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History > 2008 > UK > Crime (IV)



Five fatal stabbings every week

despite Labour’s knife-crime ‘crackdown’


December 29, 2008
From The Times
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent


Fatal stabbings have reached a record level in England and Wales this year, with five people a week being killed with a knife or sharp instrument, according to figures published today.

The surge in fatalities comes despite a drive by the Government and police to reduce attacks involving knives, particularly in large urban areas.

In London alone the number of knife fatalities this year has jumped to 86 - a rise of one quarter on the figure for 2007.

Today’s figures from all except one of the police forces in England and Wales show that fatal stabbings have risen by almost a third since Labour came to power.

James Brokenshire, a Conservative home affairs spokesman who received the figures under freedom of information laws, said: “Knife crime is a scourge which claims too many lives and ruins countless others.

“Yet under Labour it has soared. The Government’s only response is short-term, ad hoc police operations, the results of which they spin and manipulate anyway to try to get a good story.”

He added: “Combating knife crime requires concerted action in the long and short term, not just spin. As well as deploying our police on to the streets as the norm we would introduce an automatic presumption of jail for knife possession. This may be harsh but it is absolutely necessary.”

Overall there have been 277 fatal stabbings in England and Wales so far this year - equivalent to five a week - and an increase of 19 on the total figure for last year. When Labour came to power, fatal stabbings were running at an average rate of 3.8 a week.

Over the past year there have been increases in the number of stabbings in London, Northumbria, West Yorkshire and Lancashire. In Northumbria and West Yorkshire fatal stabbings rose by a half to 15 and in Lancashire they more than trebled to 13.

In spite of the increases, as a proportion of all homicides, deaths caused by a knife or other sharp instrument have remained broadly stable for the past 30 years. Thirty-three per cent of homicides in 1977 were a result of stabbing compared with 35 per cent this year. The proportion peaked at 39 per cent in 1986.

Historically knife crime has been concentrated in certain parts of Britain. A study published earlier this year based on death certificates in the 24 years to 2004 showed Glasgow along with central Manchester and Vauxhall, Southwark, Bermondsey and Streatham in South London as the worst affected parts of the country.

In these areas people were at least four times more likely than the national average to be stabbed to death.

As part of attempts to tackle knife crime, police are focusing on ten areas in England and Wales where the problem is greatest. They are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.

The action programme involves funding of £4.5 million to provide activities for young people, more stop-and-search operations, and the increased use of airport-style security arches and hand-held scanners that police can deploy in hotspots including railway stations. The maximum penalty for possessing a knife has doubled from two to four years in prison, and there is a presumption that anyone caught with a knife will face prosecution in the courts rather than a caution from police.

Next month offenders convicted of possessing a knife who are given a noncustodial sentence face being ordered to carry out more intensive work in the community.

Under the scheme an unemployed offender who is ordered by a court to carry out community punishments such as renovating community centres, cleaning graffiti or clearing wasteland, will have to complete at least 18 hours in any one week. The maximum amount of work they can do in a day is set at six hours.

Criminals will be expected to wear high-visibility orange jackets bearing the words “community payback” when they are doing their work.

David Hanson, the Prisons Minister, says today: “They will now have to do at least 18 hours of work a week, and potentially be subject to a curfew that keeps them off the streets in the evening, and a probation appointment during the week on top of these hours.

“This means a significant loss of liberty and free time for all those unemployed knife offenders across the whole of England and Wales.”

The Ministry of Justice said that in June 318 offenders in England and Wales were given community punishments for possessing an offensive weapon. It was unable to give the figure for the whole year.




Among the victims

— Rob Knox, 18, actor, stabbed to death outside Metro bar in Sidcup, Kent, in May. Man charged with murder

— Arsema Dawit, 15, Eritrean schoolgirl, died from multiple stab wounds at a block of flats near Waterloo station in South London in June. Man charged with murder

— Shaquille Smith, 14, stabbed in the stomach while sitting on a bench near his home in Hackney, East London, in June. He and his sister were allegedly involved in an argument with a group of youths. Six teenagers charged with murder

— Muhammad Raja Shafiq, 50, stabbed to death in Burnley in March while trying to protect his teenage son from a gang of young men. Bilal Bhatti, 21, a student, given life sentence in September

— Paul Gilbert, a 22-year-old father, was chased through Newcastle upon Tyne while on a night out and stabbed. His attackers, twins Philip and Mark Craggs, were sentenced for murder and affray respectively

Five fatal stabbings every week despite Labour’s knife-crime ‘crackdown’, Ts, 29.12.2008,






Three children lose mother

after late-night bottle attack

Celebration ends in death
when glass shatters and slashes 27-year-old's neck


Sunday 28 December 2008
The Observer
Andy Russell


A young mother of three children under the age of seven was killed by a shard of glass after a beer bottle was hurled into a pub during Boxing Night celebrations.

