News came through while I was away that Matthew Fagan, who had been accused of murdering Research Now employee Cathy Marlow, had been found guilty at the Old Bailey and given a life sentence – with a very long minimum recommended tariff of 28 years.
It is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could actually kill someone else anyway, and especially in these circumstances. Fagan had broken into the offices at the weekend in the attempt of stealing laptop computers, to sell for cash. He encountered Cathy, who worked in Finance and was in the office on her own, catching up on a backlog of work. There was a violent struggle. Fagan was big and somewhat overweight. It seems Cathy put up a good fight but when it was over, she was dead – strangled with the scarf she was wearing and left in the office washroom. Fagan left with a bag of stolen computers.
Though I had completed an assignment for this firm shortly before that time, I had not met Cathy, She had recently come over from New Zealand, and joined the firm. Everyone says she was a lovely person. The firm was growing fast, but like any office, was a normal friendly place to work, and somewhere Cathy would have not thought twice about going in on her own to work at the weekend to do a bit of overtime and help her colleagues out.
I had, however, met Matthew Fagan. He was one of the people I was working with as he too had worked for that firm. The news reports do state that he was sacked for incompetence, and I can understand that. He was somewhat out of his depth with the work he was doing, and I had guessed he was not going to last – maybe he was aware of this; but maybe he, like many others, deceived himself that he was doing a good job. He talked the talk a lot – perhaps a bit too much. He was American, mid-to-late twenties, reasonably well educated, trying hard in his own way, wanting to be liked, a bit goofy and somewhat impractical in some of his suggestions. Not the stereotypical psychopath.
Maybe he was a little odd, but no more so than many people I have worked with. It’s a long way from what I saw in Matt and imagining him strangling someone in the shower. Yet that was what happened – I have to accept it as fact, but I don’t see the connection. Perhaps a series of bad and increasingly desperate choices – not in revenge for getting the sack, but because life was falling apart, because success had turned into failure. This does not mean the outcome was inevitable. Matthew was incredibly violent and ruthlessly selfish – the choices he made were bad ones, but they were the choices he made, and probably rational ones to him at the time. I don’t believe for a minute I was working with a monster. To me, as I have tried to make sense of this completely unprecedented situation in my life (and as someone who was scarcely touched by it) it is the very ordinariness of Matthew that is unsettling. He was like other people I come across all the time.
I am desperately sorry for Cathy’s parents. But I am also sorry that Matt Fagan has destroyed his own life too. I don’t understand how he thought taking someone’s life would solve the problems he found himself in.
Perhaps Matt was sick, perhaps he was unloved. He is now a convicted murderer and nothing can take away from the gravity of that. Incarceration for the rest of his working days will be tough, I have no doubt. I certainly don’t think a life in jail is the soft option in the way many of his fellow citizens in the USA do, where the ultimate tough love still comes in the form of a lethal injection. Yet there are a lot of people who think that the odd punch-up is OK, even something that makes you a bit of a hero. Most people think pinching things from the office is wrong, but despite that, an awful lot of people do it and not always by breaking in. They are wrong, but they don’t always get challenged as they should.
The problem is, we all fail to love our neighbours as much as ourselves, and Matt may well have experienced more than a fair share of that in his life so far. He is likely to get even less now. But to love other people, you must start by loving yourself. I think of the Matt I saw who wanted to be liked – and hope that he will eventually find a way to like, even love himself. That would be a start.