those kids. Every weekend we watched over the fence as he and Liam kicked a ball around. He tried hard not to be like his father.”
By the time John Hogan was 16, his father had developed multiple sclerosis. Unemployable, bored and belligerent, he took to drinking heavily at the social club. Friend and neighbour Dickie Sanders, from number 217, recalls: “He would come home so drunk he could barely make it up the path to his front door.” Billy from Tyrone, a drinking pal at the club, describes him as “an awkward bugger” who began to fall out with his friends.
When he was at home, he became a brooding presence, asleep before the gas fire or hung over. John, who shared a room with Stephen, was now battling for space. Their elder brother, Paul, known as an oddball, was a constant source of tension. He had got into university – a first for the Hogan family – and excelled at cross-country running, his silver trophies lining the front room. But Paul proved to be bipolar and later moved in and out of sheltered accommodation. To get away from the morbidity of it all, John stayed out.
Every Friday, the Hogan gang met at the South Street playing field at 7.30pm. They kicked a ball around, glugged cider and smoked. Patrick Hart, a youth worker at the nearby YMCA, suggested they start a Sunday league team, thus beginning a long relationship with the boys that would culminate in him writing a character reference for John Hogan’s Greek defence team last January.
Bloomer was on board from the off. He says: “We got £800 from the Prince’s Trust and Soundsville, a local record shop, sponsored our black and blue kits. We had all just passed our driving tests and were getting up a team.” Soundsville FC had no home pitch and played at the Netham Rec, a few miles to the north. Gang joker Jeff Hall recalls: “We were pretty crap to start with. Lost every match. But Hogan became a great striker, scoring loads of goals.” Although the team would fold at the end of the 90s, after most of the players got married, they re-formed when John Hogan was arrested, playing a charity game to raise money to help his mother stay out in Greece.
When Hogan’s gang looked old enough to get served alcohol, a ritual was born: Saturday night on the lash in Bedminster’s North Street pubs, such as the Masonic, the Spotted Cow, the Full Moon; Sunday morning in the rain at Netham Rec. Bloomer says: “Half of us were spewing on the sideline, especially Hogan who, like his dad, could easily down nine pints.” At the end of every match it was down to the Coronation Tap, in Dean Lane, beside their old primary school. “We all arrived commando – no pants,” Bloomer says, grinning. The changing rooms at the rec were so dire, no one bothered to shower.
Landlords Dave and Rose would put on food. “We’d take over the big bay window and before our dinner we’d all have pickled eggs and a pint of Blackthorn down in one. We’d vote for who had been man of the match, fanny of the match and fanny of the week. God help any girls who came in as we’d rip off their G-strings,” Bloomer says.
Through the 90s, Soundsville FC went on tour. Butlins in Minehead. Then Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Turkey. There was no football involved, though the team printed up T-shirts with a picture of Williams above the caption “Martin’s Black and Blue Army”. Bloomer says: “Hogan was a nightmare. We’d win £5 for every pair of girls’ knickers we could produce and one morning I remember seeing him with three pairs on each arm.”
Back home, Williams, Popey and Hogan had all left St Bernadette’s RC secondary school at 16. They contemplated the army, but became tradesmen instead, Hogan following his dad to Zanetti & Bailey. Soundsville FC continued to rule their lives. By 1995, the team was going up the Bristol suburban league and had developed a fan base, among them an outspoken blonde, Natasha Steel. She was two years older than Hogan and an outsider, having grown up in Louisiana, in the US, before moving to Bristol in her teens; she went to St Mary Redcliffe & Temple, a high-achieving CofE school in Bristol city centre.
Natasha recalls: “Hogan was 22 and still living at home.” She was training to be a nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and the combination of her outsider status and quasi-medical expertise drew Hogan to confide in her that he feared being engulfed by family troubles. His father’s MS had become critical and, after one of his legs was amputated, his bed was moved into the front room at Luckwell Road. He was now entirely dependent on Josephine. Paul’s eccentricities, meanwhile, had developed into serious mental health problems, resulting in his being sectioned, and Stephen was becoming uncontrollable. Brian Woodward recalls: “Stephen was a tearaway. He was always coming round here asking for aspirins. Any kind of pill. He wanted to try them all.”
John Hogan and Natasha were complicated, too. She was supposedly going out with another Irish Bedminster boy, Gerry O’Keefe, a part-time Soundsville FC player. A distraught O’Keefe ended up going back to Ireland on his own, before Christmas 1995, while Natasha and Hogan got it together, somewhere between the Imp and the Masonic, on the Soundsville FC Christmas Eve pub crawl.
