‘I miss his hugs’

Ann Bartlett
Ann Bartlett
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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

THIS WEEK IN 1975: Reunited after 30 years – but only thanks to a kind stranger

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Life as Ann Bartlett knew it stopped so suddenly she’s still reeling. It was a 2.30am phone call that changed things for her family forever.

As a mum to three boys this wasn’t the first time her sleep had been disturbed. But this call was different.

Kyle Bartlett, right, with friend Harry Toomer.

Kyle Bartlett, right, with friend Harry Toomer.

It was the kind of news every parent dreads yet for Ann the nightmare was only just beginning.

Within hours she’d had to make a truly heartbreaking decision. And as the life support machine that was keeping son Kyle alive was switched off, Ann felt him die. ‘I put my hand on his heart and waited for it to stop beating and then we had to try to walk out of that hospital without him,’ she says.

‘It’s painful, it hurts. It’s just left a gaping hole. Every Christmas, every Mother’s Day, I just know that there is one of my children missing.’

When Kyle joined the Royal Navy straight from school at 16, Ann knew that being a member of the Armed Forces might place him in danger’s way. Oldest son Sam had served in the navy and her ex-husband had seen active service in the Falklands.

But Ann had never thought being on shore leave would be a problem.

Kyle was on a night out with friends in Portsmouth when he was involved in a fight. The 21-year-old was punched and taken to the Queen Alexandra Hospital by ambulance. But when Ann got there she was told he only had a 20 per cent chance of survival.

The tragic circumstances surrounding his death shocked many people in the city. There had been fights in Guildhall Walk before but that’s only something Ann is finding about now Kyle’s gone.

The family – including Kyle’s youngest brother Jack – met at the hospital but sister Hayley was in a Scottish maternity ward after giving birth to a daughter two days earlier.

With tears in her eyes, Ann says the birth of her first granddaughter and the death of her adored son will now be linked forever.

‘I saw Kyle lying there with all the tubes and respirator and I was trying to unravel what had happened,’ she remembers.

‘We spent a very long morning sat by the bed willing him to show some signs of life. In the afternoon they decided to do the brain stem test. They did two and they both came back that he was brain dead. Then we made the decision that the life support machine should be switched off.

‘While all this was going on my son-in-law had to go to hospital to pick my daughter and her new baby up. They had to take her into a side room and tell her that her brother had died.’

Ann stops and catches her breath before she can carry on: ‘We sat in the hospital waiting room and everyone was so upset. His friends came and said goodbye and when everyone had gone we thought, “Well, it’s our turn now”.

‘Sam stayed with me, Jack couldn’t stay. He couldn’t bear to see me so upset, so absolutely heartbroken.

‘The worst thing I’ve ever had to do is decide to turn that life machine off and listen to his heart beat stop.’

Ann remembers every detail of May 6, 2009 clearly. But Kyle’s death has had the opposite effect on all her earlier memories of him.

It’s too painful to think back to her blue-eyed boy’s childhood, or even to look at photos of him. His belongings are still in the boxes in which they were delivered back to her.

‘I find it hard going through photographs,’ she adds. ‘To me he’s still away on deployment but it usually hits me at weekends when I’m on my own.

‘I’m going to have to sort through his things but I don’t want to let anything go, I’m scared of letting him go. I don’t want to let him go.’

A small silver ‘K’ hangs around her neck on a chain and Ann carries around a notebook in which she jots down anything that might help with the charity she’s set up in Kyle’s name. At the moment she’s having weekly counselling sessions as she tries to come to terms with her grief.

Their brother’s death has hit Sam, 29, Hayley, 28, and 20-year-old Jack hard too. And as the second anniversary of losing him gets nearer, Ann says time hasn’t healed their pain.

‘Sam is getting married in August and the wedding will be at Buriton because that’s where Kyle is buried and Sam wants him to feel part of it. He should have been there, he would have been his brother’s best man. Kyle was always kind and loving, he was always polite and always looked after his mum. He was never far from my side. He was always the one there to give me a hug.

‘I miss everything. His laugh and his smile and his hugs. Life just stopped on May 6. I can’t go back any more than that. The first anniversary came and I was still grieving and in shock and denial. As the second anniversary approaches it’s the same.’

Kyle’s death was the subject of a court case and four Royal Marines were initially charged with his murder. By the end of the trial the charges had been changed and one defendant was found to be not guilty of manslaughter, while the other three were all cleared of affray.

Ann says the way in which the court case ended has left her with no closure. Now she hopes the Kyle Bartlett Memorial Foundation and the campaign she’s fronting to raise awareness about the One Punch Can Kill message will keep her going.

It only takes one punch, she says, and that’s what she wants to tell schoolchildren as young as 11 across Portsmouth. ‘I’ve got to try and make some sort of sense of what happened. I don’t want what happened to him to happen again. If I can raise awareness of it someone might think before they get into a situation where that might happen again and I will have done my job.

‘I had so much support from people in Portsmouth and everyone was so shocked about what happened that I feel that me as a mum, as Kyle’s mum, I’ve got to be the person who goes out there and makes sure he doesn’t get forgotten.

‘In the end it might give me some sort of closure. Everything for me is about what happens with the charity. I probably wouldn’t get up without it. It’s going to be really hard but I’m trying to put across a mother’s point of view.’

Working with the Safer Portsmouth Partnership, she also plans to visit Guildhall Walk to see the kind of alcohol-fuelled violence that has given that area of the city such a bad reputation. ‘I just want to get down there and see it for myself,’ she adds. ‘We are trying to understand what motivates these youngsters to get so legless that they don’t remember their night out. When I was younger we used to go out and have a drink but I don’t ever remember getting into this state that people get now.’

With plans moving forward for the start of the presentations, and a ball organised for July 7 to raise money for the foundation, Ann, from Liss, keeps busy.

Hours before the fatal fight in the Walkabout bar, she’d spoken to Kyle and he’d told her he wasn’t going out because he had no money. His friends have helped her piece together his final movements and it seems he’d only gone into the bar for one last pint after bumping into a mate by chance.

Life, she says, will never be the same without Kyle – a Marine Engineer Technician on board HMS Liverpool – and his death has left a very big, very empty, hole in all their lives.

‘It doesn’t get any easier,’ she adds. ‘How can I ever get over losing my beloved son in such tragic circumstances? It feels like Kyle has just been wiped out.

‘I’m trying to live with the fact that I will never really know what happened that night and that’s why I am determined about the charity, that he won’t be forgotten.

‘Originally the idea was for me to do a presentation for the navy about drink and drugs and use Kyle as an example and from there it’s just grown into a charity.

‘I can’t move forward, everything stopped for me that day. I go through the motions every day but I can’t get over it.’