‘‘Raw grief’’’ ... Meredith as a child; Mr Kercher is determined his daughter will not be relegated to the fringes of the story. Photo: Kercher family
It was a day unlike any other for John Kercher. His daughter Meredith was not answering her phone. He desperately wanted to hear her voice. A British girl had been murdered in Italy where Meredith was studying and Kercher was worried. He just wanted her to pick up the phone. His mobile rang. He answered it, and then he dropped it to the ground.
Brutally numbed, he could not even cry. He barely managed the words: ''Not my beautiful Meredith … Not my beautiful Meredith''. His world had just changed forever.
Kercher, 69, a journalist and author, has said relatively little since his youngest child, Meredith Kercher, 21, a University of Leeds exchange student in the historic Italian city of Perugia, was found semi-naked and dead. She had choked on the blood from some of her 47 wounds, in a murder that became an international sensation.
Photo: Kercher Family
The murder, in November 2007, led to a complex trial on which almost everybody had an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the alleged killers, as the courts and the media trawled through claims of demonic ritual, drugs and sex in the Umbrian hills, dragging reputations into the mud.
Meredith's flatmate, the American student Amanda Knox, 21, dubbed ''Foxy Knoxy'', and her then Italian lover and co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito, 25, were convicted and sentenced to 26 and 25 years respectively for the murder.
Another accused, Rudy Guede, 21, originally from the Ivory Coast, was also jailed.
Knox and Sollecito were freed almost four years later on appeal, with the court ruling that Guede was the sole killer.
John Kercher never accepted the single-killer theory and in subsequent years gave only selected interviews on the issue to avoid misreporting.
As a journalist he knew the media world and he distrusted it in terms of the widespread reporting of the case. He estimated last year that there had been at least 10 books, five television documentaries, a made-for-TV film about the case, along with saturation media coverage, particularly in Italy, the US and Britain. And he did not like a lot of it.
Five years on, the PR war enveloping the murder in Perugia - or trial by autobiography, as one newspaper called it - continues. There are reputations and money at stake. Knox reportedly received $US4 million for her book due next year. Sollecito is writing Presumed Guilty: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox. Among the principals in the case, Kercher is first in with his moving account of his daughter's life and death.
The significant theme of Meredith: Our Daughter's Murder and the Heartbreaking Quest for the Truth (Hodder & Stoughton), is Meredith as a victim and not, he says, as has been portrayed: essentially a player in a brutal, sex-laced murder story in which she happened to die, and from which people could earn fortunes from movies and books. The proceeds from his book will go to a foundation in Meredith's name.
Meredith was Kercher's favourite and there's a hole in his heart because she is not around any more, and his book is very much about that, too: a father who misses his dead daughter. He describes it as ''raw grief''.
The book, with a photo of Meredith, broadfaced, smiling and beautiful on the cover, traces her life as a child, a teenager and a young woman, as Kercher remembers the happy times.
But he also reveals in the book, to be published in Australia by Hodder on June 12, that he stares into a tunnel of confusion and anger partly because people seem to know the celebrity of Knox, but some cannot remember the name of the victim. ''Poor Meredith'', he once reportedly said, has been forgotten. That denial of victimhood for Meredith started during the trial when, Kercher says, Knox acquired the status almost of a celebrity . ''Raffaeli Sollecito's role in the case seemed to have been deliberately neglected, to allow more space for stories about Amanda Knox,'' he writes. ''And just as Sollecito seemed to have been sidelined, so too had Meredith been relegated to the fringes of her own story.
''Despite everything that has happened since that night in November 2007, it still seems as though nobody knows anything about the real Meredith, and my hope is that, through writing Meredith, I can share with the world something of the wonderful girl who was our daughter and sister. I also hope that this book might help to keep Meredith's case in the spotlight, and, in some small way, to keep alive the hope'' that her murder might be solved.
The case is not yet over. The Italian Supreme Court is expected, later this year, to rule on an appeal by prosecutors against the decision to overturn the guilty verdicts. There will be more drama and pain for the family. Then, a few months later, the books by Sollecito and Knox can be expected, with Knox's publisher flagging details not yet revealed about the case.
From the beginning, Kercher so much wanted to preserve his memories of the living, happy Meredith that he could not enter the Perugia morgue to identify her body. Her mother, Arline, went in instead. ''Your father's come all this way out here to see you, but doesn't feel he can,'' she said to Meredith. ''Then she had smiled, for the last time at our daughter. 'But,' she had whispered, 'you know what your father's like …'''
The family still celebrates Meredith's birthday, and they honour her on the anniversary of her death. But John Kercher has gone a step further. ''So Meredith'', he writes to his dead daughter, ''this book is for you, and all the people who loved and love you still.''