The mother of a Manchester Arena bombing victim says she took seven months to accept her son had been taken from her forever – and says the pain of her loss only worsens with passing time.
Speaking on the second anniversary of the attack at the Ariane Grande concert which claimed the lives of 22 people, June Tron says the hurt of losing her son Philip will never fade.
However, she says she and other families will ‘stand together’ to remember their loved ones as they face a long legal process in the search for some form of justice.
Today, Ms Tron will release blue balloons carrying the message ‘love you to the moon and back’ as family and friends of Philip, 32, gather at a memorial bench in his memory.
But she says it is not only significant dates such as birthdays and anniversaries which are difficult, but every day without the person who would ‘light up the room’ when he walked in, and always made her laugh with his cheeky personality.
“People say time is a healer and that things get better with time, but it doesn’t. I find it has been getting worse and recently I found myself really struggling,” she said.
“I came back from a holiday recently and I when I got home I didn’t want to go out and I didn’t want to see anyone, which is not like me. It hits you more at time to time, out of the blue, just when you think you are coping, you begin to struggle.
“You think back to that day at the concert every day, not just on anniversaries or special family occasions. I didn’t believe that Philip had gone in the months after. I felt like I was in a coma and nothing was real.
“It was only at Christmas, seven months after he had died, that I accepted that he wasn’t coming back, that it wasn’t a nightmare, and that it was real. It has somehow become even harder from that point on.”
‘It was dark but I can remember clearly seeing panic and fear in people’ eyes’
Ms Tron’s last sighting of Philip, of Gateshead, was as he tapped on the window of their car and waved goodbye outside the arena.
They had travelled together with Philip’s partner Deborah Hutchinson and her daughter Courtney, 19, to collect Deborah’s other daughter Nicole, 14, from the concert.
“When Philip said he was going to go to the entrance to collect Nicole I said that I’d go with him, but he told me to stay in the car as I’d recently had two knee operations and was using a wheelchair. I stayed with Deborah and Courtney went with Philip,” she said.
“He’d been winding me up in the car after we arrived as I had been doing my quiz book, so I’d given him a playful clip around his head.
“When he left the car he knocked on the window, waved his finger and jokingly said ‘I owe you one’ and walked away laughing. That was Philip, always joking around. That was the last time we saw them.
“We had seen quite a few parents coming out with young kids who must have been leaving a little early to miss the rush. Then we heard a horrendous blast.
“I knew something terrible had happened. I had a gut feeling he had been killed there and then. I was trying to be positive and think that it wasn’t a bomb, and that it perhaps could have been something in the train station, but deep down I knew it was bad.
“I remember there being repeated announcements from the loud speakers about emergency exits, and then the panic set in and people were running away from the arena.
“It seems strange now as it was dark at the time but I can remember looking at people and seeing their faces and the fear and panic clearly. I can see them now. I even got out and looked myself as it was just the adrenalin and panic.
“I can remember calling Philip’s phone. It answered and then just went off. I also called Philip’s brother to try and find out more about what was happening, but at that stage the television wasn’t aware or reporting it. It was just sheer panic. Horrendous.”
Nicole survived, but Philip and Courtney were each confirmed as victims of the blast, as 22-year-old Salman Abedi detonated a home-made bomb in the arena’s foyer as crowds were leaving.
Inquest into deaths will not begin until 2020
Now, as families ensure the memories of their loved ones never fade, they also face a long legal process as work continues to extradite Abedi’s brother Hashem from custody in Libya, and an inquest into the deaths is to be held, which is unlikely to be listed to start before next April.
“You sometimes wonder what the legal process adds, as we all know who did it and we all know how, so what can it do for us?,” June added.
“It will be tough but I’ll be there for Philip. I have to be there, and I also want to be there for all the others who lost their lives. All of us who lost somebody feel close to the other families who have been through the same. We’ll be there for each other. We feel we stand together now.
“I know it is going to be long and hard, but it has to deliver some form of justice. Every aspect of what happened leading up to that night has to be fully investigated. Lessons clearly have to be learned, from the security at the arena to the wider government security.”
A pre-inquest hearing in February of this year heard that retired High Court Judge Sir John Saunders and his legal team had already been passed close to 200,000 pages of information relating to the matter, and a start date of April 2020 was set.
It was said that the inquest will cover events in the build-up to the attack, the assembling of the bomb, Abedi’s movements and the bombing itself will be examined as part of the inquest, as will the security inside and outside the Arena, and the response of the emergency services.
The experiences of the victims, including their travels and movements on the night, and the ‘mechanisms and causes’ of each death will also be considered.
Vicky Richardson, of Hudgell Solicitors, will be representing Ms Tron at the inquest, and said: “We have been reassured and we welcome that all aspects and events which contributed to the tragic outcome of that awful night in May 2017 will be thoroughly investigated and fully examined and questioned.
“What must not be forgotten at any stage is the 22 people who lost their lives. It has been suggested that the full inquests may begin with a process of commemoration and descriptions and tributes to the victims and we think that would be entirely fitting.”
Whilst the inquest remains almost a year away, for today, Ms Tron will again today ensure Philip’s memory lives on.
“I’m releasing blue balloons with the message ‘love you to the moon and back’ on them as that is what we always used to say to one another,” she said.
“The balloons are blue because it was Philip’s favourite colour – and people called him ‘blue eyes’ because of a photo of him. It’s funny really because he didn’t have blue eyes – only in that particular picture which everybody talks about.
“I’ll never forget Philip and how he could light up a room. Even in our last moments we were joking around.
“We’re having flowers in the shape of a tool box as he was always the person you’d ask to do little jobs. His sister Vicky used to say he was a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’
“That was Philip though. He’d do anything for anyone.”