Published: 06:00, 25 September 2021
Ten years after her son was killed by a single stab wound, a mother still grieving an unimaginable loss is speaking out to spread the message that violence is never the answer.
Tom Crittenden from Maidstone was just 21 when he died in Sutton Road in the early hours of September 25, 2011.
The former Cornwallis Academy pupil was described as a 'gentle giant' by everyone who knew him.
To mark the anniversary, the Crittenden family usually get together to release balloons in Tom's memory, but this year a decade on, his mother Glenda Crittenden wants to again share Tom's story to raise awareness around the risks of carrying knives after a surge in incidents in Maidstone.
The 58-year-old said: "Ten years ago my living nightmare began in the early hours when I had that knock on the door. That knock that every parent dreads, the knock you never really believe you will get.
"Three police officers at my door telling me that my eldest son Tom Crittenden of just 21 was dead, stabbed through his lung and heart by a large kitchen knife in a totally unprovoked attack.
"In an instant part of me died too.
"Ten years on and there is always a sadness. It is a long time and I struggle to believe it has been that long. My life has changed so much but it has also stood still, it still seems like yesterday."
She added: "When that happened to Tom it was rare, but the increase is alarming.
"So many people relate to it now because it's quite common. There's very few weekends where there isn't violence of some kind in Maidstone and when the news breaks of another incident, I know what that family's journey will be like.
"I miss him terribly."
Caleb White from Cornwall Close, Shepway was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in prison in May 2012.
He was at his flat in Dublin House when he is said to have "totally lost control" and stabbed Mr Crittenden who was there with his best friend Billy Swift.
The then 19-year-old had armed himself with a large kitchen knife and lashed out at Mr Crittenden in a rage after his girlfriend Danielle Brown had been out in Maidstone for the evening.
White saw Mr Crittenden walking towards him and ran up and stabbed him in the chest.
Mr Crittenden and Mr Swift went back to a van and the father drove them to his Maidstone home, where Mr Crittenden collapsed and died.
Last year alone, there were 104 incidents of knife crime recorded in the county town.
Not all of them will have involved someone being stabbed, but these figures do include incidents where knives have been involved in assaults, attempted murder, wounding and sexual offences.
This sits roughly in the middle of the Kent average with Medway, Thanet and Swale taking the top spots, and Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling at the bottom.
In February, a man suffered serious injuries after being stabbed in Week Street.
Then in June a man was taken to hospital with stab wounds after an incident in Upper Road.
A few days later, three men were charged after a man was stabbed in Lower Stone Street at 4am on July 3.
Mrs Crittenden says something desperately needs to be done to stop this violence in Maidstone which is becoming a common occurrence, adding: "Maidstone has changed considerably and violence and knife crime is rising rapidly.
"I was born and bred here but if I didn't have commitments I wouldn't think twice about moving out."
In a bid to curb knife crime and help other families, Mrs Crittenden has been working with charities that aim to reduce violence such as Reform Restore Respect, The Ben Kinsella Trust and Switch Cafe in Maidstone to talk to families and young people in schools.
She added: "A mum should never have to identify their child, choose a coffin for their child, and listen to a post mortem report.
"You can’t unknow what you have heard or seen, it haunts you and time definitely isn’t a healer when your child went out one night and never came back home.
"I don’t want other mums to live this life..."
"Violence is never the answer, on my journey I have met with other mums who have lost their children through violence and knife crime.
"We are all broken and have joined various outlets and charities and the police to try and raise awareness to our young.
"I don’t want other mums to live this life."
Her talks came to a halt when the pandemic hit and England was plunged into lockdown but Mrs Crittenden hopes as things start to open up again, she can find more ways of reaching young people so no mother has to experience the same heartache she has.