It was in court that Charlotte Brown’s mother Roz Wickens first came face to face with the arrogant young man whose seduction routine on board his dilapidated speedboat had ended in her daughter’s death.
Yet Jack Shepherd showed no remorse. ‘I was standing with my elder daughter Katie outside the courtroom when he literally walked straight through the middle of us,’ recalls Roz.
‘He was close enough to touch. He could easily have gone around us, but he decided not to. He knew exactly who we were. It was deliberate.’
Shepherd was showing his contempt for normal decency just as he did when he took Charlotte, 24, on the late-night, high-speed drunken joy-ride down the Thames which killed her back in December 2015.
Roz Wickens’ daughter Charlotte, 24, (pictured together) died in December 2015 after a speedboat accident on the Thames in 2015
Next he would show his contempt for British justice by absconding before he could be tried for her manslaughter and then launching an appeal against his conviction – a move that’s astonishingly funded by legal aid – from his foreign bolthole.
Today however, Roz, 53, from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, lays down this challenge to Shepherd: ‘I know you will read this. You have taken my precious daughter’s life away.
‘She was everything to me and I think about her almost every second of the day. Life will never be the same without her. So please return and face the justice that was dealt to you.’
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, she reveals how police broke the awful news her daughter had died by telling her there had been a ‘nautical incident’; insists she does not believe Shepherd’s account of the night Charlotte died; and voices her disgust that he is benefiting from taxpayer help to fund his legal fight while on the run.
Jack Shepherd, now 31, absconding before he could be tried for Charlotte’s manslaughter and then launching an appeal against his conviction
In an emotive appeal, she also demands that whoever is helping the 31-year-old hide examines their own conscience.
She said: ‘Without a doubt, he is being helped by someone. He’s got to buy food and be living somewhere. His bank account is untouched. His phone is not being used.
‘I want to tell anyone who is helping him, “Think about what you are doing, and do the right thing by talking to the police.” I mean, if someone thinks they are not guilty, why would they run away to another country and hide?’
It is now three years since police knocked on Roz’s door to tell her Charlotte had died on the Thames. She had been thrown from Shepherd’s boat after, he claims, she was at the wheel ‘at full throttle’.
Shepherd had been drinking heavily and was known for his reckless behaviour on the river as he showed off to his prospective conquests.
That terrible day, Roz had reacted with disbelief.
‘As far as I knew, Charlotte had never even been on a boat before and it would not have been like her to go on a date on a work night. So at first I thought it might have been a mistake and someone else had died.
‘When I realised it was true, that the woman they’d pulled out of the Thames was my Charlotte, I can honestly say my world came crashing down around me.
‘My over-riding emotion was one of despair. She was everything to me, we had such a special bond. It was agony then and it is still agony now.’
Roz and the rest of the family rushed to St George’s Hospital in Tooting where Charlotte had been taken after being dredged from the water at the foot of Wandsworth Bridge.
Shepherd’s 14ft speedboat, pictured, had faulty steering, its lifejackets were out of reach, and its kill cord (the line which cuts the engine if the driver can’t) had been disconnected
‘When I was allowed to see her, I fainted,’ admits Roz.
‘There was so much blood. It was terrible. I don’t know how long I spent on the floor. Ever since, that image of her has been the one that I see, the one which comes uninvited into my head.’
As a fully trained emergency medical technician with a London Ambulance career behind her, Roz is a woman familiar with death and horror but nothing could have prepared for the awfulness of her youngest daughter’s death.
She buried Charlotte at Kemnal Park cemetery in South East London in January 2016 and then began to question what had really happened to her.
‘Details came out very slowly, but we established he had drunk a copious amount. He stank of alcohol and was unable to walk straight. I was very unhappy that the police had not breathalysed him or taken a blood test on the night.
‘There was evidence that he had drunk vodka before meeting Charlotte, had two bottles of wine with her at the restaurant and there was champagne on the boat.
‘He must have drunk most of it because Charlotte had her blood tested which showed she was just on the cusp of the drink-driving limit, meaning she probably had only two or three glasses of wine.
‘In a witness statement he gave a day or two afterwards, he claimed that Charlotte had been at the wheel. But that wasn’t true. He was arrested eight days later when he gave a no comment interview.’
In her worst nightmares, Roz fears that her daughter was thrown from the boat while Shepherd was doughnutting – the marine equivalent of a handbrake turn, flashy and dangerous – and that he then staged the crash as a cover-up.
It is a matter of legal record that his 14ft speedboat had faulty steering, its lifejackets were out of reach, and its kill cord (the line which cuts the engine if the driver can’t) had been disconnected.
