Parents of murdered teen talk of heartache

Dale's parents, Garry and Michele Bennett

Dale's parents, Garry and Michele Bennett

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HIS bedroom has remained untouched for a year. Money lies splayed on a side table, a Barbour jacket hangs on the back of the door and the smell of his Clinique Happy aftershave still hangs in the air.

Sometimes his parents visit the room, sit on the bed and take in the fading scent of their son. It was the place they broke down together after his death, finally realising he was gone.

Dale Bennett was stabbed to death in Gorebridge.

Dale Bennett was stabbed to death in Gorebridge.

Garry and Michelle Bennett, from Mayfield, had so much love for their son, Dale, that they can barely stop talking when you mention his name.

They are teary and often silenced by sadness, but a fond memory of their 17-year-old lad is enough to raise a chuckle and a burst of fast-paced conversation.

Since Dale was brutally murdered in February 2011, remembering him has been one of the only comforts for the couple, their daughter, ten-year-old Tiegan, and Garry’s son – also called Garry – from his first marriage.

“He was so cheeky, so fun-loving, so affectionate, the nicest lad,” his dad says, looking at the pictures in the living room – a gallery dedicated to Dale and happier times.

“Look at that picture there, the one with the ice cream drink,” he says, pointing. “That was the most expensive drink on the menu, about £14. We were in Benidorm and I got done on the bill. But Dale just kept smiling cheekily and sipping his straw, saying ‘This is nice, dad, this is nice’.”

A caricature drawing on the other side of the room raises Michelle’s attention. She says: “That was in Benidorm. We went there for my 40th birthday in August 2010. I’d tried for ages to get him to sit for a caricature, and I finally got him to sit. He said to me, ‘It’ll be my last holiday with you guys’. And it was.”

The living room is full of pictures of Dale, and on one shelf there is a felt flower attached to a little plastic bag of untouched chocolates – “a Mother’s Day gift Dale made at school”. There is not one, but two, homemade calendars on the wall, each full of snaps from memorable times. Heartbreakingly, Michelle, 41, has marked down every week – every landmark date – since Dale died.

In another photo, Hearts supporter and Newtongrange Star A player Dale, who went to Newbattle High School before attending Jewel & Esk College to study construction, looks delighted as he kicks a ball with Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher.

The family dog, Dayna, lies on a bed in one corner. “She’s not been the same since Dale died, she’ll not go in his room,” says Michelle.

The family is different, shattered and forever changed since Dale was murdered at a house party on February 12 2011.

Brian McHale, 21, stabbed the teenager in the heart before dragging the blade down to his liver, killing him almost instantly. The murderer had only been at the gathering, in Newbryes Crescent, Gorebridge, for 15 minutes when he attacked Dale. Dale had his hands down during the attack. He wasn’t fighting back.

Tragically, during the trial, which the family bravely attended so they could find out the truth about that night, it was revealed that McHale had battered another teenager at the same house just one week earlier. But the victim didn’t report the crime. Dale’s parents agonise over the “what ifs”. What if McHale had been put in jail? What if there had been a greater police presence in the street after the previous crime?

Today, what they have left of their son is a bedroom. Michelle says: “Nothing has moved from his room, it has been left exactly the same. At one point we’ll have to face it, but for now we are comfortable with it. He might not be coming back, but he’s still in that room. I go to sit in there to think.

“I remember him playing his Xbox, and the racket he used to make. He was a typical, messy teenage lad, but the night it happened was one of the first times he left his room tidy.”

Garry adds: “His smell is still there, he loved aftershave – his Clinique Happy – and designer clothes.”

For the couple, who now get counselling in Hamilton with charity PETAL (People Experiencing Trauma and Loss), that night is a strong memory they wish could be erased.

Garry recalls: “He wasn’t going to go out that night, he said he wasn’t feeling too hot. But after a couple of calls from his pals, he was persuaded. The last thing I told him was ‘be careful’. They went up the road to the Mayfield Inn, had a few pints, and they ended up at the house [in Gorebridge]. I don’t know how he ended up there, they weren’t his usual crowd.

“There was a fight, but we were told Dale wasn’t involved. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He was killed for nothing.

“McHale hadn’t been drinking. He was safe in that house, but he grabbed that knife, went out the back door and made the choice to murder Dale.

“Dale died at 2.16am. We were told he never regained a pulse. I had texted him at 2am, but I never got a reply.

“We got a phone call at around 5.30am. When we were told he was dead there was just shock. We went to the mortuary that same day and we identified Dale. He looked like he was sleeping, not a hair was out of place. I kept saying ‘Wake up, Dale, please wake up’. It was only later when we were sitting on his bed, looking around, that we realised it wasn’t a dream.”

Michelle adds: “Brian McHale’s an animal. A vicious, killing animal. We have had no apology from him, or his family. I felt they treated us like we’d done something wrong.

“This pain of ours will never ease, it’ll always be there. We have not lived for a whole year.”

The next step for the family is McHale’s sentencing on March 14, which they hope will see him sent to prison for at least 15 years. Michelle and Garry say they see it as the start of them moving on, but Garry admits how they plan to do that is “the million-dollar question”.

They take comfort from the sort of man their son was becoming. Garry says: “Dale was bubbly, he was always smiling, he was a big joker. He loved people, he loved life. His life was just starting. He had only been in his job [as a steeplejack] for six weeks, but he made a good impression.

“Dale had everything, but he appreciated everything. We’d only just bought him a car and he was so excited about learning how to drive. He only made one trip in that car.”

Michelle says: “The community has been really good to us, it has been overwhelming. People came to our door bringing soup, they wrote letters, sent cards. I’ve never seen people come together like that. They’ve not forgotten him.”

Dale’s aunt Carol and local youth club, Y2K, have raised money for a Dale Bennett Memorial Fund. Next month they will ask local football teams, the Scouts and youth clubs to apply for some of the funding. They want to thank the community for their help.

And a bench at Bogwood Court, near his home, has been erected in Dale’s memory. It is always covered in flowers.