As I enjoyed an afternoon with my cousin Stephen, I could never have predicted it would end in a bloodbath…
By Louise Whatley, 45, from Newport, South Wales
A hand gently rubbed at my shoulder and I awoke.
‘You were breathing strangely,’ said my cousin Stephen, 36, his caring face watching over me. ‘I was worried your asthma was playing up.’
That was Stephen all over – always looking out for people.
I sat up on the settee and rubbed my eyes as they adjusted to the bright morning light. It was a beautiful August day.
Stephen wasn’t just my cousin, he was my best friend and more like a brother to me. I’d been staying with him after his dad Tony, 52, had recently died of liver failure.
Stephen and his father had only been in contact for a few months before he passed away.
He popped into his open-plan kitchen and returned with a cup of tea for me.
‘I can’t get over the fact that I’d only just let my dad back into my life,’ said Stephen. ‘I’ll never have a chance to build bridges with him.’
‘At least you got some time together,’ I assured him. I hated seeing my cousin sad.
He finished his cuppa and headed out to the shop to top up the electric.
When he returned, he was with his neighbours, half-brothers Raymond, 33, and Gavin, 25.
They’d known each other for years.
‘We’ve treated ourselves to some cider,’ said Stephen, as they sat down on the sofa and switched a music channel on.
I don’t drink but I reached for my mobile and started playing Family Farm, while the boys enjoyed a good natter and laughed at the cheesy tunes playing.
Before we knew it, afternoon turned into evening and at around eight o’clock my husband Gareth appeared with our dog Chip. Although we had split, we’d remained friends.
That’s when Raymond’s behaviour changed.
‘You think she’s yours but she’s not,’ he said aggressively, standing up and marching over to him.
Gareth looked at me and I shook my head dismissively.
Determined to avoid a fight, Gareth didn’t hang around and left to walk the dog shortly after.
Then Stephen, who had started complaining he wasn’t feeling well, nodded off.
I was totally immersed in my game when Raymond suddenly punched Stephen in the side of the head. Oh my God.
The attack was completely out of the blue.
Stunned, my cousin woke up and grabbed his face.
‘I want you to leave,’ he demanded. ‘Get out of my house.’
But Raymond wouldn’t take no for an answer and before I knew it they were both locked in a bear hug.
After a short struggle, they both fell down and I froze in horror as I watched them wrestle on the floor.
‘Please stop,’ I cried out and to my relief Raymond jumped up.
I thought his senseless attack was over – but he’d had only just begun.
I felt my blood run cold as I watched him rummage around in the kitchen cutlery drawer and return with a long carving knife. Please God, no.
After that, everything passed by in a blur.
Raymond launched himself at Stephen, stabbing him savagely in the leg, sending my cousin crashing to the floor.
I could only watch in helpless horror as Gavin then joined in the brutal assault.
He’d grabbed a knife too and was hacking defenceless Stephen in the chest.
‘Stop!’ I yelled. ‘Please, don’t hurt him!’
But nothing I said could halt the frenzied attack and the murderous duo carried on.
As I watched the blood bubbling from poor Stephen’s chest, the adrenaline kicked in and I fled for my life.
I locked myself in the bathroom and frantically dialled 999, in a desperate bid for help. I was terrified.
‘Two men are stabbing him with knives and I’ve locked myself in the bathroom,’ I wailed down the phone.
I could barely hear the operator over the sound of my poor cousin’s agonised cries in the room next door.
I was being forced to listen as those sick monsters slaughtered my Stephen.
When I heard Raymond and Gavin run downstairs, I rushed to Stephen’s side and desperately tried to stem the blood gushing from his wounds.
‘He sounds like he’s really hurting,’ I told the operator, feeling helpless.
The settee had been soaked red.
I grabbed some tea towels and tried to stem the tide of blood.
Police officers showed up on the scene first and I could tell by the look on their faces my cousin was in serious trouble.
‘I can’t breathe,’ Stephen gasped, as they battled to save his life.
Eventually an ambulance came and although doctors attempted complicated surgery to save his life, Stephen succumbed to his appalling injuries in hospital.
The fatal chest wound was 10cm deep and had cut through his ribs and an artery while a second 11cm-deep puncture in his leg had partially severed a vein.
The depraved pair pleaded guilty to murder and in January this year Gavin Harris was jailed for 21 years and eight months, while Raymond Ball was sentenced to 22 years and six months.
Justice has been served but I’ll never forgive the monsters that robbed me of my kindhearted cousin.
I still have vivid flashbacks and terrifying nightmares of his violent death.
But although I refuse to let the murderers ruin my life too, I’ll never forget the day I was forced to listen to them slaughter my Stephen.