‘I believe he has twisted things in his mind to the point that he thought he’d done nothing wrong, that he was the victim
On other similar dates he’d driven at up to 30mph along the Thames, more than twice the river’s speed limit.
Says Roz: ‘I believe he has twisted things in his mind to the point that he thought he’d done nothing wrong, that he was the victim.
‘It doesn’t seem to be in his character to take responsibility. He is an inadequate man with a total lack of empathy and respect for any other human being. I don’t know if he will ever believe he is to blame for Charlotte’s death.’
The investigation into the tragedy was initially conducted by Wandsworth police before being taken over by the serious crime squad.
But it was another year before the Crown Prosecution Service decided that Shepherd could be charged with manslaughter leading to his first court appearance at Wimbledon Magistrates in September 2017.
This was when he walked, with calculated cruelty, between Roz and Katie.
‘I wanted to say, “How dare you take my daughter’s life”, but I knew I had to keep quiet,’ says Roz.
‘I was abiding by the rules but he wasn’t. And it certainly made a nonsense of his later claim that he did not want to attend his trial because he could not face looking us in the eye.
‘He was extremely confident, arrogant. The only thing which seemed to get through to him was when he looked at Katie who looks very similar to Charlotte. Then he looked shocked.’
Indeed, he must have thought he’d seen a ghost.
It was July 2 last year when Shepherd was due for trial at the Old Bailey. By then, however, he’d already fled the country – missing since March.
In a further twist, he is also on the run from a second, unrelated court case, having glassed a barman in the West Country shortly before he disappeared.
He was due to face a charge of grievous bodily harm in relation to that incident.
The manslaughter case was heard in his absence, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. Yet he made his presence felt, communicating electronically with his legal team while they were in court.
‘In the third week of the trial, it emerged they had been messaging him. I was utterly shocked,’ says Roz.
Now, he has been given the right to appeal – even though he has not served a single day in prison.
‘It is just unbelievable that the legal system allows him to do such a thing. It is just an added burden to get through,’ Roz adds.
She has never had an apology. ‘His defence team said that he had written an apology, but nobody has shown it to us,’ she says.
She knows that if Charlotte had lived, there would have been no second date with Shepherd. ‘She was a very good judge of character. She would have seen straight through him.’
Charlotte had grown up in Welling, South-East London, with Roz and two big sisters Vicky, now 31, and Katie, now 30. Her mother was divorced from her father Graham when she was just three.
She was a bright girl in both senses, both an extrovert and a studious bookworm, and even as a teenager she cared hugely about others, doing charity work with the Air Cadets.
She studied English Literature at the University of Essex, supported herself by waitressing and then grabbed an event management job which enabled her to travel in Europe, America and Russia.
By the time she encountered Shepherd she was flat-sharing with girlfriends in London and had switched to a career as a business consultant in the beauty industry.
With her glossy long brown hair, love of bold lipstick and curvaceous figure – she’d just started cycling to keep fit – she was her own best advert.
Single for two years after a four-year university relationship, she was looking for love online. Roz says: ‘In the long term Charlotte wanted what everyone else wanted. She wanted to meet someone to treat her well, get married and have a family of her own.
‘But she wasn’t desperate, she was a career-orientated girl, she was just living her life, in London, the way she liked.’
How different this is to the predatory Shepherd.
He had grown up in Devon where a solid middle-class background – his parents run a health food business – had failed to prevent his rampant ego from getting him into trouble from his teens onwards.
He funded his London lifestyle by setting up his own IT consultancy and revelled in a wideboy reputation. He rented a trendy houseboat in West London’s Hammersmith and tied up his 14ft speedboat, bought cheaply online, next to it.
He already had a wife, who it transpires may have been pregnant at the time of his date with Charlotte, but he was clearly not one for monogamy.
Shepherd used his IT skills to build a dating website and had links to another which offered advice on securing no-strings sex.
Charlotte could not have known any of this when he invited her for a £150 dinner date in the Oblix restaurant on the 32nd floor of The Shard skyscraper and then back to his houseboat for a late-night romantic ride down the river.
That was December 8, 2015, and Roz is no closer to securing justice for Charlotte.
She is channelling her energies into a campaign for legislation which will make lifejackets mandatory on all privately owned boats and make it a criminal offence to drive recklessly on the water or while drunk.
‘I try not to second-guess if or when Shepherd will be caught,’ says Roz. ‘Because whatever happens to him, it is not going to bring Charlotte back.’
And that’s the truth of this terrible case which has left an innocent young woman dead, a nonchalant killer at large and British justice holed beneath the water line.
To add your support for the campaign started by Charlotte Brown’s family for the introduction of ‘Charli’s Law’, ensuring there are new speed limits and alcohol drink-drive limits on Britain’s waterways, go to: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/226218