Why I forgive young driver involved in road crash in which my beloved daughter died: Father of girl killed during Northern Ireland holiday
A heartbroken father whose young daughter was killed in a road traffic collision just minutes after arriving in Northern Ireland for a holiday has revealed how he often thinks of the young man who was driving the other vehicle and hopes he has gone on to live his life to the full.
David Hulford (59) said that his daughter Michelle - who was 21 when she died, the same age as the driver is now - would have been the first to tell him to get on with his life.
In an inspiring interview, Mr Hulford described his daughter as "a gift" to her family and said that he, her mum, younger sister and three older brothers had all been inspired by her during her short life.
Speaking from his home in Luton last night, he revealed how Michelle had great faith in God and had "lots of hopes and dreams" to set up pre-schools in Africa. Despite the pain of his loss, he said he had learnt to deal with the heartache through his faith.
"Part of how I deal with it is my trust in God and part of it is being a pragmatist as well," he said.
"When you are faced with a loss that you can't get your head around, you can become an angry person and shake your fist at God, but where does that take you? Only to a very bleak place full of resentment and anger. I view life as a gift rather than a right and I see Michelle as a wonderful gift. We enjoyed her for 21 years, and what did I ever do to deserve such a beautiful gift for as long as I had it?
"I do wish I had her for longer. She changed our lives and I can only be thankful for that.
"Asking 'why, why, why?' doesn't take you anywhere but gratefulness takes you to a place where you can have peace of mind."
Michelle had just finished her second year at Bath Spa University, where she was studying dance and creative writing, when she flew to Northern Ireland to spend a week at the home of a fellow student on July 9, 2012. Her dad says that she was very excited about the holiday.
The accident happened shortly after she had been picked up by her friend's mum at the airport.
The car Michelle was travelling in was struck by a Land Rover and large trailer being driven by 17-year-old Stephen Hamilton, from Doagh. Four other people in the car, including a 14-month-old child, were injured.
At an inquest into the accident last October the driver Stephen Hamilton, from Doagh, told the court that there wasn't a day that goes by that he didn't think of everyone involved.
Mr Hamilton was towing a trailer for only the second time, having passed his driving test for trailers just days before, when he lost control and veered into oncoming traffic.
He told the coroner his inexperience led to him steering slightly left - unnecessarily - to give an oncoming van more room on the road.
As he corrected his position on the road, the trailer began to "snake" in a way he had never encountered before.
A combination of the trailer weaving unexpectedly and Mr Hamilton's sharp braking caused his Land Rover to veer into the path of the Audi in which Michelle was travelling.
Michelle's dad said that he regarded Stephen Hamilton as a victim that day too and wished that he could put the "awful" events of that day behind him and get on with living his life.
Mr Hulford said: "To me Stephen Hamilton was as much of a victim that day as the rest of us. He hadn't set off from his farm intending for something awful to happen.
"He was driving really carefully and took evasive action which made him swerve into the car Michelle was in.
"He has been living with that for years and is now the age Michelle was when she died and Michelle would have been the first to say to him not to beat himself up about it.
"She lived life to the full even though it was short. She had been to Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, and had dreams of setting up pre-schools there.
"She had lots of plans and dreams which she didn't get to fulfil but she would have been the first in line to say to him don't live less of a life because of this awful situation."
Mr Hulford described his daughter as a very special girl who had been excited about her trip to Northern Ireland.
He also revealed how she had got to see her entire family circle in the days before she died and how on leaving her at the airport their last words to each other were "I love you".
He said: "Before I put her on the plane to Northern Ireland she said to me that she had got the feeling that it was going to be a very special week and she asked me to pray for her.
"Her last words to me were 'I love you dad' and I said 'I love you Michelle' and those were our last words to each other. I was a single parent and when my marriage ended Michelle naturally took on a maternal role to her younger sister.
"I remarried nine days before the accident and it was just amazing that she saw me into a new stage of happiness in my life. She was really happy for us and also the day before the accident she was in Ipswich celebrating her grandparents' 60th anniversary, so not only did she get to see everyone at my wedding but she got to see all her older relatives at the party.
"It is just one of those things that doesn't make any sense. You look at Syria and even at what the people of Northern Ireland have suffered, and there are so many senseless things happening in the world."
Poignantly, Mr Hulford also revealed how Michelle had once told him if she ever died that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered on a waterfall.
Never believing he would ever be in the position to have to fulfil that wish, nevertheless that is exactly what he did. Together with her mother, brothers and younger sister he travelled to a waterfall in Wales where the family scattered her ashes. It has remained a very special place for the family to visit where Mr Hulford says "we can reflect on how amazing she was".
"Michelle was one of those people who seemed to build bridges and since her death we are all much closer as a family," he added. "It has been absolutely devastating for all of us but Michelle's goal in life was to live for others and to live pleasing God. She lived so unselfishly that she inspired us all to live like that."
The driver who caused the accident had been charged with causing the death of Michelle and grievous bodily injury to Maureen Grant and Rosemary Sands, by driving carelessly.
However, at a court hearing in December 2015, a prosecuting lawyer said that the case had been reviewed and the charges dropped. Previous courts had heard that two senior prosecuting lawyers had opted not to prosecute on the grounds that Mr Hamilton's driving "did not fall below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver".