Tributes to Haywards Heath murder victim: ‘He really was one in a million’

Friends have shared their memories of James ‘Jimmy’ Fitzgerald, after a life sentence was handed to the man convicted of his murder.

Craig Ghochani, 29, showed no emotion as the jury convicted him of killing Jimmy at Lewes Crown Court last Monday (September 30).

James 'Jimmy' Fitzgerald was tragically killed four days before Christmas last year

James 'Jimmy' Fitzgerald was tragically killed four days before Christmas last year

Read more here: Haywards Heath murder trial: Man sentenced to life in prison

‘One in a million’

‘A selfless person who would light up any room with his colourful personality’. These were the words of Jimmy’s next of kin Lorraine Blunden and close friend James Phago.

Paying tribute to the 29-year-old, who was tragically killed four days before Christmas and nine days before his 30th birthday, the pair said just saying his name made them smile.

Jimmy had a great heart – he was a selfless person – he would help anyone that he could.

Lorraine Blunden

“He was always happy about something, there was always a smile on his face,” said James, 31.

“If he was sitting here now – everyone would know – he was full of life. His voice as well, there was no other like it – you could hear him from a mile off and you would smile.

“He was the life and soul. There are too many good memories – I could sit here talking about them for hours.”

Lorraine, 35, commented: “Jimmy had a great heart – he was a selfless person – he would help anyone that he could.”

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Despite going through the tragedy of losing his mum Judy to cancer in 2017, Jimmy did not let this get him down – nor other challenging times, said the pair.

He became his brother Ricky’s full-time carer when their mum passed away.

“Ricky suffered a brain injury in 2011, and when Judy passed away, Jimmy took this role on,” said Lorraine.

“It was always the three of them,” added James.

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“They had an amazing bond – she was their rock. When she passed away that bond was fragmented and it left Jimmy supporting his brother full-time, he was Ricky’s lifeline.”

More than 100 people attended Jimmy’s funeral, the pair said, and it was overflowing inside and outside. Women laid pink roses on his coffin and men laid their pink ties.

Jimmy had incredible enthusiasm, said the pair, and brought this to his door-to-door sales job.

“He was really good at it and he really enjoyed it,” said James.

“He also opened his own window cleaning business – he made his own business cards and went door-to-door – he loved it.”

Jimmy liked fishing and banger racing, Lorraine and James said. He also liked fixing things – whether it be a car, motorbike or phone.

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The pair said ‘no amount of justice can ever bring back their Jimmy’.

They added: “The piece of us all that we lost that day simply cannot be replaced. He really was one in a million.

“The last two weeks of this trial have taken a lot out of all of us, including the defendants and their families.

“This tragic event has affected everyone, divided families and friendships and changed lives. We must now take a stand against knife crime.

“We would also like to say thank you to Sussex Police, in particular, the liaison service provided, which has been a constant comfort to us during this difficult time.”

‘We want to say a big thank you’

In the wake of Jimmy’s tragic death, a memorial fundraising page has been set up by Lorraine and James to help recover outstanding funeral costs.

It reads: “It was not easy to pick the boys up after Judy died, and it has been hard trying to maintain the support to Ricky.

“There have been some amazing people in our community that have given support to Ricky. Due to Ricky’s brain injury it has been hard for him to fully understand, in regards to funeral expenses and what needs to be done to get Jimmy’s funeral paid off and laying Jimmy to rest with his mum.

“Thanks to the community and loyalty of friends and Jimmy’s nephews Kai and Sherman who have previously already raised an amazing £2,353.

“Unfortunately there is still some balance outstanding, the amount on the GoFundMe also includes the outstanding funeral costs and the cost of a head stone, as we could never afford one for Judy.

“We can finally put mother and son together and create a place that Ricky can finally have some relief that his ordeal is over.

“Even the smallest donation will push us closer to the target.”

People who would like to make a donation can visit the GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/f/jimmy-fitzgerald-memorial.

Kind donations from the community have also helped pay for a memorial bench in Barn Cottage Green. James set up the Facebook fundraising page which raised £1,000 for the bench.

Lorraine said: “The community have had a massive part in this – we want to say a big thank you to them – to all those who have supported us and Ricky since Jimmy passed – it has made a massive impact.”

Plans to educate youngsters on knife crime

While speaking to this newspaper, Lorraine and James revealed plans for a campaign or charity group that focuses on educating young people about the consequences of knife crime.

James said: “It is in the early stages – we want it to be a campaign, charity, or group set up volunteers that does something about the issue of knife crime.

“It would be about educating youngsters and families – and getting to them early enough.

“I feel it is quite important, in wake of all this, to start something in memory of Jimmy – whether it is a charity or group that focuses on youth crime and knife crime. As far as I know there is nothing like this.

“Knife crime is absolutely everywhere – there needs to be a focus on education and the grim reality in where it leads.”

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