Donna Delbono has raised all her children to have a strong moral compass, ‘to know right from wrong, to work hard, to learn life skills, to be kind,’ as she puts it.
She never imagined — not in her most heart-stopping nightmare — that she would be calling the police to tell them one of her sons had murdered a teenager.
Yet this is what she found herself doing last summer. Donna, 42, former foster carer, champion cake baker, devoted mum of seven, dialled 999 and said: ‘I think my son has killed someone.’
The stark awfulness of the confession still makes her shake with nerves as she recalls it.
A brutally short conversation with her son Joshua, then 18, had preceded the emergency call.
Donna Delbono (pictured), 42, said she ‘wouldn’t have been able to live with herself’ if she hadn’t turned in her son, Joshua, after she found out that he’d stabbed Charley Bates
Joshua Delbono (pictured) was jailed for life with a minimum term of 21 years at Bristol Crown Court
‘I said to him, “Did you kill this boy?” and he said, “Mum, I did. But I didn’t know I had. I didn’t think he’d passed away.”
‘I told him, “I’m sorry, Josh, but I need to make a phone call to the police, and he said, “I know mum. That’s fine.” And then I made the call.
‘I didn’t for a second, consider not reporting Josh. It didn’t enter my head to try to protect him.
‘But as I picked up the phone I felt sick. I was shaking, crying. I didn’t know how to say what I needed to say.
‘You see things on TV. You read about them in the papers. But you never think one of your own children could do anything like that. I had so many thoughts running round in my head. I didn’t want to believe it. I still don’t.
‘The police operator asked me if Josh was with me. I said, “He’s in my house now but I can’t let him go anywhere.”
‘Josh was crying. He kept saying, “I’m sorry mum. I’m so sorry.” I put my arms round him and said, “I’m so sorry, too.”
‘It absolutely broke my heart to make that call but I had no alternative. I made the right decision and I’d do it again in the same circumstances.’
Donna’s son Joshua pictured at a younger age
Last week, Joshua Delbono, 19, was jailed for life for murdering Charley Bates, 16, during a fight between two groups of young men in the sleepy market town of Radstock in Somerset last July.
Delbono, who knifed Charley in the chest, will serve at least 21 years in prison. He denied murder, insisting he had acted in self-defence to protect his friend.
During the two-week trial, Bristol Crown Court heard that two cars had arrived at a car park near the library in Radstock at about 6.30pm on Sunday July 31. Delbono was in one of the vehicles.
He is said to have fatally stabbed Charley, whom he had never met, after intervening to help a friend who had got into a fist fight with the teenager.
In a statement, Delbono said he did not intend to hurt Charley but that he saw his friend ‘on the ground being punched and stamped on’ and thought he was going to be stabbed.
‘It was a chance encounter that escalated in a way I could never have imagined. I am truly devastated,’ Delbono said.
As Donna observes: ‘In just three minutes a young man’s life ended and Josh’s life changed forever.
‘I remember shouting at him, “What in God’s name was going through your head?” I had no idea he had a knife. I’ve never known him to carry one. That’s why it shocked me so much.
‘I beg young people: please don’t carry knives. A knife has just put one set of parents through unimaginable devastation and brought heartbreak to our family.
Charley Bates (pictured) was stabbed to death after a fist fight broke out between two groups of friends at a car park in Radstock, Somerset
‘We parents should be more vigilant. Josh made a reckless, stupid, fatal mistake. He feels terrible guilt.’
Much as she wanted to attend her son’s court case, Donna — torn by the irresolvable conflict between guilt and loyalty — could not bring herself to go.
‘I felt so terrible for Charley’s mother. I couldn’t face his parents. I told Josh I wanted to support him but I couldn’t.
‘I felt such pain for Josh but that was nothing compared with Charley’s mother’s pain.
‘Every mother’s dread is that knock on the door, that awful news. I haven’t contacted Charley’s parents because I wouldn’t know how to express how truly sorry I am for what happened to their son. I’m absolutely devastated.
‘As a mum myself, I can imagine what his mum is going through and my heart goes out to her.’
Donna is a gentle woman, softly-spoken; quietly devoted to her children. She sits in the spotless kitchen of her immaculate house in Frome, Somerset — every inch of it is scrubbed and tidied — and reflects on the reverberations of Josh’s awful act of violence.
‘Josh had a clean record. He’d never committed a crime before,’ she says.
‘He was a proud Army Cadet, played the bugle; went on parades. He’d practise the Last Post with his sister Jade, who is also a cadet, plinking away on the balalaika. It drove me mad,’ she laughs.
Josh, who is dyslexic and has ADHD, worked at a local dairy farm, bottling milk; often volunteering for building jobs.
Donna fishes out a glowing reference from his employer: ‘Punctual, receptive and respectful to authority and instructions . . . a well-liked member of the team,’ it reads.
‘He loved rugby, too; played for Frome,’ adds Donna. ‘He was a good boy; that’s what I’ve found so hard.
‘He was funny, loving, caring. Yet he has taken a life and two families are broken.’
I ask how he is doing in prison and she says: ‘He keeps replaying in his head what happened. He can’t get it out of his mind. He’s not coping well.
Delbono (wearing a white Nike top) pictured in a supermarket shortly before the fatal stabbing took place in July last year
‘He’s been on suicide watch. He has really bad dreams, flashbacks from the scene. He talks about his guilt and feels terrible remorse.
