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‘I think Dean would be glad that we are all back together’: Murder victim’s mother reunites with family after return from Australia

© Derek Ironside / Newsline Media LtdJo Jamieson at home in Aberdeen after returning from child protection role in Australia
Jo Jamieson at home in Aberdeen after returning from child protection role in Australia

A mother who emigrated to Australia to rebuild her life after her son was murdered by strangers has told why she has returned to Scotland.

Jo Jamieson, 66, spent 11 years working down under in the remote Northern Territories protecting Aboriginal children from abuse after her son Dean, 30 – himself a devoted dad of four – was killed in an attack that shocked the nation.

She was left feeling suicidal following his murder but the child protection officer fought her way back to stability for the sake of her family, later moving to Darwin and devoting herself to her work in the Outback.

Jamieson is now home for good, however, to be closer to her family and to Dean’s grandchildren. The great-grandmother also wrote Last Touch – a book about her experiences designed to help other victims and their families in the aftermath of violent crime.

She said: “I went to Australia to escape reminders of what happened to Dean and to avoid being anywhere near to people who might be connected with his killers. I decided to come back after the pandemic prevented me from visiting for two years, and also because new grandchildren and great-grandchildren were coming – Dean’s grandchildren.

“The first thing I did when I got back to Aberdeen was to go to Dean’s grave. I feel he is always there and will always be part of our lives.”

Dad-of-four Dean Jamieson with youngest son Tyler
Dad-of-four Dean Jamieson with youngest son Tyler

Dean had been on a night out in the Granite City in April 2006 and was making his way home when he was picked up by killers Colin Cowie, Kevin Leslie and Shaun Paton, then aged 22, 24 and 20 respectively.

The dad, who mistakenly thought he had flagged down a taxi, was driven to a city suburb where he was robbed, beaten and stabbed. He tried to run, before being finally beaten to the ground and left to die. His killers filmed the attack on a mobile phone and were caught after boasting about it.

Cowie and Leslie were convicted of murder in November 2006 and continue to serve 18 and 20-year sentences respectively. Paton was found guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide. He was sentenced to 10 years in a young offenders’ institution but was released in 2013. Dean’s children Lauren, now 28, Liam, 25, Keelan, 24, and Tyler, 20, were just 12, nine, eight, and four when their father was killed.

Lauren went on to have Grayson, three, and Fletcher, 11 months, while Liam has a son, Cody, two. And the family are preparing to welcome Dean’s fourth grandchild with Tyler due to become a dad on December 31.

Jamieson – who also has sons Paul, 44, and Gareth, 42, as well as daughter Kerrie, 40 – said: “Dean was a wonderful father and would have loved to have been a grandfather. These are the grandchildren who were robbed of their grandad, the grandchildren Dean missed. We try to keep him alive for them, so that they will know him indirectly.”

She had returned from Australia in time for Paul’s wedding to bride Emily, 29, at which Dean would have been best man. His brother Gareth stepped in. The proud mother – who also has grandchildren Jordan, 22, Conor, 18, Olivia, 11, Joshua, nine, Georgia, eight, Rebecca, six, and Taylor, four – said: “Dean had pride of place at the wedding. His picture was right beside me at the top table and his brothers both spoke about him, because he was the eldest and should have been best man. Everyone was in tears. But he was there in spirit.”

She credits Dean as the wind beneath her wings. “After what happened to Dean, I could get through anything,” she said. “Losing him gave me greater empathy for others and the strength to deal with the horrors I faced in my work – child murder and rape. Losing him in the way that I did helped me to better deal with the families I worked with. I knew the heartache and pain they were experiencing.

“I worked with remote Aboriginal communities. The only way you got there was mostly by boat or plane.”

She remembers vividly her first crossing of Cahills River – one of Australia’s most dangerous bodies of water. Each year, dozens of cars are washed into the river, which is a feeding ground for saltwater crocodiles.

“I was with a young Aboriginal lad who was driving a big 4×4 with a snorkel exhaust,” she said. “The river was full of crocodiles and I remember thinking, ‘If we break down here, we’re dead’. But we got through.

“I worked with the worst kinds of child protection cases and unfortunately we had to remove a lot of children for their own safety. But I was lucky. Because I had listened to the Aboriginal people I worked with and spent time with them, I made a lot of friends and was adopted by the family of a matriarch.

“They gave me a ‘skin name’, Na Yilla, which is a great honour. They looked after me and that was important because when you remove kids they are going to kill you. I was protected because I was classed as family.

“One Christmas a colleague and I took some of the children back to see their families. We were returning to Darwin on a small, seven-seater plane when it was hit by a storm. The plane was bouncing all over the place.

“We were all terrified so I suggested we sing Jingle Bells. The next minute the plane just dropped – thousands of feet. The kids were screaming and I was rigid with fear. I thought, ‘That’s it, we’re gone’ but the pilot just managed to bring it back up.

“When we landed in Darwin, we could see that even the pilot and crew were petrified. I had so many experiences in Australia – some funny, some terrifying – but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

So would Dean be happy to see her home again? She said: “I used to see psychics. One told me he was glad I did what I did but pleased I am now back with his family. I think he would be happy now we are all together again.”

Last Touch by Josephine Kennedy Smart Jamieson is published by Austin Macauley