Brother's grief over music festival asthma death

Rhys (left) and his brother Tom (right)
Rhys Murray (left) had an asthma attack when he was with his brother Tom (right) at the In It Together festival last year [Tom Murray]

While thousands are eagerly anticipating seeing Sugababes and Dizzee Rascal at this weekend’s In It Together festival in south Wales, for one family just the mention of the event is painful.

Rhys Murray, 16, died following an asthma attack at last year’s festival in Margam, Neath Port Talbot.

In recent weeks his brother Tom, 20, who lives a few miles from the festival’s Old Park Farm site, has been avoiding the area.

This year the festival has teamed up with charity Asthma + Lung UK Cymru in tribute to Rhys and to provide asthma help and advice at the site.

"I feel like as soon as I see the festival itself set up it'll just be an instant trigger factor for me," said Tom, who works as a school teaching assistant and teaches at a theatre company.

"Even in work today, we were in the staffroom and people were talking about the festival, the kids are all talking about how they're all wanting to go and obviously you can't tell them to stop because it's just a massive thing.

"It's just detrimental to us as a family and obviously affects me negatively on a daily basis."

Rhys (left) and Tom (right) as children
Rhys (left) and Tom (right) grew up together in Port Talbot [Tom Murray]

In It Together 2023, which was attended by over 100,000 across the weekend, was the brothers' first festival together and something they had been excitedly anticipating.

"Rhys was an enthusiastic music lover and just loved everything to do with music and performing," said Tom.

He said after arriving on the Friday they enjoyed the campers' party.

The following morning they woke to a hot day and headed into the main festival site before Rhys went off with some friends.

Tom was watching one of the bands when his brother's friend came to find him to say Rhys had had an asthma attack and was in a medical tent.

Asthma attacks kill three people in the UK each day and someone has a potentially life-threatening incident every 10 seconds, according to the NHS.

"I realised how seriously it was when I saw the condition he was in," said Tom.

"He was on the bed, he was quite disengaged with everyone in the room and he was very loose in his movements but he was glad to see me.

"He looked to me, he was quite scared and quite frightened, and the last thing he said was my name and that’s something that will stick with me forever... that's the last I heard of my brother."

Rhys looking at the sea
Rhys (pictured) loved music and performing, says his brother Tom [Tom Murray]

Rhys was moved to another field by road ambulance where an air ambulance was waiting but it was decided he was too unstable to make the journey by air.

"A radio was left on in the back of the ambulance when my brother was being worked on and from the front and I could just hear people saying ‘heart failure’ and ‘no pulse’ and they kept on working on him, trying to resuscitate him," said Tom.

"The ambulance driver looked at me and said ‘you don’t have to hear that' and just turned it off."

Tom said a decision was made to take Rhys to hospital by road ambulance and he and his cousin followed in a police car.

"He passed away on the way to hospital,” said Tom. "It’s a moment that's altered my life forever.

"My brother was honestly my best friend, he was an anchor in my life, he was the reason why I got up in the morning with a smile on my face, he was just everything a brother could have asked for and a man could have asked for in a best friend."

Rhys Murray
Tom says he wants to keep his the memory of his brother, pictured, alive [Tom Murray]

Tom said the festival coming around again was an agonising and constant reminder of his loss.

"People say to you ‘you don't realise how fast time moves until something happens as detrimental as this' - I'm just still in shock, I can replay that day over and over again every single day," he said.

"Although I'm OK here now speaking about it, every night I haven't gone without crying, I always cry every night."

He said the only things keeping him going were “keeping his spirit alive and making sure people still remember his name".

Rhys at a desk
Tom says his brother Rhys (pictured) was his best friend [Tom Murray]

Posters will be displayed around this year's festival that give the key steps to take when someone is having an asthma attack and advise when to call 999.

A video where a specialist nurse explains what to do will also be shown on the main stage screen.

Asthma + Lung UK said anyone with asthma who is attending a festival should:

  • Take their preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, even if they think their asthma is OK

  • Keep their reliever inhaler (usually blue) on them at all times just in case they start to get symptoms

  • Pack their asthma action plan, take a picture of it on their phone and share the plan with your friends

  • Take antihistamines if pollen triggers their asthma as hay fever can make asthma symptoms worse

  • Check where the first aid tents are on arrival

The In It Together festival team at Escape Records said the safety and security of its guests was "always our number one priority" and they were working to "highlight all the safety measures we have in place to ensure everyone has a happy, healthy festival".

A mural in tribute to Rhys
A mural in tribute to Rhys can be seen in Taibach, Port Talbot [Tom Murray]

Tom and his family have decided to get away from the town while the festival is under way and are taking a holiday together.

"It’s a thing we need to do as a family," he said.

He is thankful for the special memories he has of his brother, such as starring together in local productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Grease.

In the past year he has set up the Rhys Murray Foundation and through events has been able to pay for a mural of his brother in the town, his headstone and donated to charities Asthma and Lung UK and 2wish.

He hopes to give money to community drama groups but his ultimate aim is to open a performing arts school in Rhys’ name.

He said he was staying strong for their six-year-old sister.

"She still says to me, ‘when's Rhys coming back from heaven?’

"It's a conversation that we'll have to have eventually when she's older but she is aware that he's not here anymore."

He said coming to terms with life without his brother was an ongoing process.

“I miss him an awful lot, and there's not a thing I wouldn't do to have them back with me," he said.

“I know people saying there's loads of stages of grieving but I'm still just trying to process what's happened and I don't think I ever will.”