There was little time to enjoy it. By February 1996, 215 Luckwell Road was awash with medication and surgical equipment, ruled by “despair and grief”, Natasha recalls. On February 13, John’s father died.
Roles were radically redefined. Josephine spent her days at the South Bristol Cemetery, placing red and yellow carnations on her husband’s grave on which she had inscribed “Goodnight Godbless Sweet Heart”. Paul was back at 215 Luckwell Road but incapable of looking after himself, his symptoms – a rising feeling of panic and depression – not that dissimilar from those that would later consume his brother, John. Stephen, careening around Bedminster, out of work, was left to his own devices. The older Hogan siblings had already moved out, leaving John the responsible one. In a psychological assessment made on December 3 2006, Professor Ioannis Nestoros noted that his patient had found his new role as Stephen and Paul’s protector extremely stressful – he was “incapable of handling intense emotional pressure”.
That April, John and Natasha became engaged; she had “a romantic idea” and moved into Luckwell Road. The house was gloomy and crowded, and Hogan was out of sorts. He had been to see the family doctor and was now on a course of anti-depressants, while Stephen, who had already lost his father and saw little of his mother, became resentful at losing John to an outsider like Natasha.
By the summer, Natasha believed that life at 215 had stabilised. On Sunday June 30, Josephine was in Ireland with relatives and friends. Bloomer and Hogan were playing for Soundsville FC. Afterwards, they headed for the Coronation Tap and the Spotted Cow. It was turning into a session. Bloomer recalls: “John said, ‘Let’s drop my car home.’ As we pulled up outside Luckwell Road, he mentioned that he was worried, not having seen Stephen all weekend.” Natasha drove up. “Tash said she would check for Stephen upstairs,” Bloomer recalls. “She called me up. There he was, lying in bed, the covers pulled up to his chin, a bottle of pills and cider on the bedside table. We didn’t know what to tell John. Tash called an ambulance but he was obviously dead. I left to find Paul and tell the boys in the pub.”
Natasha remembers: “Two days earlier, John had had an argument and told Stephen, ‘Sort your fucking life out.’ ” Now, on John’s watch, Stephen had swallowed his dad’s leftover painkillers.
John’s dad was dead. His brother, too. An inquest generously ruled Stephen’s death as “accidental”, getting Josephine out of a tight spot with the Holy Cross who could not countenance burying a suicide case. To John Joseph Hogan’s black granite headstone in South Bristol Cemetery, his youngest son’s name was added: “Goodnight Godbless Steve.” And it was then that the new inscription was added, too, about the family chain being broken. It would be read and reread by a guilt-ridden John Hogan, who would later tell Professor Nestoros in Greece that he felt responsible, having instigated a new “tough love” relationship with tearaway Stephen.
The Hogans, and John in particular, began to turn inwards. Natasha says: “Within a week I was asked to leave Luckwell Road.” The couple split up, with Hogan later telling his psychiatrist that he never got over his brother’s death.
However, two years later, in October 1998, when he bumped into Natasha at the Mandrake nightclub in Bristol city centre, she thought he had recovered and they got back together. Natasha insisted John leave home and “his mother’s apron strings”. She took him out of Bedminster, buying a house in Bradley Stoke, a new town on the other side of Bristol, known by its inhabitants as “Sadly Broke” after a recent housing crash there. It was miles away from Hogan’s emotional crutches: Soundsville FC, the Coronation Tap and Luckwell Road.
Within six months, Natasha was pregnant and John Hogan began to reel again. “He would run back to Bedminster. Getting drunk all the time,” she remembers. There were other, more worrying developments. Hogan became incapable of eating in public. He developed agoraphobia, collapsing in Asda, suffering from panic attacks so frequent and violent that he was prescribed beta-blockers and counselling – sessions from which Natasha was precluded and about which Hogan never spoke. If he had, the similarities with his elder brother Paul’s condition would have been obvious.
But when Liam Stephen Hogan was born, in May 2000, in Southmead hospital – his middle name given in memory of a wayward uncle who never grew up – John appeared to get back on track. Natasha later told British police: “He realised he could make a good first-time dad.”
Within two years, Hogan and Natasha were married. The Soundsville years began to fade and when, on April 27 2004, Mia Hogan was born, her father didn’t shoot out to the pub. He was “attentive and totally different”, and even started wearing his wedding ring. “Our relationship was fine,” Natasha says, until one month later, when she took a midnight call from Christine, John’s eldest sister: 215 Luckwell Road was burning.
