Looking back it was like a bad dream which happened to somebody else

Helen Birch
Helen Birch
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While most mums will be looking forward to a day of being pampered and spoilt this Sunday, Helen Birch will be trying to erase Mother’s Day from her memory as it is a reminder of the worst day of her life – the day she lost her beloved son Daniel. She tells AASMA DAY about her heartbreaking story and why she is touring Lancashire with the wreck of the car her son crashed in to highlight the dangers of drink driving.

Hearing the telephone ring at 5am, Helen Birch woke up with a panicked lurch knowing that a call in the early hours meant bad news.

Daniel Birch, who died on Mother's Day at the age of 23 after drinking and driving

Daniel Birch, who died on Mother's Day at the age of 23 after drinking and driving

But nothing could have prepared her for hearing the voice of a police officer telling her he was outside her front door and asking her to come downstairs.

Helen, 43, who is married to Stuart, recalls: “When you hear the phone ring at that time, you know it is going to be terrible news.

“I answered it straight away. My stepfather was poorly and had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, so I thought the call would be something connected to that.

“But it was a police officer from Lancashire Police asking me to open the front door.”

Jordan, Daniel and mum Helen

Jordan, Daniel and mum Helen

Heading down the stairs as though she was in a sleepwalked daze with her white-faced husband close behind her, Helen opened the front door with shaking hands and saw two police officers standing before her.

At that moment, Helen knew she was about to hear the worst news of her life and nothing could prepare her for the nightmare.

Helen remembers: “I just knew instantly that Daniel had died. I said: ‘My son .., Daniel’ and the police officer just shook his head and looked down at the floor.”

She can vividly recall those first horrendous moments as the dreadful truth became reality: “I remember falling backwards to the floor and shouting, ‘No, it can’t be Daniel. How can you be sure it was him’. I just went into denial and refused to believe it.

“However, then the police officer placed Daniel’s driving licence and wallet into my hand and there was no escaping the truth.

“Looking back, it seems like a bad dream that happened to someone else. I just felt numb and blank.”

The day was Mother’s Day 2012 and it is engraved on Helen’s heart as it was the day she lost her first born son.

Helen and Stuart, who run the White Crow restaurant on Chorley Road, Worthington, near Wigan, also have a daughter Jordan, 19 and a nine-year-old son Will.

Helen explains: “Stuart and I met through friends when I was about 17 and we just hit it off. Stuart had very strong morals and loved the idea of having a family and I did too.

“Daniel was a surprise and it was quite frightening to find out I was pregnant at the age of 18.

“I went into hospital just me and I came out with the two of us knowing I was now responsible for this tiny person.

“The bond between us was instantaneous. I looked at Daniel and made a promise I would make a good life for him.

“Children are a gift. You think you know what love is but I don’t think I truly did until that moment.

“It was totally different from the love I had for Stuart. It is complete unconditional love.

“As we were both young when we had Daniel, we carried on growing up with him and he was like our best friend as well as our son.”

Smiling as she talks about what Daniel was like as a child, Helen remembers: “Daniel was very funny and inquisitive as a child and was extremely loving right from the start.

“Daniel was five by the time we had his sister so he had time to develop a strong relationship with us.

“Daniel was very family orientated and was very protective over his sister and adored his little brother and did as many school runs as us.

“He was very popular and happy-go-lucky and had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone.

“Daniel found school easy and did not have to put much effort in to get the grades.

“He went to Albany High School in Chorley and then to Winstanley College in Wigan.

“He was very sporty and loved every sport going including football and basketball and went skiing with school.

“He was in two football teams – Adlington Spinners FC and Croston Sports Club

“Daniel was a bit accident prone. I remember when Daniel was about 16, I went into hospital for a minor operation and his grandad picked the children up from school.

“Daniel was under strict instructions to come straight home after school on that day and not participate in any sports.

“When I came round from the operation, I could not understand why Stuart was not there to be with me.

“Stuart eventually turned up at 11pm with Daniel in tow and Daniel had a big plaster on his leg.

“He had been playing basketball even though he had been told to come straight home after school and he had fallen and broken his leg.

“Daniel spent the next day with me at the side of my hospital bed. He took over the television so I had to watch football all day.

“All the nurses were ignoring me and making a fuss of Daniel instead! That’s what he was like. Everyone loved him.”

Daniel was an officer in the Boy’s Brigade and he also raised a lot of money for Derian House Children’s Hospice.

On that fatal Mother’s Day he was killed after his car crashed just yards away from his home.

Daniel’s green Ford Focus had crashed into a brick gate post with a telegraph pole behind it on Wigan Road in Coppull, near Chorley, and he was killed instantly.

Helen says: “Daniel was just 30 seconds from home when the crash happened.

“We went to Wigan Hospital to see Daniel and I remember looking at him and the horrible realisation going through my mind that this would be the last time I saw him.

“He just looked like he was asleep.”

Daniel’s family learned that their son had been on a night out with friends at a few pubs in Chorley and had dropped a friend home before heading home himself.

However, a few weeks after Daniel’s death, the family’s grief was compounded when they discovered Daniel had been almost three times over the legal drink drive limit.

With a voice still loaded with disbelief, Helen says: “We felt absolute shock. We just could not believe it.

“It had never entered our heads that Daniel could possibly have been drink driving. No one had ever known him do it before and all his friends were shocked.

“Daniel was always the person who wouldn’t drink and would drive everyone else home at the end of the night.

“In the restaurant, he would take keys off customers who had had too much to drink and drive them home himself.

“But on this night, for whatever reason, Daniel drove after drinking and lost control of his car.

“We will never know what happened on that evening to make him behave completely out of character.”

Helen is full of regret as she explains that she and Stuart thought that at 23, Daniel was a responsible adult and they had stopped questioning him about what he was doing or where he was going.

“Daniel was beyond the age at which we thought he’d make such a bad mistake as to drink and drive after a night out.

“Our experience shows that it’s always worth checking with your son or daughter that they have made alternative arrangements to get home or have somewhere to stay if they’re out drinking.

“Many young people naturally think they can take the risk and get away with it once, but that’s only because they haven’t really thought through the potential consequences not just for them but everyone they know and love.

“I regret assuming that because Daniel was 23, I did not need to carry on badgering him about what he was doing.”

Helen added: “We loved going on family holidays together and had been to places such as Jamaica, Mexico and Egypt together.

“Just weeks before he died, we had all been to The Dominican Republic.

“I felt like I had everything with my family. I felt like I had the world.

“The day we were told Daniel had died, we died.

“There is no moving on. It destroys everything.

“It affects me as a mother, as a wife and as a friend.

“I am not the same person I used to be.

“I was always confident, bubbly and happy. But now I just exist.

“I miss everything about Daniel – his laugh, his smile and his beautiful blue eyes.

“I try my best to ignore Mother’s Day now as it is a reminder of the worst day of my life.”