‘Justice has been slow but it’s not impossible to get what you want in the end’

LONG BATTLE Terry Jeans spent 16 years trying to get the Croatian authorities to convict the man involved in the death of his son Simon.  Picture: Steve Reid (121620-010)
LONG BATTLE Terry Jeans spent 16 years trying to get the Croatian authorities to convict the man involved in the death of his son Simon. Picture: Steve Reid (121620-010)

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Terry Jeans slumps into an armchair in his Gosport flat but fidgets constantly. He can’t sit still.

He tries to relax, but finds it difficult. Years of heartbreak and frustration are etched on his face. They’ve taken their toll.

SKIING Simon on holiday

SKIING Simon on holiday

In the corner his computer screen flickers. Until recently it was the hub of his life as e-mails between him and the judiciary in the Balkans crossed the ether. Constantly.

That electronic traffic has now dried up for the first time in 16 years.

The 66-year-old takes a deep breath.

‘Now I’ve got time to myself I can start grieving, but to be honest I don’t know where to begin. I keep telling myself it’s over, but it’s not. It’s only just beginning.’

The grieving is for his son Simon. The last time Terry saw him he was a vibrant, handsome young man in his mid-20s. He’d be 41 now.

Private Simon Jeans was attacked by a gang of thugs and hit on the head with a rock in Croatia on September 8, 1996. He died in Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, nine days later from a brain haemorrhage.

Pte Jeans was serving in Bosnia with the Royal Logistics Corps as part of the UN peacekeeping force when he crossed into Split, Croatia, to take part in a charity fun run to raise funds for a local orphanage.

That night he was enjoying a drink with four other British soldiers in a bar. When they left they were surrounded in a darkened alley by a mob of between 20 and 30 youths.

Five of them – four Croats and a Serb – attacked the soldiers with iron bars, lumps of wood and pieces of concrete.

Simon was left clinging to life sprawled in the road.

A month ago Terry, who only found out about the attack when he saw it on the television news, finally got justice for his son when a Serb, Dejan Skaro, was jailed for 18 months.

It came after a 16-year, one-man crusade to bring to book someone who was responsible for his son’s death.

A table in Terry’s flat in Woodside, Bridgemary, is covered with piles of papers and newspaper cuttings about his campaign. There are also pictures of the son who would not live to see middle age.

He pulls out one of him as a young teenager in an Army cadet uniform.

‘He was such a lovely lad. All he ever wanted to do was join the army. When we lived at Paulsgrove he went to the cadets at Hilsea and loved it.

‘When he left King Richard School at Paulsgrove he went straight into the Army,’

Simon served in Iraq during the first Gulf war, Operation Desert Storm.

‘He went straight from there to Bosnia. He didn’t come home in between. The next time I saw him was in Frimley Park Hospital.’

And so began the long, long slog to bring to justice to those who caused Simon’s death.

‘I was a painter and decorator but I was known as the Phone Man because I was always taking calls from Croatia.

‘After three years I knew I couldn’t go on doing both so I packed in the job and spent all my time on this case,’ he adds.

‘I’ve been to Croatia 14 times for what were supposed to be court hearings, but only five times did the hearings actually take place.

‘It’s cost me more than £20,000. I lost my home, but it was worth it just to hear that word ‘guilty’ in court last year.

‘I’ve never wanted revenge for Simon’s death, just justice and I feel as though I’ve finally got it now.’

That pivotal moment in court came last June when Skaro was convicted of a lesser charge of causing severe injury to Simon.

But he was only given an 11-month suspended sentence, and Terry immediately appealed against it.

Last month the Croatian Supreme Court announced the sentence had been overturned and that Skaro will now serve 18 months in prison.

‘Of course I feel he deserved a bigger sentence, but I’m glad that by pressuring these people over all these year I have got justice.

‘I was the only one fighting for Simon. The Foreign Office wasn’t interested. The Ministry of Defence wasn’t interested.

‘I’m convinced that if I hadn’t kept showing up at all the court hearings it would have been swept under the carpet, whitewashed.

‘I knew I couldn’t go on much longer. But they knew I wasn’t going to go away until I got what I wanted. I knew if I hadn’t kept on, this man would have been free.

‘I kept at it. It cost me a lot of grief and suffering. It’s all been worth it now.’

He adds: ‘It’s taken 16 years to get to this. I won’t be able to forget this or be able to move on because it’s going to take me that long to get over it.

‘I lost my house and had to give up work. It’s taken a lot out of me and a lot away from me.

‘People kept coming up to me and saying I should give this up, but I just had to carry on for Simon’s sake.’

He looks at another picture of the young Simon.

‘I’ve always said I was proud of Simon becoming a British soldier.

‘I know that he definitely would have been proud of me for not abandoning him and for giving all that I had to give. I have given it everything and I have done it all on my own.

‘Justice is obviously slow but it’s not impossible. That’s how it’s been. It’s not impossible to get what you want in the end.’

There is an ironic end to this tale. Each year, on the anniversary of Simon’s death, a Croatian friend of Terry’s places flowers at the building which housed the bar outside which he was attacked. And that bar? It’s now an orphanage.

Fight for justice

· 1996 – Simon Jeans dies in hospital of a brain haemorrhage after being beaten up in Croatia.

· 1998 – Five men appear in court and Terry Jeans visits Croatia for the trial, which is repeatedly adjourned.

· 2000 – The five men are convicted of assault and given 16 months in prison between them. Dejan Skaro, a juvenile, is acquitted.

· 2001 – Case is referred to the Croatian Supreme Court.

· 2003 – Supreme Court judge orders a retrial.

· 2004 – Date is set for the retrial of Dejan Skaro, who is now charged with murder.

· 2007 – Skaro is acquitted again after trial judge rules military decision to fly Simon Jeans to hospital in England contributed to his death.

· 2008 – Croatian Supreme Court orders another retrial after medical evidence refutes judge’s accusations.

· January 2011 – Terry Jeans is awarded almost £5,000 compensation by the European Court of Human Rights over the excessive delays.

· June 2011 – Skaro is convicted of lesser charge of causing severe injury to Pte Jeans by hitting him with a rock. Given a suspended sentence.

· April 2012 – Skaro is jailed.