My heart goes out to Trevor and Sheila Fairhurst today.
Over the past decade I have come to regard them as friends, having first met them as their daughter Carly lay fatally injured on a life support machine after an attack by her abusive boyfriend.
The 19-year-old would lose her battle for life days later and a particularly admirable part of their grieving process in the ensuing months was to throw themselves into charity work, raising money for Victim Support counsellors and campaigning against domestic violence.
Today, it is fair to say, my friends are in bits. The visit they long dreaded from probation took place this week: informing them that their arch-tormentor Darren Pilkington is soon to be a free man.
The 33-year-old has been behind bars for 10 and a half years and, despite having already served a short sentence for his part in another man’s death, and despite being a far from model prisoner while inside for this second heinous crime, the parole board has decided it is time to give him a third chance.
I sincerely trust it is not a lethal error.
Sheila’s first reaction to me was to voice the belief that Pilkington is so incurably violent that he will kill yet again, regardless of whatever promises to be a good boy he has made to the parole board. She chillingly warned that there is another family currently out there who will eventually have their lives ruined by him.
Of course no-one can say for sure. I sincerely hope the authorities will keep a much closer watch on him this time, for he flouted his licence conditions after release from the sentence he served for the manslaughter of Paul Akister.
And as if to reinforce those concerns about repeat offending, his older brother Andrew, who also served time for the Akister killing and has rarely been out of trouble with the law since, is back in the dock tomorrow to be sentenced for two serious assaults.
The conditions of Darren Pilkington’s bail will ban him from entering Wigan borough for the next decade at least, but that is a small comfort for a couple currently deserving our total sympathy.
I truly hope Sheila’s prediction is wrong.