‘He’s working hard — first he had a job in the laundry, then he was cleaning toilets, then a job in the kitchen. He calls me two or three times a day.’
She shows me the cards and letters Joshua has sent her from prison, for her birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day.
‘You know how much I love you and I’m just sorry how it turned out and that was nothing to do with how you brought us up. You did an amazing job,’ reads one.
She talks with pride about her other children: Bradley, 24, a nursery school teacher; Jade, 23, a bricklayer (she shows me the ‘Bricklayer of the Year’ trophy she won from Bath College in 2018); and Byron, 18, who is training to be a car mechanic. Then there is Sam, 13, who is severely autistic and for whom she is a full-time carer; and the little ones, nine-year-old Skye and Charlie, five.
Skye rushes in from school to show me the badge she’s won for ‘being kind to others and sharing’.
‘It’s because you looked after Harry,’ Donna says to Skye, explaining that her daughter’s friend has Down’s syndrome.
‘And there was water in my eye when mummy came to school and I got the badge,’ puts in Skye.
Donna tells me that Skye has not settled since Josh left: ‘He told her on the phone that he’d had to move away and he had a one-bedroom place with his own toilet, and a job.’ She smiles ruefully.
She goes back over the day when all their lives changed. She’d been at Bristol Royal Infirmary that afternoon, visiting her brother Raymond with Skye, Charlie and her ex Rob, with whom she remains friends.
They’d stopped for a McDonald’s on the way home, arriving back at around 7 pm. ‘It had been a long day. We all went to bed early.’
Around 11pm, she was woken by Jade. ‘She said, “Mum, you need to speak to Josh. There’s something on Facebook about him and a boy passing away in Radstock.”
‘So I ran into Josh’s room and shouted, “Josh, Josh, you need to wake up now! Please tell me you didn’t have anything to do with this boy dying in Radstock. Did you do it?”
‘And he said, “Yes I did. But I didn’t know he’d passed away.”’
Distraught, Donna made that call to the police. Then, at 3am, eight or ten firearms officers arrived at their home. ‘It was horrendous. I didn’t realise they’d come in such numbers. The whole street was lit up in blue.
‘There were two riot vans, dogs; officers in bullet-proof vests with guns and helmets. Joshua held his hands out and walked out of the front door. They put him in handcuffs.’ It was the last time Donna saw him outside prison.
‘The police said, “This is a crime scene,” and we all had to leave the house, in the early hours.’
Donna left with her three youngest children to stay with a neighbour. Bradley and Byron went to Rob’s; Jade left for a friend’s house.
For five days police forensic teams scoured the house for evidence, after which Donna was told she could not return. ‘They told me it wasn’t safe. We weren’t even allowed to pick up any clothes.
‘The police took us to a Travelodge. It was so cramped, just awful. There were four of us in one room and two of the kids went with Rob. We rotated them between us.
‘Because Sam has autism he likes his own room. In an unfamiliar place he couldn’t cope. He ran onto the nearby motorway and Byron had to run after him and pull him off the road.
‘And I couldn’t cook, so we were forced to live on McDonald’s and sandwiches. It was so expensive. I had to buy new clothes for the kids — and we couldn’t wash them so Rob had to take them home to wash them.’
Donna, meanwhile, faced vilification on social media. ‘The abuse came from all sides,’ she says. ‘There were people saying I shouldn’t exist. Others wrote, “Blame the mother. It’s the way she’s raised him. They’re all scum.”
‘Then there were people who hated me for turning Josh into the police. They were saying, “How could you do that? How could you grass your own flesh and blood? You’re sick.”
‘There was so much hate and blame, so many hurtful words. And, of course, there were plenty of harsh words directed at Josh.
‘Even one of my best friends from school said, “I hope he rots in hell. He’s got what he deserved.”’
Using up all her savings — £6,000 — Donna stayed in various Travelodges for six weeks, feeding and clothing her children, while also paying rent and council tax on her empty home in Frome.
‘The kids and I were at breaking point. I’d always put money by every week, saved to get the things we needed, never bought anything on credit — and the kids all saved, too. We never took out loans. Yet I’d exhausted all our savings.
‘I knew I had to get the kids back home, to normality, to get them back to school and college. So I told social services: I’m going back regardless of the risk.’
The police have now set up cameras at her three-storey home. A fireproof letter box and a hotline to the police station have also been installed.
Despite that, Sam has been beaten up by 12 boys in the street — Donna does not know if the attack is connected with Josh’s crime — and Skye still shouts in her sleep and cries out that she misses her big brother.
There is barely an aspect of their lives that the murder hasn’t marred. Jade lost her bricklaying job as a result of her brother’s conviction: ‘They said, “We don’t want you on site any more.”’
Donna can no longer foster children because of Josh’s crime. She has become reclusive: ‘I don’t go out, except to the shops. I worry about what people will say to me.’
At home she still hangs on tenaciously to the rituals of normality; baking cakes, making up the children’s lunchboxes and cleaning her pin-neat house until it shines.
For Donna, the wait for Josh’s release from prison seems interminable. But she knows Charley Bates’s mum will never have the solace and joy of seeing her son again.
‘I know Josh is full of remorse and regret. He will be feeling for Charley’s mother without a doubt.
‘Do I hope she’ll forgive him? I’d like to hope that one day she just might. But I think that would be just too much to ask of her.’
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12000415/Why-called-police-tell-son-just-committed-MURDER-again.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270