Mum of murdered Blackpool teen calls for action to tackle knife crime

Ben Prunty and his mum Terri Crossland
Ben Prunty and his mum Terri Crossland
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Struck by a feeling she can only describe as a “mother’s telepathy”, Terri Crossland remembers a sense of impending doom while she was on holiday in Cyprus.

The mum-of-three was on the island for her friend’s wedding and she recalls feeling something.

The following morning, she was by the pool when the hotel concierge came to tell her there was someone waiting for her in reception.

Terri felt numb with disbelief when two women from the British Embassy led her into a small room.

However, nothing could have prepared her for the news that her beloved 16-year-old son Ben Prunty was dead.

Ben had been stabbed by another teenager in a grudge attack over a girl.

Jealous Nathan Butters, 17 at the time, had chased Ben into his home in South Shore, Blackpool with two accomplices before taking a knife from Terri’s own kitchen and fatally stabbing him.

Terri says: “It was the small knife I used for peeling potatoes. But Nathan Butters went straight for Ben’s heart and killed him.”

Ben was murdered on June 1,7 2003 at the age of just 16. The teenager had left school and was waiting to start sixth form and a summer job working at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Terri, now 52, who lives in Bispham, explains: “Ben had had a casual liaison with a girl of a similar age who had recently broken up with Nathan Butters in favour of Ben.

“This started a hatred and jealousy in Nathan and he wanted revenge.

“I only found out after Ben’s death that there had been a lot of threats directed at Ben through social media. There wasn’t Facebook then but he did it through MSN and text messages.”

One particular incident sticks in Terri’s mind and still haunts her as she remembers Ben eating his tea when he received a telephone call.

Terri heard a male voice talking to Ben in a derogatory manner and Ben left his food and went out of the room.

Terri recalls: “I followed Ben out into the hall and found he was crying.

“I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘It’s just about a girl’.

“I never imagined at that moment what the repercussions for Ben would be.”

On that fateful day, Ben was walking down the street when Nathan Butters and his two accomplices started shouting at him and then chasing him.

Ben ran into the house but they followed him inside.

Terri says: “My mum was staying in my house looking after the children. My daughters were nine and five at the time and were playing in their bedrooms and my mum had just got out of the bath and was in the kitchen in her dressing gown.

“My mum was 63 at the time and she heard a kerfuffle in the hallway so went to see what was going on. She was punched in the face and lost consciousness.

“Ben was attacked with kicks and punches by the three of them and then Nathan went into our kitchen and there was a knife rack with four knives in it and he picked one up and used it on Ben.”

After hearing the horrific news in Cyprus, Terri rushed back to the UK. She couldn’t live in her house as it was a crime scene. She never did go back into the property as she was too traumatised and ended up moving house.

Terri says her mum, dad and daughters became her focus as more horrific details emerged from the police investigation.

Terri says: “During the police investigation, we found out Nathan Butters had been making enquiries about getting hold of a samurai sword so it was always his intention to harm Ben.”

Butters admitted Ben’s murder on the first day of the trial in 2004 and was given a life sentence. But he only ended up serving around nine years.

Terri says: “Unfortunately for us, Nathan Butters was still 17 at the time of the court case. He got life, but that was only 12 years then. He would have got more now as the law has changed.

“The other two ended up only serving about 18 months.

“Sadly, the changes in the law came too late for us.”

Terri describes how even though those responsible for her son’s death are free, the knock-on effect for the whole family has been devastating.

Terry says: “My dad Bill was an ex-police officer and Ben’s death hit him really hard. A few months after Ben died, my dad had lost three stones and looked awful.

“He died on the Christmas Day after Ben’s death. He died of a broken heart.”

Ben was also very close to his grandma and Terri says he even went on holiday with her the month before he died.

Terri says: “In the May of that year, Ben went on holiday to Turkey with just my mum.

“He was the first grandchild and she idolised him and called him ‘Numero Uno.’

“Ben loved her and I am glad they had that time together.”

Terri says the first few years after Ben’s death were a living hell and there were constant reminders of the future Ben had been robbed of.

Just before Terri had headed out to Cyprus, she had opened Ben his first bank account and remembers how excited he was at the prospect of receiving his first debit card.

Ben’s GCSE results arrived after his death and Terri and her mum went to collect them and were choked up with emotion as Ben had done really well.

Terri says it was so difficult to accept that Ben had gone that for the first two years, she tried to convince herself his murder hadn’t really happened.

She explains: “In my head, I would tell myself Ben was in Australia and would be coming back home after two years. But when the two years had gone, I had to force myself to accept Ben wasn’t coming back.”

Terri was a midwife at the time of Ben’s death but is now a named nurse in safeguarding children for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals.

Terri also does some work for The Compassionate Friends, a charitable organisation which supports bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents.

Terri’s daughter Megan, 23, is a trained solicitor specialising in family law while her younger daughter Ruby, 19, is in her second year of being a student nurse.

Terri says: “I am so proud of my daughters and of my mum who is now in her 70s.”

“Megan was only nine when Ben died and she had to be interviewed and give descriptions to the police.

“You never get over seeing your brother’s dying moments.”

Remembering Ben, Terri says: “Ben was absolutely beautiful. He was 6ft 1 and blue-eyed and was a lovely boy. He wanted to be an electrician but he was robbed of his life and his future.”

Terri was furious when she heard her son’s killer was freed from prison. And her wounds are constantly re-opened.

She explains: “I get a yearly letter from Victim Liaison telling me how well Nathan Butters is doing in the community and I received a letter only a few weeks ago.

“I don’t give two hoots how well he is doing. He has his whole life ahead of him while my Ben does not.”

Terri believes there needs to be tougher sentences for knife crime and more education on its consequences. She also supports the idea of knife detectors and body scanners in public places.

Terri says: “There needs to be more education around the consequences of knife crime and it needs to start earlier in schools, especially when pupils are taking weapons into schools.

“Schools need to do more and they should make learning about crime and behaviour part of the National Curriculum.

“We do education around drugs and alcohol so we should do it around knife crime and its consequences too. I think violence is starting a lot younger and I don’t feel social media and the Internet has helped or games on the XBox and Playstation which are themed around violence and getting points for killing people.

“I think violence is glamourised and some teenagers think there is a kudos in carrying a knife.

“I think if someone is caught carrying a knife, they should be incarcerated.

“Knives are too accessible, you can get them in most shops. But you can just go into your kitchen and take one into school which is frightening.

“Almost every day, you hear about someone getting stabbed and every time I hear of a death caused by stabbing, I just think of the mother and the family and what they are going to go through.

“I think having metal detectors in schools, pubs, clubs and any public setting is a good idea.

“Security is good everywhere now because of terror threats. But the threat of knives is more prevalent.”

Ben would be turning 31 this year if he was still alive and Terri admits it is still painful to think of all she and Ben have lost.

She says: “I am on Facebook with Ben’s friends and a lot of them are getting married and having children and that hurts more than I expected as it hits home how much Ben has missed out on.

“I wonder what my life would be like if Ben was still here and I know I would almost certainly be a grandmother now.

“No one truly understands the pain of losing a child until it happens to them. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.”