The mother of one of the 22 people who died in the Manchester Arena bombing believes she knew her son had passed away long before the police officially informed her. June Tron lost her son Philip on that fateful night five years ago.
Philip was killed alongside his partner’s daughter, Courtney Boyle, while the pair were collecting her little sister from the Ariana Grande concert. Now, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attack, June has relieved the worst hours of her life with the Newcastle Chronicle. She says she is still haunted by the screams of other families finding out their loved one has been murdered.
“It’s just like a nightmare,” the 66-year-old, from Harlow Green in Gateshead, reflected. “It’s like you are standing on the outside looking in and thinking ‘this can not be real’.
“It’s not like losing someone, it’s like having them ripped away. Someone has deliberately gone and taken their lives.”
Philip would do anything for anyone, his mum said, describing her son as funny, generous, and genuine. So when his partner’s daughter needed a lift to the concert in Manchester, on May 22, 2017, Philip asked his brother Michael, if he could borrow his car.
Michael, now 32, agreed on the condition that Philip took his mum for the trip as she had been recovering from a knee operation, June explained. It was agreed that Philip, 32, would drive his girlfriend, Deborah Hutchinson, her 14-year-old daughter Nicole and June down to Manchester and that they would pick Deborah’s older daughter, 19-year-old Courtney Boyle who was studying in Leeds , on the way.
After dropping Nicole at the Arena, June, Philip, Deborah and Courtney spent some time together in Manchester before going to Nandos for tea. And June remembers the last day she spent with her son fondly.
“It was brilliant,” she said. “Courtney was telling us all about university and she was catching up with her mom, and me and Philip were chatting.” After their meal the four went to sit in their car, parked behind Manchester Victoria train station until it was time to collect Nicole from the concert.
June can recall joker Philip winding her up by writing in the puzzle book she had been doing. At just after 10pm Philip and Courtney left the car to go and meet Nicole at the Arena. And that’s the last time June saw her son alive. And not long after June and Deborah heard the sound of what they now know was the bomb that killed Philip and Courtney. “We were in the car and we heard the noise, it was as if the car was lifted,” said June.
“Deborah just looked at me and said; ‘Oh God it’s a bomb’.” Still unsure where the sound of the explosion had come from, Deborah and June frantically tried to call Philip, Courtney and Nicole.
And their worst fears became a reality when they saw terrified families run past their car from the direction of the Arena. “I could see people with children just running past the car and sheltering the children,” said June. “I could just see the shock on people’s faces.”
Deborah finally managed to reach Nicole by phone and brought her back to the car. Then, despite struggling to walk after her operation, June decided to search for Philip. “It was just adrenaline,” she said. “I was away looking for him.”
June was stopped by police as she approached the Arena, and ended up getting lost as she tried to find another way to get there. “I did not have a clue where I was going, I had never been here before,” she said.
When June realized she was lost, she telephoned her son Michael. “I just said something’s happened and I can not find Philip and Courtney, then I just said ‘I’m lost’,” she said. “I ended up going right around the Arena. There were times when I felt invisible. I was just hoping they were just lost in the chaos. That’s what I wanted to think.”
Eventually June returned to the car and scoured the passing crowds for Philip and Courtney. “We watched everyone to see if we could find them,” she said. “I thought I had seen them crossing the bridge and I got out of the car, but it was not them. I was thinking; ‘They should be here by now’.” A police officer told June and Deborah to go to a nearby hotel where those who had been at the Arena and their families had gathered.
Meanwhile June’s other sons made their way to Manchester. But by the time they arrived June said, despite having no news of what happened to Philip, she already believed her son was dead.
“I remember I just got this feeling and everything just went black and I just felt these pins and needles from the inside out,” she explained. “It was about 2.10am and I just thought, ‘he’s gone’. You just get a feeling. I could not feel him and I could not sense him, it was awful.”
June was then told that anyone with a missing family member should go to the Etihad Stadium. When she arrived she found Deborah, who told her Courtney was dead. “I just could not think straight,” she said. “There were so many families in there. I just remember hearing one woman screaming. It just knocked you sick. It was horrible.”
Eventually June was taken to see a police officer who told her Philip’s body had been found and identified by his wallet. In that moment she knew her beloved son had become the victim of a terror attack. “You never think it’s so close to home,” she said. “You never think it will happen to you. It’s always somebody else.”
In the weeks, months and years after the bombing June has struggled to accept that she will never see her son again. “I kept thinking I would wake up and this would be one big nightmare,” she said. “I knew he was dead, but I kept thinking he would come back.”
But while June knows her life will always be over-shadowed by grief she always remembers Philip with a smile. “He was a comedian. He would help anyone and do anything for them. He would try his hand at anything. It’s time to stop grieving and start celebrating his life.”
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