Make no mistake, the past six months have been torture for Graham Brown and his daughters, Katie and Vicky. Frustration and despair have been compounded by the disquieting anguish that, somewhere out there, the killer of their beloved Charlotte was congratulating himself for getting away with it.
Ever since that day in court last July when they learned that Jack Shepherd, the man who took Charlotte out on that fatal speedboat ride, had gone on the run, they have longed for one thing — that her killer face up to his crime and return to Britain to serve his six-year jail sentence.
Charlotte, 24, was on a first date with Shepherd on December 8, 2015, when the speedboat he’d taken her out on flipped over and threw her into the icy River Thames just before midnight.
Yet although Shepherd was convicted of her manslaughter last July, he’d already absconded and, it has transpired, was living the high life in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
After the Mail offered a reward of £25,000 for information leading to his capture, the hunt for Shepherd took on fresh momentum. Aware that the net was closing in, the 31-year-old web designer handed himself in to the Georgian authorities on Wednesday. The game was up.
Any relief felt by Charlotte Brown’s sisters, Katie and Vicky, when speedboat killer Jack Shepherd handed himself quickly turned to anger
Shepherd claimed that he rang Charlotte’s father Graham, pictured together, to apologise, but Graham says this is a ‘complete lie’
Yet any sense of relief that Mr Brown, 55, and Charlotte’s sisters, Vicky, 31, and Katie, 30, felt quickly turned to anger.
Far from chastened, before handing himself in this week, a smirking Shepherd gave an interview claiming it was Charlotte who was driving the boat at the time of the crash.
Seemingly untroubled by any sense of shame, he gave a little wave to the cameras, and concluded: ‘I hope justice will be done . . . and everyone can move forward with their lives.’
Further insult was added to injury yesterday when he claimed in a court appearance in Georgia that ‘not a single day passes’ without him thinking about the loss of Charlotte’s life.
He added that he had surrendered because he knew being on the run was causing her family more pain.
Curious behaviour, one might think, from a man using British taxpayers’ money to appeal his conviction while hiring £15,000 lawyers — one a former glamour model who has appeared in the Georgian equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing — to fight extradition.
But the breathtaking cynicism does not stop there. In a new self-serving low, Shepherd also claimed he is ‘suicidally depressed’ and that ‘his life is in danger’ if he returns to Britain. Again, pictures from the courtroom showed the trademark Shepherd smirk.
For the Browns, there’s a sense that he is taunting them all over again.
Now, in an emotional, no holds-barred interview, the family tell of the grief and devastation Shepherd continues to inflict on their family.
‘He has not thought about us or Charli from the start,’ says Vicky. ‘If he had, he would have co-operated with the police, he would have turned up at court and given us answers about what happened that night.
‘He would not have fled the country; he would not be blaming my sister for her own death; he would not be appealing his conviction and he would not be laughing and joking when handing himself in. He certainly would not be hiring lawyers to fight his extradition.
‘As for saying he handed himself in for our sake, he did so for purely selfish reasons. He’s arrogant enough to think his appeal will be successful.’
‘He has not thought about us or Charli (pictured) from the start,’ says Vicky. ‘If he had, he would have co-operated with the police, he would have turned up at court and given us answers about what happened that night’
Despite all the provocation, the family try not to waste too much emotion on Shepherd. All Charlotte’s father asks for is justice to be done — for Shepherd to serve the six-year sentence handed down in his absence at the Old Bailey
Mr Brown adds: ‘He has no reason to fear for his life, as far as my family and I are concerned. I stood 10ft away from Jack Shepherd at three pre-trial court appearances and have always stayed composed and not spoken a word to him.’
The family regard his claim that Charlotte was at the wheel of the boat at the time of the crash as particularly inflammatory. ‘Let us be clear on this,’ says Katie. ‘There is no proof that Charli was driving at the point of impact.
‘This was accepted in court based on Jack Shepherd’s first statement where he said he thinks she was driving but he cannot remember if he had taken the wheel back before the impact.
‘There are no witnesses to see who was driving, we only have his word, and he has been proven to be a compulsive liar.
‘In fact, if Charli was driving, the court found that this was more negligent — as Shepherd was the master of the vessel — to allow a novice to drive his defective speedboat.’
In his interview, Shepherd said he’d ‘had something to drink’ but ‘was not tested or anything’ — which may give the impression he’d been drinking only moderately.
Katie, however, says there is plenty of evidence that Shepherd was paralytic.
‘Witnesses in court described him as “stinking of alcohol” and “clearly drunk”,’ she says. ‘Unfortunately his blood was not tested until 17 hours later.
‘Charli’s bloods were around the drink-drive limit and so she must have drunk about two or three glasses of wine.
‘There was proof of three bottles of wine being consumed between them that night — you do the maths.
‘He also stated in his first interview that he was “the most drunk he had ever been”.
‘I think Shepherd’s problem is that he’s forgotten what he said at the time and is now inventing a new script.’
Shepherd has further provoked the Brown family by claiming this week that he had apologised to Mr Brown on the phone after Charlotte’s death.
‘I said: “I’m so sorry, Graham,” but he didn’t want to hear it and hung up. I’ve only spoken to him once, but he took the opportunity to tell me I would have a very bad time in prison.’
Mr Brown says this is a ‘complete lie’. ‘I have never spoken to Jack Shepherd,’ he adds.
‘He has never called me, never said sorry, and it’s absolutely disgraceful that he is suggesting this now.’
