'Not Meredith…not beautiful Meredith': For the first time, the father of Meredith Kercher on her carefree young life, her horrific murder – and his agonising quest for justice
21:01 GMT, 14 April 2012
My daughter Meredith, aged 21, was murdered on November 1, 2007 in her bedroom in Perugia, Italy, where she was studying at the city’s University For Foreigners.
In the days that followed, one of her housemates, an American girl named Amanda Knox, a young Italian man named Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede, a Perugia resident originally from the Ivory Coast, were arrested on suspicion of her murder.
While Guede remains imprisoned for taking my daughter’s life, last October Knox and Sollecito had their convictions quashed on appeal.
The final family photo: Meredith Kercher, in a picture taken by her father John, celebrates her 21st birthday with a cake bearing an image of her as a toddler
My family and I now find ourselves in a limbo that, I suspect, might never end, wondering exactly what happened in those last moments of Meredith’s life, and how convictions that seemed to offer all the terrible answers two years ago have been so emphatically overturned.
With Knox and Sollecito now free, we find that we are still waiting for justice for our daughter and sister, and have to face up to the possibility that we might never have a satisfactory picture of what unfolded in Perugia on that terrible November night.
Despite everything that has happened since, it still seems as though nobody knows anything about the real Meredith.
The media’s glare throughout the trial and appeal process has been fixed almost entirely on Amanda Knox. Books have been written about her and there has even been a television film focusing on her. It has seemed as if Meredith has been all but forgotten.
In writing this book, I hope to go some way towards redressing the balance, for Meredith was a beautiful, intelligent and caring girl whom everyone loved, and her story deserves to be told.
My hope is that I can share with the world something of the wonderful girl who was our daughter and sister. I hope our telling the world about the enchanting, generous, kind person that Meredith was can help those whose lives she touched.
I also hope this book might help to keep Meredith’s case in the spotlight, and, in some small way, to keep alive the hope that we might yet know the truth about her death.
Loving arms: John Kercher with his 'beautiful, intelligent and caring' daughter Meredith, aged 15
November 1, 2007, and I am in my local bank in Croydon, South London, when Meredith telephones from Perugia. It is 2.15pm, an unusual time for Meredith to call as we usually speak in the evenings.
But today she does not have to go to university, where she is studying European politics and Italian, as it is a public holiday in Italy.
The call is costing her money, so we don’t have a chance to say much.
I tell her I’ll call her when I get home, but she is going out for dinner with some English friends, so instead we arrange to speak tomorrow.
The next day comes and I find myself at home when Meredith’s mother, Arline, rings. It is 5pm and she has seen on the news that a female British student has been found murdered in Perugia.
I have been divorced from Arline for ten years, and she is living in Old Coulsdon, Surrey. I am worried, but I tell myself that there are many British students studying in Perugia.
Immediately, I call Meredith but all I hear is an automated message. For the next half-an-hour I try her number at least a dozen times, but every time the call goes through to the message.
Then suddenly, after what feels like an age of trying, her mobile starts to ring. I feel some relief and, for the first time, I am confident that my daughter is fine.
Yet, the phone rings on and on, and still there is no answer.
I have to get some information, so I call the foreign desk of a national newspaper. Having worked as a freelance journalist for Fleet Street newspapers and national magazines, it seems the logical thing to do. A man tells me that they have only sketchy details, but if I call back in an hour they might know more.
Brown-eyed girl: Meredith's first Christmas opening presents by the fireplace – one of John's favourite photographs of his daughter
When I do, I am told by one of the foreign desk editors that Italian police have found the British girl’s mobile phone, and that they have been in touch with people in London.
Again, my hopes rise because this must mean that, whoever this unfortunate girl is, her family and the British police must have been notified.
I have not yet contacted our other children – Meredith’s older sister Stephanie, and brothers Lyle and John – because I do not want to worry them unduly.
For the next 30 minutes I sit by the phone, trying not to feel so apprehensive. Then the phone rings.
The call is from a young woman on the newspaper’s foreign desk. Hesitantly, she tells me they have a name for the victim. Though I ask for it, she is reluctant to tell me. She seems nervous herself and I have to persuade her to release the name. I shall never forget her words.
‘The name going round Italy,’ she says, ‘is Meredith.’
I drop the phone. I do not believe it. There has to be a mistake. I refuse to let the facts sink in.
I repeat it over and over to myself: ‘Not beautiful Meredith . . . Not beautiful Meredith . . .’
Numb with shock, I cannot even cry.