Emma O'Kane, 27, collapsed in a pool of blood when the glass slashed her neck as she chatted with friends in the Queen Anne in Heywood, Greater Manchester.

Police said that a man who had been refused entry to the pub after an argument with bouncers a few minutes earlier had thrown a beer bottle into the crowded saloon. The bottle smashed as it hit a pillar near where Ms O'Kane was standing, and glass pierced vital arteries in her neck.

She was with her partner, Michael Shepherd, who was celebrating his 38th birthday, and four friends when she died. Ms O'Kane, who was employed as a barmaid at the pub, lived a mile away with Mr Shepherd and her three children, aged six, two, and one.

Yesterday, as the children played with their Christmas presents, the family spoke of their grief. Mr Shepherd said: "We had all gone out for a drink to celebrate my birthday and went back to the pub where Emma works as a barmaid for one last drink to end the night. I was in the snug room and Emma wandered into the main bar. Everyone knows her in the pub and she was saying goodbye to some of her friends. I heard something and then saw Emma on the floor. I just thought that she had fallen over. But then I realised that she was not moving and that her eyes were open and there was blood all over the place.

"She was staring up at the ceiling - I realised that it was really bad. One bloke went to help her and was holding her hand. People were shouting that someone had thrown something. I tried to revive her by holding her legs up in the air because someone said that would help. I ran for some tissue paper from the toilets and a girl held the tissue paper to her neck. But I think she had lost too much blood. I think she had gone there on the floor of the pub.

"The ambulance came and the paramedics tried to revive her on the way to hospital but it was too late. The person who did this is a scumbag. I wish it was him who was on the floor. He has taken away a wonderful woman."

Emma's mother Diane, 47, said: "Emma loved looking after people and planned to get a job in a nursing home. She loved her kids - they were everything to her and she was the best mum."

Ms O'Kane was taken to Fairfield Hospital in nearby Bury but she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Last night friends and wellwishers attached floral tributes to the front windows of the pub in Market Street in the centre of Heywood, located between Bury and Rochdale to the north of Manchester. Detective Superintendent Peter Jackson, of Greater Manchester Police, said: "A man tried to get into the pub and was refused entry. He became involved in an altercation with the doormen and threw a bottle into the pub. A shard of glass then caused a serious injury to this woman, who was nothing to do with the argument.

"This tragic incident has left this woman's family devastated. We are doing all we can to try and find who is responsible for this."

A 19-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody for questioning.

    Three children lose mother after late-night bottle attack, O, 28.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/dec/28/uk-crime-pub-death






Gangs are getting younger and more violent, Met chief warns

Children killing each other over 'trivial' slights and girls increasingly involved


Saturday 20 December 2008
The Guardian
Duncan Campbell
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Saturday 20 December 2008.
It appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 20 December 2008 on p1 of the Top stories section.
It was last updated at 00.05 GMT on Saturday 20 December 2008.


The country's leading police officer on gang culture warns today that gang members are getting younger and that they are resorting to lethal violence much more swiftly for the most trivial slights.

In an interview with the Guardian, Commander Sue Akers of the Metropolitan police identified other trends, including the emergence of a small number of girl gangs, and how women are being used to carry and conceal weapons.

Speaking at the end of a week in which Sean Mercer, 18, was convicted of murdering 11-year-old Rhys Jones, Akers said the only way to counter the threat of further violence was long-term investment that offers gang members a real alternative to crime. Mercer was 16 at the time of the killing.

"You can carry on with a stick, but you need a carrot at the end of the day," said Akers. "Some of the gang members go to prison and, when they come out, they get back into the gangs, because life doesn't seem to offer them much else."

