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One split second

On 21 July 2017, while on holiday with my Mum in Lanzarote, we sat down for a meal at a seafront restaurant. A few minutes later, my Mum exclaimed that someone had just walked over her grave and she gave a visible and quite disturbing shudder.

Little did we realise then that at that exact same time, back in St Helens, a family tragedy was unfolding.

Several days later, back in England, my Mum received a phone call from her cousin, Judith. She told her that her brother (another cousin of my Mum) Leonard had been walking down a street in St Helens to feed a friend’s cat whilst his friend was on holiday. Two youths approached, both drunk, and asked Len for a cigarette. When Len replied that he didn’t smoke, one of the youths punched him hard in the face. Len fell to the ground smashing his skull on the kerb. The youths ran off, Len unconscious, his brain dying.

I took my Mum to see Len in the Walton Centre at Aintree Hospital. He was so peaceful, being kept alive by machine, but with no chance of survival. We said our personal goodbyes and left. We were silent on the way home.

Leonard Thurston Saunders died on 30 July 2017, the innocent victim of a single unprovoked punch to the head. He was 65 years old.

He did not deserve to die this way. He did not deserve even to be punched. Nobody does. Ever.

In the days following, national, regional and local TV, radio and news press reported the story.

They reported how a 17 year old was arrested and pleaded guilty to manslaughter for Len’s death, and is now serving a four year sentence.. so low because of his age. What price is a life? But this article is not about the perpetrator but the victim.

Thankfully, the media also painted a beautiful picture of Len, one of which his family, including me, didn’t know. BBC North West Tonight even had a ten minute article about him.

Len, it appears, was a local community hero in the St Helens area and beyond.

Now I knew Len was a keen conservationist, a poet and a part time actor. I once worked with him when I was employed by the Groundwork Trust some 18 years ago, where he did some volunteering. I knew about his volunteer work with the orphanages of Romania, and that he was somehow involved in a community cinema in St Helens, but really that was all.

In fact I am ashamed to say that sometimes if I saw him in town I would hide to avoid talking to him because I knew I would be there forever as he enthused about what he was doing next. I will always regret doing this as sadly it is only since his death that I have realised what a truly amazing and selfless man he was. Sorry Len.

Len volunteered for umpteen conservation projects in St Helens and neighbouring towns.