Emma Webber, whose 19-year-old son Barnaby was among three killed in the knife rampage in June last year, was on a video call with work colleagues when she heard the news that a major incident had been declared in Nottingham, where her son was a university student.
It took just minutes for her to realise her beloved son was among the victims, after she traced his unanswered mobile phone to the same street where the attack had taken police. After rushing to Nottingham with her husband Dave, she received a call from the police confirming her worst fears.
“I got out of the car, fell to my knees on the gravel and screamed,” Ms Webber said.
“After that, everything went still and cold. I was almost devoid of feeling. I didn’t even know how to breathe.”
Valdo Calocane stabbed Barnaby, his close friend Grace O’Malley-Kumar, also 19, and school caretaker Ian Coates, 65, to death with a dagger in Nottingham in the early hours of 13 June last year. This week, Calocane, 32, a paranoid schizophrenic, was handed an indefinite hospital order after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
The families of the three people he killed reacted angrily to the sentencing, accusing prosecutors of a “fait accompli” in accepting a manslaughter charge rather than pursuing a murder verdict.
Speaking after the hearing, Ms Webber, from Somerset said: “Questions must be asked, answers must be given and, where appropriate, lessons must be learnt.”
My body just went cold. We were ringing and ringing but still no one was answering
She has now said her family “fully support” the calls for a public inquiry after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, called the deaths “absolutely awful” and backed demands for an inquiry into the case.
Ms Webber accused police of having “blood on their hands” after it emerged they had failed to arrest Calocane weeks before the knife attack when he assaulted two warehouse workers. At the time he was on the run after allegedly assaulting a police officer in September 2021.
He had been detained by mental health services four times and had been consistently unwilling to take antipsychotic medication, leaving him free to roam the streets untreated and unsupervised.
The attorney general is assessing Calocane’s sentencing after Mr Justice Turned ruled he should be detained in a secure hospital rather than face prison – a “hybrid order” would have meant that Calocane would be sent to prison in the event his mental health improved.
The current sentence could allow him to appeal for release every three years, although the court heard how his mental health condition is considered “untreatable”.
“We can’t change what happened, but we can make sure Barney’s memory lives on,” she told The Daily Mail.
“We have to try, for Barney’s sake, to change what is going wrong in this country with our mental health care and in our policing and judicial system. It won’t bring Barney back, so the sadness and grief will remain, but he will have justice.”
Describing her thought process as she heard the news, Ms Webber said: “It said a man and a woman had been killed. I didn’t think of my son as a man. He’s 19. He’s my boy.
“I said to my work colleagues, ‘Sorry, I’m a bit distracted. There’s something going on in Nottingham. I’m sure it’s all fine. I just want to make sure Barney’s OK.’”
She tried calling his phone before texting her son’s friends, who confirmed he was not in his room.
“Almost at that exact moment, it came up on the news that the incident had taken place in Ilkeston Road,” Ms Webber continued. “Dave said, ‘Barney’s phone is in Ilkeston Road.’
“My body just went cold.”
The pair then saw that his phone had moved, having been taken to the police station. Officers called the couple to deliver the heartbreaking news.
They then had to break the news to their son, Charlie, who was 16 at the time. “It was the most awful thing in the world to watch his face. He couldn’t – wouldn’t – believe it for ages,” she said.
“The grief was so overwhelming I couldn’t see beyond Barney’s loss.”
Donations can be made to the Barnaby Webber Foundation at: gofundme.com/f/in-everlasting-memory-of-barnaby-webber