Memorial garden for Matthew Bradley killed in Liverpool hit-and-run is unveiled
In London's Kew Gardens, an American lime tree with heart-shaped leaves is growing in memory of Matthew Bradley -the talented young landscape architect from Co Antrim who was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Liverpool in November 2017.
Symbolising love, fidelity and justice, the basswood tree was planted by Matthew's colleagues at the Surrey-based company Landform, with whom he won gold at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show the previous May.
Now 15 months after his tragic death, plum tree saplings, acers, rose plants and other shrubs are beginning to thrive in the meditation garden Matthew designed at St Clare's Community Hall in Glenavy, Co Antrim.
It is opposite the graveyard where he is buried with his brother, David, who was knocked down in an accident near his home, aged five, in 1994.
At Tuesday's official opening, the garden was dedicated to all those in the parish who have lost children.
"Before Matthew died, we had been to the Hampton Court show and we sat by this lovely, peaceful water feature together for a while in silence," said Margaret Bradley, Matthew and David's mother.
"So, we decided to recreate it for him here. Matthew was asked to design the garden three years ago and he planned to build it with Donal, his dad. It was his ambition to come home from London and work with Donal after he had saved up to buy a house."
The serene space adjacent to the community hall is a fitting tribute to Matthew, who was 24 when he was hit by a grey BMW near the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool on November 3 while visiting the city with friends.
His father made an oriental-style pergola for the garden entrance and created five raised flower beds, one for vegetables that are used in catering for events at the hall, including funeral hospitality.
Both Donal and Margaret are active in the running of the facility, a bustling parish hub which has been refurbished to a very high standard with the help of funding by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
A kind-hearted, witty and good-looking young man, Matthew volunteered for many of the Glenclare Community Group's fundraising events for the centre.
This included modelling for a bridal fashion show and he had also been looking forward to working on the garden he designed.
"The last time I was talking to him, he said he couldn't wait to fly home from Guildford for Christmas," Margaret recalled.
"He was a home-bird. He wanted to know if there was something he could do; he didn't want to sit around the house doing nothing.
"He included us in whatever he was doing at home. He was our whole world. He'd come in and throw his arms around my neck and give me a kiss."
Sadly, Matthew didn't make it home that Christmas. At around 2.30am, the PSNI called Donal's mobile phone to break the news of the tragedy. As he didn't recognise the number, he cancelled the call, but they phoned straight back.
"They were at the front door at that stage; we hadn't heard them," Margaret said. "They gave us the wrong date of birth, so I said, 'that's not Matthew', and they said it had happened in Liverpool, but we said no, that he was in London.
"I phoned Rhi (Matthew's girlfriend Rhiannon) and said, 'please tell me he's with you', but she said she had dropped him off in Liverpool. I had to tell her he was dead. Then I had to tell the girls (his sisters, Claire, Roisin and Megan). I don't know how I got the words out."
The Bradleys then faced the ordeal of having to fly to Liverpool to identify Matthew's body in the morgue of the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
"His friends were there when we arrived," Donal recalled.
"They told us they had a meal and a couple of pints, then Matthew said he was going out for a smoke.
"He was away a while, so one of the boys phoned him, but somebody else answered. They told him to come outside."
Bystanders had rushed to help Matthew and paramedics worked on him at the scene, but, tragically, he died a short while later in hospital.
The driver of the grey BMW 330xi, Thomas Bimson (22) of Waterloo Road, Vauxhall, Liverpool, has pleaded not guilty to three charges: causing the death of Matthew by dangerous driving; by driving while unlicensed; and while driving uninsured.
Bimson's companion, Ibrar Saddique (34), of Sunnybank Lane, Pudsey, West Yorkshire was charged with aiding and abetting a driver who caused death by dangerous driving.
The Bradleys have delayed erecting Matthew's headstone until after the trial on March 20, which they will attend.
Margaret added: "Matthew had his whole world in front of him.
"He was planning a future with Rhi and he'd just got promoted - he was the youngest ever foreman at Landform.
"I remember he rang me and said: 'Mum, I got the promotion, but I don't want to stay here. In another year I'll have the deposit for a house'.
"There is just a big hole where he is missing," she said.
"With losing David, we had gone through the whole process already. Back then I was constantly reading books and looking for answers.
"With Matthew, I had already done all that. I feel anger, certainly, but we haven't our lost faith. It wasn't God driving the car."
Mr and Mrs Bradley, who have three grandchildren, have kept in close touch with Matthew's heartbroken girlfriend Rhiannon, a fellow landscape architect from Guildford, Surrey, who he met at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2016.
On the day Matthew was killed, he and Rhiannon had submitted a design for the Hampton Court show, which was built last year.
The Bradley family thanked the Kevin Bell repatriation charity for bringing Matthew's body home, and their supportive neighbours in Glenavy, their home for three decades.
Originally from Co Londonderry, the couple lived and worked previously in Belfast, Margaret as a physiotherapist and Donal as a landscape gardener.
Margaret added: "I like to talk about Matthew. People sometimes feel awkward when his name is mentioned but he was real to us for 24 years.
"I feel he is still around me. He will never leave us."