I arrive at Arline’s house within an hour. Stephanie, John and Lyle are there already. /04/14/article-2129717-1297BC37000005DC-25_634x450.jpg” width=”634″ height=”450″ alt=”Meredith as a cute two-year-old” class=”blkBorder” />
Meredith as a cute two-year-old
Nothing can prepare you for what it is like to have to travel to a foreign country to identify the body of your daughter. Meredith had told me how beautiful Perugia was.
Now, a little more than two months since she had first moved to the city, we were approaching it for the first time, and she was never coming home.
We met the Italian police at a roundabout, and they gave us an escort to the morgue. They did not speak English but consulate staff acted as our translators.
As we climbed up the steep roads, however, our talk petered out and we all felt the incongruity of the beautiful scenery and our purpose for being there.
There was a large number of officials inside the morgue, including the Chief of Police and the head of the homicide squad. Many of them were close to tears.
It was time to see my daughter. But I could not face going in. The brutal reality of having to see what had been done to Meredith had not really hit home. A small man from the mortuary approached Arline and Stephanie and, leaving me behind, they went through the doors. I could go no further.
Six-year-old Meredith in her school uniform
For me, it would have put a full stop to my memories. I had seen her only a couple of weeks before when she had flown back to London to buy some winter clothes.
We had met for a coffee at a small Italian restaurant in Croydon, a place where we met often.
We would talk about books and music; the Italian film she had been to see to improve her language; the occasional dance she had been to with her new English friends and the wonderful pizzas she was eating.
On this occasion, Meredith was almost an hour late (this wasn’t unusual).
When she arrived, she talked eagerly about Perugia.
She said she was trying to buy a duvet for her bed, but nobody seemed to know where she could find one. I remember her saying she was determined to track one down. That this should be the duvet beneath which her body would be found is something that will always haunt me.
She had been laughing and was happy. It was the last time I had seen her and I wanted that to be the memory that I held in my mind for ever.
In the morgue, standing over her body, Arline had said: ‘Your father’s come all this way out here to see you, but doesn’t feel he can.’
Then she had smiled, for the last time, at our daughter.
‘But,’ she had whispered, ‘you know what your father’s like . . . ’
The news that Amanda Knox was being held for the murder sent shockwaves through our family.
Arline could not comprehend that Meredith’s own housemate might have been involved in this terrible crime.
‘Amanda Amanda’ she kept repeating, in a state of utter disbelief.
We knew Meredith had not got on with Knox. Meredith had expressed irritation to us and to her friends in Perugia at Knox’s personal habits, because she frequently failed to flush the lavatory and Meredith had concerns over how Knox would ‘bring strange men back to the house’, but the idea that this irritation could lead to murder seemed preposterous.
We knew so little of the American girl and absolutely nothing of her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, whom Meredith had never mentioned.
The alibis of Knox and Sollecito kept changing.
At first, Knox claimed to have been at Sollecito’s flat all evening on the night of the murder.
Then Sollecito claimed that she had left his place at about 9pm and had not returned until 1am, during which time he had been on the internet.
Knox then changed her story to say that she had been at the cottage at the time that Meredith was killed.
It was during these first days of questioning that Knox claimed that Diya ‘Patrick’ Lumumba, the owner of a local bar called Le Chic, was the murderer.
Lumumba, of Congolese origin, had been living legally in Italy since 1988, running the bar where Knox had a part-time job.
Back in England, this was the first big piece of news we had heard. Pictures of Lumumba were shown on television, but I spoke to Arline on the telephone and neither of us could believe that we were looking at the killer.
Two weeks later, the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, asked for Lumumba’s release, saying: ‘There are no longer any serious indications linking him to the crime.’
Water babies: Meredith, left, aged ten, and her older sister Stephanie enjoying a day at the beach
Lumumba was later quoted as saying: ‘I think that Amanda wanted to derail the investigation…
'Amanda hated Meredith because people loved her more than Amanda. She was insanely jealous that Meredith was taking over her position as Queen Bee.’
Things became even more distressing. Although we knew Meredith had been killed by a knife wound to her throat, we had not realised it had been preceded by a sexual assault.
The post-mortem had revealed bruising on her lips and gums consistent with her face being crushed on the ground to hold her still. How could anyone do this to her, we asked ourselves Why had she been singled out for this kind of treatment
We tried to get our bearings by finding out more about Amanda Knox. I read that she was aged 20 and had been born in Seattle, the daughter of a retail executive and a primary-school teacher.
After only a few years, her parents divorced and Amanda went to Seattle Preparatory School, described as a strict Jesuit institution. Later, she attended Washington University.
Raffaele Sollecito remained a somewhat quiet, bespectacled figure. At the time of his arrest, he was aged 23. The son of a prominent urologist from Giovinazzo in southern Italy, he had led a privileged life. He described himself on a social networking site as being ‘sweet, but sometimes absolutely crazy’.
Sollecito appeared in pictures posted on the internet wielding a meat cleaver. It emerged that he was passionate about collecting knives.
After the murder, police searched his flat and discovered a collection of Japanese manga comics, some of which depicted acts of extreme violence.
One which attracted particular attention was concerned with the killing of female vampires at Halloween. It was not lost on police that Meredith had been dressed as a vampire to celebrate Halloween only one night before she was murdered.
Police later went on to say that the scene they discovered at the cottage was reminiscent of the scenes depicted in Sollecito’s comics.
Meredith celebrating with her mother Arline in 2006
A short while before Patrick Lumumba was released, the investigation took another decisive turn.
The police identified a bloodied fingerprint on Meredith’s pillow that belonged to one Rudy Hermann Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast who had already been arrested for petty theft and drug dealing.
DNA taken from his toothbrush matched DNA found on and inside Meredith’s body.
This seemed to tie Guede to the scene of Meredith’s murder. Witnesses had already described a man of African origin fleeing the cottage on the night of the murder, later to be seen washing clothes in a launderette.
Guede had arrived in Italy from the Ivory Coast in 1992, aged five, with his father. When Guede was 15 his father had returned to Africa.
Extradited from Germany where he had been lying low, Guede was now concerned that Knox and Sollecito might attempt to pin the blame solely on him, so his defence team requested that he be tried on his own by a single presiding judge.
This ‘fast-track trial’ would take place during pre-trial hearings.
The request was granted. Armed with 10,000 pages of documentation, the judge, Paulo Micheli, heard evidence from forensics experts regarding the various DNA findings, Sollecito’s DNA having been discovered on Meredith’s bra clasp, and a bloodied footprint having been revealed as belonging to the young Italian man.
Meredith with a friend at Leeds University
There was also the presentation of evidence that Knox’s bloodied footprints had been found in the cottage’s hallway and bathroom; that her DNA had been found in blood mixed with Meredith’s in the bathroom; and that her DNA had been shown to be on a knife handle, with Meredith’s on the blade – a knife that police had found at Sollecito’s apartment and which, the prosecution claimed, had been removed from the scene of the crime.
Judge Micheli also heard Knox’s and Sollecito’s defence teams attempting to refute much of the evidence, specifically the DNA evidence, which they blamed on contamination and poor forensics procedures.
This was to be a major contention in this pre-trial, the main trial and, later, the first appeal.
Regrettably, a key piece of evidence – the bra clasp – was not retrieved from the crime scene until 47 days after the murder because it had been hidden from view.
On October 28, 2008, Arline, Stephanie, Lyle and I returned to Perugia to hear the verdict on Guede.
After a nerve-racking wait, we were called to the court at 9pm. Photographers jostled at the entrance and we were guided in, individually, by police escorts.
I felt almost light-headed with lack of sleep; looking at Arline, Stephanie and Lyle, I saw the same strain on their faces. There was a tense silence.
In the dock: Amanda Knox during her murder trial in Italy in March 2009
Amanda Knox sat with her lawyers, as did Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede with theirs. They had been brought in under armed guard. Judge Micheli entered and everyone rose to their feet.
The chief of homicide, Monica Napoleoni, stood at my side, ready to convey the verdict.
As the judge began his statement, Ms Napoleoni looked at me, squeezing my hand, then concentrated on what the judge was saying. It was in Italian, so we had no idea what was being said.
The judge had been deliberating for 12 hours about his decision. This was the moment.
Suddenly, Ms Napoleoni turned to look at me and squeezed my hand again, nodding emphatically.
Guede had been found guilty of complicity in Meredith’s murder and
sentenced to 30 years in prison. Knox and Sollecito had been indicted on
charges of murder and sexual violence and would stand trial.
I did not know what to feel. It was certainly not relief because I knew that this was only the beginning.
this, we would have to go through the main trial. I can only say that
we were not elated – but we were satisfied that justice was progressing
in the right direction.
was not a moment any of us could relish. In our hearts, all we wanted
to know was what had happened to Meredith and why she had to be taken so
sister Stephanie said at Meredith’s memorial service: ‘Anyone who was
fortunate enough to have known her would testify that she was one of the
most caring people you could ever meet.