The rise in teenage gang crime is turning into a priority issue for ministers. There have been 66 teenage murders in Britain this year, mainly knife attacks. London has had 30 murders; there were six in Scotland, five in Greater Manchester and four in Merseyside. The British Crime Survey is to start documenting the number of teenage murders separately. The government has also launched a new programme to tackle gang crime.

Akers, the spokesperson on gangs for the Association of Chief Police Officers and one of the Met's most experienced officers in the field, told the Guardian: "We're seeing young kids killing other young kids. We've seen 14- and 15-year-olds being killed over what seems the most trivial slights or just a glance. In the past, they would use violence over something like enforcing debts but now it's over this 'respect' issue, the smallest insult."

Gangs no longer split down racial lines but were formed as a result of territory, neighbourhood or shared interest. "There is less focus on ethnicity now," she said.

Akers said people must distinguish between youths who hang around together on street corners and may commit minor antisocial offences and the real gangs involved in violence and criminality. A growing number of senior officers advocate offering alternatives to gang life. She pointed to work being done in Glasgow, similar to the Boston Ceasefire project in the US. Police tactics can have an immediate effect, she said, citing the apparent success of stop-and-search in London. "But - and it is a big but - if there are no alternatives for gang members, then they just go back to it. It takes time and investment. We need to get really, really focused on the very young."

British gangs differ from US gangs in structure and hierarchy, she said. "Ours are more fluid and more fickle. Gangs disappear and fragment, they can be allies one week and not another." A small number of girl gangs had emerged in London, "and some gangs use women to look after their weapons". The vast majority remained young men and boys.

    Gangs are getting younger and more violent, Met chief warns, G, 20.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/dec/20/gangs-younger-violent






Man stabbed then shot dead in busy London street

Mark Townsend
Saturday 20 December 2008
11.53 GMT
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 11.53 GMT on Saturday 20 December 2008.
It was last modified at 09.16 GMT on Monday 22 December 2008.


A man has been stabbed then shot dead during a vicious daytime attack on a busy London street.

Police are seeking two men, described as black, who were seen running from Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell, where the 26-year-old victim was found.

He was pronounced dead at King's College Hospital shortly after the shooting at 1pm yesterday. Officers believe the attack may have followed a dispute over a drugs deal, which began inside a flat near the junction with Denmark Hill.

Detectives from Trident, the Scotland Yard unit dealing with gun crime in London's black communities, are appealing for witnesses. Police believe the victim was stabbed and shot at the address before staggering into Coldharbour Lane where he collapsed. Forensic teams combed the street yesterday as part of the murder inquiry.

    Man stabbed then shot dead in busy London street, G, 20.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/dec/20/london-knife-crime-brixton






Sex offender stabbed to death


Friday, 12 December 2008
The Independent


A convicted sex offender was found hacked to death in his caravan. He died after suffering multiple stab wounds to the head, neck and chest.

The victim was named as 52-year-old Andrew Cunningham. He was set upon by a baying mob who left him naked and covered in blood in his caravan, The Sun reported.

His injuries included wounds to his genitals, the paper added. Police confirmed the victim, found at business premises in Wandsworth, south London, had suffered "non-fatal injuries" to parts of his body.

The Metropolitan Police said the gruesome discovery was made at 8am on Wednesday at the Windmill Business Centre in Riverside Road.

"The man, believed to be in his mid-50s, was pronounced dead at the scene. He had suffered injuries believed to be stab wounds," the force said.

"The post-mortem revealed non-fatal injuries to other parts of his body but we are not discussing these further for operational reasons."

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola, leading the investigation, said: "We're currently at an early stage in our inquiries and are keeping an open mind about the circumstances of this man's death."

The Sun said the victim had been targeted by vigilantes for some time.

One man, who did not want to be named, said he worked at the unit opposite where the victim lived.

He said: "I spoke to him a few times and he seemed a nice enough fella. He drove the big six-wheeler trucks and lived on site as well. A pretty funny way of living I suppose, if you think about it, but I never thought anything of it until now.

"We got into work that morning and there were police everywhere and it was all cordoned off".

    Sex offender stabbed to death, I, 12.12.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sex-offender-stabbed-to-death-1063329.html






Teenage gang rape victim tells of ordeal


Friday, 12 December 2008
The Independent
By Tom Rayner, PA


A schoolgirl who was brutally raped and beaten by a gang of nine boys spoke today of how the ordeal has destroyed her life.

