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Brother was a tragic victim of life

PUBLISHED: 18:00 02 May 2002 | UPDATED: 11:50 03 March 2010

FIGHTING back tears John Westgate's oldest brother today spoke of his sibling as a man who was a victim of the circumstances life dealt him.

Thomas Westgate felt compelled to speak out after listening to the court case of Zena Burton who last week admitted killing his youngest brother.

FIGHTING back tears John Westgate's oldest brother today spoke of his sibling as a man who was a victim of the circumstances life dealt him.

Thomas Westgate felt compelled to speak out after listening to the court case of Zena Burton who last week admitted killing his youngest brother.

She had strangled him with an aerial flex following an argument about a televised football match at their Felixstowe flat in September last year.

Though he admits John was not a good character and was prone to drunkenness and violence, Mr Westgate feels it is unfair that his brother has been portrayed purely as a domestic abuser who drove his partner to kill him.

"He was violent but they were both violent toward each other. I believe he was knifed several times," said Mr Westgate, who lives in Ipswich.

"He said he loved her (Zena) but there was a lot of violence in the relationship, from both of them. They thrived on confrontation.

"I don't think it should go unheard. He was not a saint but for it to be said he was the cause of his own death is unfair."

Mr Westgate, 50, only met his brother's girlfriend once and on that occasion both she and John had been drunk. And the last time he had seen John had been a year before his death.

The effects of the volatile relationship between his brother and Zena were visible to him.

"We were distant," Mr Westgate explained. "I had to hold my distance because he was doing too much wrong but I still had a place for him.

"I had seen him twice in two years. The last time was about a year before he died.

"He was ripped to shreds and coming round with scars on his face and arms. He wasn't the same fellow.

"Before his relationship with Zena he was never scarred up but every time I saw him he had been in hospital or had new marks to his face and arms.

"I tried to get help for him but he would refuse to go to hospital, to a drying out clinic. How can you help a person when they are like that?"

The full extent of the toll John's relationship with Zena had taken on him became apparent when Mr Westgate was asked to identify his brother's body. The person he saw was not the brother he remembered.

"I only knew it was him because of a tattoo on his neck," Mr Westgate said, with tears welling in his eyes.

"I couldn't recognise my own brother. I had to look at him, really look.

"He'd changed beyond all recognition in one year."

Mr Westgate believes John was in fear of his life and that at the time of his death had been looking to make changes in his life. A leaflet offering advice to victims of abuse arrived addressed to John only days after his death. He had tried to find work and always spoke of wanting to get back together with the mother of his children, who he loved dearly, a fact Mr Westgate believes shows a kinder and softer side to his brother.

"His feelings for his family have been completely ignored," Mr Westgate commented.

"He used to go and see his children at weekends. That's not something an uncaring person would do.

"He loved and respected his children. He had feelings for his children even though he wasn't living with them and to show him as such a bad person is wrong.

"He married when he was really young and always said to me that when his children were grown up he would like to get back with Liz. He wanted to get her back but that won't happen now.

"He tried to do a government course to be a forklift driver but he couldn't handle that and his drinking.

"He had hobbies with motorcycles and was always quite good at rebuilding them, although in the last stages he couldn't have been capable."

Though keen to show John in a different light Mr Westgate knows he cannot defend the drunken and abusive side of his brother's nature. However, he believes that John was not inherently bad and that it was the circumstances he had found himself living in and dealing with throughout his life that transformed his character.

"Originally he wasn't bad," Mr Westgate explained. "It's just the way life has turned him.

"He was taken away from our family when he was only a few months old and was kept by foster parents until he was about 12. They looked after him very well.

"When he came back to the family there was so much wrong it was a culture shock for him. He came from a background of having everything into hell.

"The trouble started almost immediately when he got home. His other brothers were giving him hell and doing different types of crime and he was stuck in the middle of it. That's what lead him to being the way he is."

"He was not as good a man as he should have been," he added, "but it was because of the circumstances.

"In normal circumstances he'd have been okay but there was no way out for him."

Mr Westgate experiences pangs of guilt for having not been around to steer John in the right direction when he was younger, having spent 15 years living in Germany.

He said: "I will remember my brother with sadness. This should never have happened.

"If I'd been here when he was younger I could have given him guidance. I've been back in Ipswich for ten years but it was all too late. In some ways I feel guilty about that.

"I'm the oldest brother and he was the youngest and would never have expected this to happen.

"Had I known I would have tried to do something about it."

Last week at Norwich Crown Court Zena Burton admitted killing John last year and pleaded guilty to committing manslaughter by reasonable provocation. She will be sentenced on May 24 but Mr Westgate fears that because she has been painted as the victim in her relationship with his brother she will walk free.

"It's not justice in my eyes to make her look good so she can walk free," he said. "They were both as bad as each other.


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