Katie adds: ‘There was never any phone call. None of us has ever spoken to this man.’
Learning that Shepherd was enjoying the high life in Georgia has been profoundly painful for Charlotte’s family.
‘While he was seeing the scenery in Georgia and visiting nightclubs, we were suffering the agony of the trial and being left with unanswered questions,’ says Vicky. ‘He received legal aid but has somehow managed to afford a holiday in Georgia visiting extravagant ski resorts, paid £15,000 of lawyer bills and also hasn’t paid back £50,000 in loans that he took out just before fleeing.’
Shepherd also upset the family by suggesting Mr Brown had used his position as ‘a civil servant of some influence’ to help bring the case to trial.
Mr Brown dismisses this claim as ‘utterly preposterous’. Indeed, he was so traumatised by his daughter’s death that he gave up his position as a population manager with the prison service to take on a part-time role collating prison statistics. ‘I was looking at promotion, but after the tragedy I couldn’t cope,’ he says.
‘I’m a Mr Nobody now. The idea that I had some sort of influence over the case is ridiculous.’
‘We knew in August that Shepherd had lodged an appeal, but we understood it wouldn’t be heard while he was still a fugitive,’ says Mr Brown. ‘So you can imagine our shock when it was granted’
Despite all the provocation, the family try not to waste too much emotion on Shepherd. All Charlotte’s father asks for is justice to be done — for Shepherd to serve the six-year sentence handed down in his absence at the Old Bailey. ‘I feel nothing for Shepherd. I simply have a strong sense that he needs to be in prison,’ says Mr Brown. ‘That’s where he belongs.
‘Charlotte has had her life stolen from her. God forbid this should happen to any other family.
‘He got six years for my daughter’s life. It doesn’t seem much to me, but objectively I can see it’s a fair sentence,’ says Mr Brown, who lives in Sidcup, South-East London, with his second wife, Audrey, and their eight-year-old daughter, Olivia.
It was on the first day of Jack Shepherd’s trial for manslaughter last July that the family learned that he had absconded from the country four months earlier. Three weeks into the trial, they found out he was conversing with his legal team via a chatline.
Relief at his conviction was short lived when they realised he wasn’t around to serve his sentence.
It was during the trial that Mr Brown first heard the mention of Georgia. ‘I think it was Katie who heard that Shepherd’s wife [whom he married just two months after Charlotte’s death] had told police he’d gone to Georgia.’
Following Shepherd’s conviction, Mr Brown expected the police and other authorities to step up the hunt for Shepherd — and for them to extend the search to Georgia.
Instead, he was disconcerted to sense a decided ‘lull’ in the proceedings. Indeed, there was no visible sign of any manhunt at all.
‘For three months, I thought: “They’re getting on with it, but we’ve not heard much.” But then I began to ask questions: “What’s happening? What are you doing?” The police assured me: “Trust us. We are following leads but we can’t say what they are. What can be done is being done.”
‘I was dismayed to learn that Shepherd’s passport hadn’t been taken away. But he’d attended all his pre-trial hearings. He wasn’t considered, in the words of the police, a flight risk.’
Last October, Mr Brown went to see his MP, James Brokenshire, Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who suggested a meeting with the Home Secretary.
Then, earlier this month, the family learned that Shepherd had been granted leave to appeal — and was receiving thousands of pounds in UK taxpayers’ money to fund the action.
Mr Brown has taken out a civil claim against Shepherd ‘just to make his life a little bit harder’. He is claiming £11,000 – the maximum he can
‘We knew in August that Shepherd had lodged an appeal, but we understood it wouldn’t be heard while he was still a fugitive,’ says Mr Brown. ‘So you can imagine our shock when it was granted.’
Mr Brown was determined to ‘up the temperature’.
He, Katie and Charlotte’s mother, Roz Wickens, met with Home Secretary Sajid Javid in Westminster on Tuesday.
‘The National Crime Agency was set up on a link and they said they’d been working all weekend,’ he says. ‘It felt like something was finally happening. You could sense the full might of the Home Office behind us.’
The very next day, over in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Shepherd handed himself in.
When Mr Brown finally took the call he’d been praying for, he was overwhelmed with emotion.
‘It was our police liaison officer. He said: “It’s good news — he’s been located — he’s in police custody in Georgia.”
‘My eyes welled up. It was a tremendous relief. Sometimes in life things happen and you find it difficult to speak. This was one of those times.’
If and when Shepherd is extradited, Charlotte’s family will be there to hear his case at the Court of Appeal. Mr Brown has been told Shepherd will also face charges relating to his absence at the manslaughter trial.
‘I’ve been told he could face a custodial sentence for this of up to 12 months,’ says Mr Brown.
He reveals he has also taken out a civil claim against Shepherd. ‘I was determined to do it just to make his life a little bit harder. I’m claiming the maximum I can in such a case — £11,000.
‘I don’t expect to see a penny of it from Shepherd, but at least he’ll get some county court judgments dropping through his door.’
Mr Brown, Katie and Vicky, think and talk all the time about Charlotte, the beloved daughter and sister stolen from them just over three years ago.
She is buried in a cemetery in Kent. Next to her grave is a wooden bench Charlotte’s family had made in her memory.
It reads: ‘Charli, you are never far away, you walk beside us every day. Unseen, unheard, but always near, always loved, always missed and forever dear.’
One goal unites them — to see Jack Shepherd serve his sentence and to give a beloved daughter and sister the justice that she deserves.