JUSTICE SERVED, FAITH TESTEDChristopher Diedo may be known to Universe readers for his photographic talent and success, having been featured twice over the past few years but disturbingly, he makes news this time for very different reasons.
Chris aged 25 is the youngest of our three children. He is a delightful young man who has Down’s syndrome, severe learning difficulties and associated speech and language problems. He is a committed Christian and Catholic, choosing to attend mass twice every Sunday at St. Vincent’s RC Church, Dartford where he assists Fr. Patrick Zammit as a senior altar server with 18 years experience. Four years ago, he took up photography as a hobby producing some stunning images along the way and exhibiting at such places as, The Mick Jagger Centre, The Proud, OXO Tower and Strand galleries, as well as at The Truman Brewery, Brick Lane. He has been invited by the Malta High Commission to exhibit next year at the European Delegation Headquarters in London.
On Monday 28th March, 2011 a man appeared before magistrates in Dartford to answer a charge of assaulting our son, in Dartford town, last April. The defendant, who called Christopher a freak before punching him in the face, pleaded guilty to the assault and criminal damage to the wing mirror of our parked car. The man received a 170 day prison sentence for the assault and a further 80 day prison sentence to run concurrently, for the criminal damage. It’s clear to us as parents, that the magistrates recognised the disgusting nature of the unprovoked attack on this vulnerable and trusting member of society and sentenced, accordingly. We hope the length of the prison term and the vigour with which Kent police pursued the charges to gather evidence to secure a conviction will serve as a warning and deterrent, whilst helping the learning disabled visiting or living in Dartford, to feel more secure and safe on our streets. Interestingly, on 13th June Alex Dwyer, spokeswoman for Scope speaking on BBC TV news, reported a rise in the number of hate crimes/incidents against people with disabilities in the London area, citing the statistics as a disturbing trend for reasons which need to be addressed.
Thankfully, my wife and I were with Christopher at the time of the assault or it might have been far worse for him. We had just collected our son from a centre in Dartford where he had spent a happy day in the company of his friends and were heading for our car as three men in their 20’s were passing. Christopher asked one of them to let him pass as he was in his way. The man who was shirtless and unbeknown to us at the time, drunk and wearing a court tag around his ankle called him a freak. When Christopher protested, the man first accused him of calling him by that name. I intervened saying our son wouldn’t say such a thing and pointed out, just in case he hadn’t noticed that, he had Down’s syndrome and learning difficulties. The fit looking, muscle bound man said he didn’t care and punched Christopher in the face. Did I stop to remember my Catholic upbringing, turning the other cheek and exercising self-restraint as Paul advised in his letter to Titus? I’m afraid I did not. I punched the man straight back in the face, as much a reflex action as it was in self defence of my family. We fought in Dartford town centre while my son wisely took refuge in the centre he had just left. Eventually, the police arrived and arrested the man. Christopher and I were taken to hospital to be checked because of injuries sustained.
Christopher was so traumatised by the attack that he later tried several times to leave home, saying he was afraid the man would come and find him and burn our house down. Our doctor referred him to a clinical psychiatrist who targeted some excellent support, doing much to get Christopher back on track to feeling confident again about venturing out, a confidence built up painstakingly over the years but shattered in a moment of cruelty, ignorance and rage.
The man who was bailed on condition he stayed away from us, saw us in town shortly after the attack and approached apologising, blaming his behaviour on drinking whisky which he said got him into trouble. He assured us he was a reformed person and asked us to shake his hand and accept his apologies. With more time to think and not sensing any immediate danger, I must admit to thinking things through before giving him my answer. I told myself that I’m a Catholic, that none of us are perfect, least of all me and that I turn to the Lord time and time again, having faith in God’s compassion and promise of forgiveness to those who trust in Him. I reminded myself that the Lord forgives us so we must do the same and forgive our neighbour. Despite all that I’d convinced myself of in my head, I still couldn’t shake his hand but then something happened that shook me into seeing how wrong I was, how tied up in outrage and condemnation I’d become: without any prompting, after I’d refused the man, Christopher extended his hand and shook the hand of the man who had attacked him verbally and physically. I felt humbled by my son’s readiness to forgive and move on and in an instant remembered what was called for and what I should have done first as a Christian and the head of my family, forgive the man and shake his hand, which I then did. It was left to our son with learning difficulties to show us the right way forward and by example, remind us of those words in Ecclesiasticus: ‘Resentment and anger, these are foul things and both are found with the sinner…. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.’ Well done, Christopher!
To see some of Christopher’s pictures and learn more about him, look at his website: www.christopher-diedo.co.uk
Andrew Diedo, Parent. June 2011