Neighbour Brian Woodward had alerted the family. “Josephine was back in Ireland and her house was empty,” Woodward says. “But I had seen Paul earlier in the evening skulking around the back garden with bits of wood.”
Dickie Sanders, at 217, woke up around midnight: “My bedroom wall was roasting hot,” he says. He ran out to see the Hogans’ house on fire.
After the fire was extinguished, the police began looking for Paul. Natasha says: “John called me at 10am the next morning to say someone had jumped from Clifton suspension bridge.” The corpse was so badly mangled that the police asked the family to view CCTV footage. It was Paul. Dead at 35. Natasha believed John handled Paul’s suicide admirably. But Bloomer knew Hogan kept a copy of the death plunge video at home, to watch over and over again. Hogan had been to see Paul’s psychiatrist a week before Paul killed himself, to complain that his brother was leaning too heavily on their mother. He now believed he had tipped Paul over the edge – fears he would keep bottled up until, three years later, he confessed to a counsellor in Greece that his brother’s death had profoundly affected him, making him feel once again that he was the one left behind.
This time there was no conclusion a coroner could reach other than suicide. Paul’s name was added to the family headstone. Just the barest details. Josephine had run out of words. She bought another bouquet of red and yellow carnations.
Natasha needed to clear her head. She accepted a nursing job in Newport, south Wales, which took her away for days at a time. John brought his mother over to Bradley Stoke to look after Liam and Mia, while he went into the tiling business with a work colleague, Mike “Spike” Foster. The stress of being self-employed mingled with a growing concern that he was losing control of Natasha. Fits of jealousy saw him browse through her private computer files, where he found innocent but flirtatious email exchanges with an old school friend. John called Natasha at work, crying. He rang the old friend, too, threatening to tell the man’s wife. A year later, Hogan’s psychiatrist would note: “The violent deaths of his brothers have led him to experience great emotional stress at the prospect of distancing and separating from loved ones. He has a great need to express his feelings and especially feelings of love, but an even greater need for others to express their feelings towards him.”
Loneliness terrified Hogan. But having won back some independence, Natasha was not going to roll over. “Now it was my turn,” she recalls. Their marriage rollercoastered until, one rainy day in February 2006, they decided to book a family holiday to see if they could work things through. “We wanted it to be perfect,” Natasha says.
One week before they set off for Crete, in August 2006, Hogan delved into Natasha’s computer files again, discovering she had been browsing divorce websites. When she came home, she insisted it had been a “flippant” search. But, confronted by Hogan’s hysteria, she made a decision. “I told him that I thought the relationship was not working,” she says, adding that they had agreed to go on holiday to talk about it. Bloomer bumped into Hogan in the Imp later that night: “I said, ‘What you doing here?’ He said, ‘We’ve had another row. Can I stay?’ But in the end he went off to his ma’s and the next time I saw him was on TV after he’d killed Liam.”
It is difficult to sympathise with a child killer, especially when he or she is the parent. But while no one can excuse it, the background to a seemingly incomprehensible act can be revealing. In the case of John Hogan, the signs were there for years, some inherited and some learned.
Some aspects of depression, psychiatrists claim, can be passed down the generations. Suicide is often described as a “learned act”, an idea planted by one family member that germinates and perpetuates in another, eventually set off by a precipitous series of incidents.
John Hogan’s underlying fear of loneliness would heighten in the days before he set off for Crete as it dawned on him that he might lose his children and wife, too.
The journey to Crete began badly: a terror alert at the airport meant long delays and the family, tense and exhausted, didn’t arrive at the Petra Mare hotel until 10am the following day, August 11 2006. Although they had booked a ground-floor, pool-side apartment, they were shown to room 446, on the top floor, over the hotel entrance and facing a busy main road. Spotting the balcony, Natasha was immediately worried about their children’s safety.
By day two, Hogan seemed to have calmed down and was “spending lots of money on the children”, trying to show them how much he loved them. When he pressed his case with Natasha on the third day, and tried to kiss her, she pulled away. That evening he reverted to his old Soundsville behaviour, downing pints before entering an 80s dance competition in the hotel bar, a performance that rapidly degenerated into a long, silent walk off stage. “John was embarrassed and worrying,” Natasha says.