'Nothing was too much for her. She was a loyal daughter, sister and friend.’
It is not only our family and her friends who have lost her. So has the world.
I Will Always Love You, she sang in her haunting voice
During those days following Meredith’s death, I would immerse myself in photographs and lose myself in memories of her jokes, her wicked one-liners and her laughter.
Then recently while cleaning my home, I came across a shoebox containing roll after roll of undeveloped film. They have since been developed and I have seen that wonderful smile once again. In one picture I particularly love, Meredith is opening her Christmas presents by the fireplace.
On Christmas Eve I would pull some ash into the fireplace and draw small footprints to show that Father Christmas’s boots had landed there.
Meredith was due on December 25, 1985. But, as was to be the pattern of her life, she was late, and it was on December 28 that Arline was taken to Guy’s Hospital in London.
I set out in the car with John, Lyle and Stephanie to drive the 18 miles to the hospital. The weather was freezing and after about ten minutes, there was a rattling sound coming from under the car bonnet. I discovered the water in the radiator had turned to ice. We abandoned the car and dashed to the nearest station, Purley, to continue our journey by train.
I like to think that it was because of the season she was born in that Meredith loved winter, especially when it snowed and she could get out her plastic sledge.
In October 1987, when Meredith was nearly two, a 120mph hurricane came through Old Coulsdon. Arline and I huddled on the upstairs landing with the four children. That night, an 80ft tree slammed across the back of the house, a long branch smashing through the girls’ bedroom window. It was a fortunate escape.
Meredith liked going to the coast and we visited Brighton regularly. Sometimes we had a picnic on the beach. Then there were the Lanes, a maze of narrow streets filled with cafes, bistros and antiques shops. She was fascinated by this place and I often picture her there.
In 1997, Arline and I agreed to divorce, and I moved into a flat in Croydon.
During that first week of living apart, I came home to find Meredith had left a message on my answering machine, singing Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You.
Her voice was beautiful and haunting, and I think I cried on hearing it. I kept it there, playing it several times every day until the telephone service provider deleted it.
Meredith would come for dinner every Friday after school. I would cook and then we would watch videos of the hit comedy series Friends.
She also loved clothes, so one day I took her to Selfridges in Oxford Street. I thought she might like to spend half an hour there. How stupid of me! I should have taken a packed lunch. A more fruitful shopping spree was when Meredith, then 14, Stephanie and I travelled on Eurostar to Lille.
We had a wonderful lunch and then the girls discovered some clothes shops. I had to visit a cash machine a couple of times to pay for all their purchases.
Some memories, however, brought me back to Meredith’s final night. I could not help thinking of the hours Meredith had spent practising karate, and how she must have fought back on the night she was murdered.
Against one person, we were all certain, Meredith could have held her own.
Did stress cause my stroke
During the summer of 2009, I suffered a stroke. I’d had bouts of dizziness, which my doctor thought might be attributable to an ear condition, but then in July, I was hit with the stroke.
I was in hospital for several days and had double vision for weeks afterwards.
I will never know whether the stress of Meredith’s death and the subsequent trial affected my health, but it made me question how many more times I could make the trip to Perugia, and how much more of the chaos I was able to bear.
How Foreign Office let us down
We were surprised at the lack of financial help available from the British Government as we dealt with the aftermath of Meredith’s death.
We had received tremendous support from the British Consulate in Florence, which arranged translation facilities and made transport arrangements, but despite our pleas, we did not receive any financial support from the Foreign Office.
A number of MPs campaigned on our behalf for some contribution towards our flights, but their efforts were to no avail.
Indeed, it seemed this was a policy decision, one that did not affect just us, but anybody who had suffered an ordeal such as ours. This lack of help was despite the fact that we were obliged to provide testimonies in court.
Nor could we expect any help from the Italian government. Before Meredith was murdered, EU states had said they would sign an agreement to compensate the families of foreign nationals who were victims of a violent crime committed in their country.
However, of all the states, Italy failed to sign the agreement in time.
Financially we were alone and it made the business of attending the trial, and seeking justice for Meredith, all the more problematic.
Text and pictures: John Kercher 2012.
Meredith: Our Daughter’s Murder And The Heartbreaking Quest For The Truth, by John Kercher, is published on April 26 by Hodder & Stoughton, priced 16.99.
To order your copy at 13.99 with free p&p, please call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit MailShop.co.uk/books.