John Cheek wonders how much we value life, over human rights

John Cheek
John Cheek

I was catching a late-afternoon train from New Brighton, Merseyside, to Chester - some 45 minutes later - with one change.

New Brighton is the seaside resort for the region, where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea. There weren't many visitors to the resort, as I boarded the train going in the opposite direction. It was a Tuesday in late-November and I was an invited speaker at a public event that night. Yet someone had visited the seaside, that day. They boarded the train, just after me. Clearly distressed, they began to cry and bemoan their fortune, loudly. Passengers turned round and stared at her.

I enquired if the young woman with the scouse accent was alright. She joined me; in-between sobs, she began to claim that she was a victim of domestic abuse and was now staying at a safe address. As she poured it out, it appeared that "he" had systematically-abused her, on many levels: physically, emotionally, financially. I tried to listen, but within a few minutes she had got up and begun wandering through the carriages, leaving me with her bags. She came back. She cried again, and explained that today, she had gone on a shoplifting spree, to get Christmas presents for relatives - relatives whom "he" had prevented her from seeing for months, years. As someone who has done a lot of radio on the emotive subject of domestic abuse, the things she was saying had a ring of truth. Following her shoplifting, she had bunked the fare, jumped the train and gone to the coast.

We were both shortly going to change at Hamilton Square. She was going on a further stop, to Birkenhead Central. I had another 30 minutes to Chester. She was agitated now, as she flew off the train. I knew I would see her shortly, on the same underground platform. She'd told me that she had a bed for the night, at Birkenhead YMCA.

I caught up with her, minutes later. Her train, destined for Ellesmere Port, was soon to arrive. Mine was next, after that, to Chester. She had her head in her hands. Other passengers were ignoring her. I enquired again, if she was alright. She looked up, smiled, but shook her head.

"To think that it's come to this - that I've got to thieve. I can't go on..."

I could hear her tube train approaching, through the tunnel. It occurred to me, what could be going through her mind. Through my previous coverage of domestic abuse matters, I was aware that victims can often have suicidal tendencies. As a Street Pastor, I've received training on the subject and have had to put it into practice, more than once.

"I can't go on, like this. I just can't - I've got to end it."

The sound of the tube was getting louder. She looked at me. She looked at the track, behind me. I started engaging her in conversation, about anything.

"Do you know where you're going, once you get off, at Central station?"

It distracted her. The sound of the on-coming train was getting ever louder. I was praying, silently.

"That's it - that's it - I'm gonna end it all."

She looked at me. She looked at the track. I was ready to block her, as soon as she moved.

"Where you're staying - is it connected to the YMCA charity shop?"

With the rush of cold air, the train clattered into the station, filling our ears with, for me anyway, blessed relief. She looked at me. I turned around as the doors opened and people got off.

"Don't miss your train..."

Zombie-like now, she picked up her stolen goods and got on the carriage, where she almost fell into the one remaining seat, to go one stop. As soon as it pulled away from the platform, I could see her just dissolve into tears, all over again. Everyone turned and stared at her.

Shocked, I later sat on my train, wondering if I had imagined it all. It didn't occur to me, to contact the people at the YMCA, to see if she got there, safely. In the heat of the moment, I'd simply done what I thought was the right thing. What did occur to me, later, having spoken at a highly irreverent public debate, was that some people would probably say that I impinged upon her human rights, by interfering with her decision-making, on the platform. If so, guilty, your honour. For I value human life over human rights. CR

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