He spent the fourth day on his own, turning inwards, as his family had always done, returning only at 4pm, to challenge Natasha as to whether she had made a decision about leaving him. “Maybe,” she replied weakly. He shouted “Fine,” before going off fishing with Liam. He seemed unhinged. Natasha called her mother, Liz Steel, back in Bristol for advice. Steel says: “While I was on the phone to Tash throughout that day, John kept disappearing with Liam, he kept trailing him around the hotel and grounds with Liam sobbing his heart out.”
When they returned at 6.30pm, Hogan began arguing. “He had completely lost the plot,” Natasha recalls. He shouted, “If you think you’re living in that house with the kids … you’re not, I’ll burn it to the ground.” Hogan would later tell his psychiatrist the deaths of his brothers were in his head at that moment, particularly that of Paul, who had left Luckwell Road smouldering.
Two hours later, the row continued in the hotel bar. Liz Steel, again on the phone to her daughter, recalls: “Tash at that point was frozen to her seat – John kept coming in and out, shouting in front of everyone in the hotel bar. People were looking. He was getting nastier. She was trying to keep calm for Mia.” Oblivious to everyone, Hogan began shouting: “We’re going home. I’ve packed the cases, you can stay.” Natasha went up to their room with Mia to call her mother again. Liz Steel says: “I told Tash I was not happy about what John was doing – she needed to go find John and Liam. I said, ‘I am now terribly worried about the safety of my grandchildren, Tash – you must do something now!’ ”
While Natasha was still on the phone, Liam appeared at their bedroom door. He had been due to go to a children’s movie night and had even bought his sweets ready, but now, Natasha recalls, “He ran in, sobbing, saying, ‘You’re splitting up.’ ” Liam was by now in no fit state to go to see a film, so they all went back down to the lobby to find Hogan demanding that holiday reps book flights for him and the children to go back immediately to Bristol. “By now he was really mad and shouting loudly,” Natasha says. Hogan would later tell his psychiatrist, “I couldn’t bear the thought that I would be left alone, that I would come in from work and not see my kids.”
Natasha rang her mother again. Liz Steel says: “I told her not to let Liam and Mia out of her sight.” After staff made it clear that there were no flights available, Natasha and the children returned to the room. “It looked as if clothes had just been thrown into the suitcases,” says Natasha, who began putting them in order. Hogan came in at 10.15pm, to see the story of his life unfolding from those bags. “My packing is shit,” he began screaming. Bags, kids, father, mother, brothers, sisters, girlfriends – all, he would tell his psychiatrist later, had been inconsistent, too demanding, challenging or disappointing. Now he began hurtling around the room, throwing the children’s clothes about him.
Liam began screaming, disturbed by his father’s mania. Natasha, Hogan claimed, delivered a cruel jab, lambasting his family as a “family of death”. This would, he said, be the last thing he could remember, words that were an invitation for a man mortally afraid of abandonment, an agoraphobic who could see only the wide-open spaces of a life estranged.
For Hogan, the chain was broken. Natasha would tell police: “I turned my back for what seemed like a split second. I looked around; there was sudden silence. The room was empty apart from me.”
“I remember my mother in the hospital … She told me what had happened.” Hogan’s jumbled thoughts were recorded by psychiatrist Markos Skondras in July 2007. “My little boy is dead … My God … My family meant everything to me … I didn’t mean to harm him. I loved him so much. What have I done? I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s driving me mad. I’m in prison. I’ve never hurt anyone. Thank God I don’t remember.” Hogan was by then on six different kinds of medication, and already trying to kill himself, inventively, furtively, determinedly.
His condition would improve. He was transferred to a psychiatric hospital where he could wander freely, receive visitors and make calls to Bedminster. Friends and relatives reported back to him the discussions they had with us. Then in September, a curious texting relationship began, with Hogan sending us messages, including one to contact Professor Nestoros – he wanted his psychiatrist to do the talking. He was fearful of the November hearing – his family’s attempt to get quashed the British coroner’s verdict of unlawful killing – worried that it would fail, leaving him open to further prosecution.
We rang Nestoros. He appeared to answer the call but, instead of talking to us, put the handset down, so that we could hear his voice. He was reassuring someone in the room with him. “You’re on the road to recovery, John,” he said. Then came a voice with a West Country accent: “But I can still hear Liam screaming. I can’t get it out of my head.”
Whether it was an accident or a demonstration of remorse – part of the campaign to place Hogan’s delusions and suffering as central to his case – his anguish was palpable. Unable to question, only to listen, we cut the line.