A MUM who endured unimaginable pain after her disabled son was beaten to death has urged parents to understand their kids’ vulnerabilities so they don’t suffer the same fate.
Bev Irving’s life was turned upside down when 24-year-old Lee was violently tortured over several days before being killed and dumped at the side of a footpath by thugs he thought were his friends in 2014.
The 49-year-old now wants to do everything she can to ensure no one else has to go through the heartache she has suffered for the last eight years.
Bev, who often spends the night by the side of Lee’s grave, said: “I want to protect people in my son’s name.
“If it’s the last thing I do, I will save people in Lee’s name.”
Bev hopes by sharing the story of her boy’s early childhood she can help mums and dads identify if their children are different too.
She believes opportunities to keep Lee, who had profound learning difficulties, safe were missed because his vulnerabilities were not recognised by the authorities and he was treated as an adult when he had the mental capacity of a child.
Bev told how Lee was born in 1991 in the West Denton area of Newcastle and grew up as one of four brothers alongside Joe, Charlie and Owen.
She described him as a “beautiful, perfect baby” whom she “absolutely adored”, adding: “I have never felt a love like it.”
As he got a little older, Bev said Lee started to empty “anything that opened” and often left the contents of their fridge all over the kitchen floor.
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He also smashed “every ornament” his mum owned, would tug the hair out of anyone who sat him on their knee, and regularly stripped his clothes off.
“He was like the world’s naughtiest child, but a loveable one as well,” Bev said.
“I was a wreck [thinking about] what he was going to do next.
“It got to the point I couldn’t take him into town.”
She then started noticing more serious behaviour, like launching his dinner across the tables in food courts to which “mothers looked at her in disgust”.
“I would defend his behaviour as by this point I knew something wasn’t quite right with him,” she added.
Lee started nursery in 1994 where he “caused chaos” but never spoke so “it was obvious something didn’t add up”.
Bev said it was a “nightmare” just getting him in each day, despite living across the road, so when he was due to start reception the school refused to take him.
He remained in nursery, learned Makaton sign language, had one-to-one support and “settled down nicely”.
But he was too far behind to move to mainstream education, so he started at Percy Hedley School, which caters for children with additional needs.
Years later in 2014, Lee, who was identified as having severe speech and learning difficulties, was befriended by James Wheatley.
The pair began spending time together at the home Wheatley shared with his mum Julie Mills.
Bev said Lee regularly disappeared for long periods, and she would sometimes be forced to report him missing to police and other agencies.
But she claims she was repeatedly told that Lee was an adult who was free to go wherever he pleased.
The horrifying reality was that Lee was being plied with drugs and abused by Wheatley, while his mum, girlfriend Nicole Lawrence and their lodger were present.
They used his bank card to buy “a watch, bed, tellies, and fridges” and sent messages to pals boasting about the nine-day bloodbath.
All Lee ever wanted was friendship.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb
Eventually, Lee was beaten so fiercely he died, and his body was wheeled in a pushchair and dumped close to the A1 in Fawdon.
He was found with a catalogue of injuries, likened to those seen in car crash casualties, including 27 rib fractures.
Outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, or Northumbria Police, said: “This has been a truly awful case and to watch the defendants show such little respect and remorse for Lee has been sickening.
“All Lee ever wanted was friendship.”
Wheatley was found guilty of murder and jailed for life with a minimum of 23 years behind bars.
Mills was caged for 10 years and Lawrence seven after both were found guilty for perverting the course of justice and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.
Wheatley’s lodger Barry Imray was also found guilty of allowing Lee’s death and landed a three-year prison sentence.
In 2017, Newcastle City Council published a serious case review which highlighted failings and missed opportunities to save Lee.
The report revealed that despite repeated pleas from family members, little was done to help Lee after he was targeted by Wheatley.
Bev has always insisted, no more so than in her latest warning, that the authorities failed to understand what it meant to be a vulnerable adult.