The 15-year-old said the ordeal in a tower block in Hackney, east London, has left her without her former friends, unable to leave her house for fear of crowds and "being punished for something I haven't done".

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I can't go out, I can't really do nothing.

"Everything I used to do, like going shopping and ice skating, I can't do that now because of all the crowds. I've got a fear of crowds and gangs of people. Everything has changed. I had to leave all my friends behind and school."

Last week, the nine gang members responsible were jailed for her rape, kidnap and false imprisonment.

Judge Wendy Joseph QC lifted an anonymity order and named the seven members of the gang led by O'Neil "Hitman" Denton. All were aged between 14 and 17.

The girl, who was 14 at the time, was dragged between three tower blocks in east London, raped, and beaten up by the Kingshold Boys gang.

The judge at east London's Snaresbrook Crown Court described their acts as "designed to degrade and humiliate and to send out a message to her and to others that no one messed with these boys".

In an interview with a Today reporter, she described the ordeal: "They pushed me off into the corner and they were saying again I were to do what they wanted and when I said 'No, I'm not doing it', they were threatening me with the knife and the other boy was kicking me.

"They were saying if you just do what we want, then you can go. You think about it - you think, well, they've got a knife, there's four of them, you can't really do nothing and if that's the only way, then you have to do it and so I done what they wanted.

"I was begging them and saying 'Please, I'm still a virgin' and they said 'You ain't going to be one any more, are you?"'

She described how on several occasions her attack was disturbed by members of the public.

When a female passer-by approached, she said: "They put a coat around my legs and were like 'If you ask for help or anything, we know people who know where you live and we'll come back for you' and so I kept quiet, but I was still crying and she could see me and didn't help me."

The young victim described how at one point she spotted an acquaintance, who she hoped would rescue her. Instead he joined in the assault.

She said: "After everyone had got what they wanted, they moved away and I saw this boy sitting on the stairs that I knew, so I went up to him and I was like 'Can you help me please?'.

"He just looked at me and laughed in my face and he asked me what I was doing here and I said 'I didn't want to be here, they brought me here'. And he said 'Ugh, you're a slag, you deserve to be here'."

She pleaded with him for help but she said his response was: "No, I can't, I'm with my boys now."

Describing the gang mentality and attitude towards women, she said: "Most of them don't have respect for any girls. A couple of them that I knew would hit girls and didn't think anything of it.

"When they're all in a gang, they do act a lot different because if you knew some of them individually, they seem so different and nice - until you see them in a gang and you think that's not how they really are."

Her attackers Denton and Weiled Ibrahim, 17, who admitted rape, kidnap and false imprisonment on April 30 last year, were given indeterminate detention orders and told they would have to serve a minimum of three years and eight months before becoming eligible for parole.

They will also have to remain "on licence" for life.

Yusuf Raymond, 16, pleaded guilty to the same charges, and received a nine-year sentence.

Six other defendants, who were variously convicted by a jury of the offences, were also dealt with.

Jayden Ryan, 16, was given eight years; Alexander Vanderpuije, 15, six years; Jack Bartle, 16, six years; and Cleon Brown, 15, six years.

The last two, aged 14 and 16, who still cannot be named, did not physically attack the girl but helped prevent her escaping.

The first was sentenced to two years and five months in secure local authority accommodation while the second got a three year and nine months detention order.

All the defendants were ordered to register as sex offenders indefinitely, apart from the youngest, who was told he would have to sign for three-and-a-half years.

    Teenage gang rape victim tells of ordeal, I, 12.12.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/teenage-gang-rape-victim-tells-of-ordeal-1063540.html






She 'loved Shannon to bits'. But she had her kidnapped.
Inside the dark, dangerous world of Karen Matthews

The plan to have her daughter abducted was extraordinary and bizarre.
Here, in a compelling dispatch, Tim Adams,
who sat through Karen Matthews's trial at Leeds Crown Court,
reveals how it also raises difficult and uncomfortable truths about
class, poverty, parenting and welfare dependency in Britain in 2008


Sunday December 7 2008
The Observer
Tim Adams
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Sunday December 07 2008.
It appeared in the Observer on Sunday December 07 2008 on p29 of the Focus section.
It was last updated at 00.33 GMT on Sunday December 07 2008.


Sitting in room 12 of Leeds Crown Court during the last month, the most shocking discovery was not that nine-year-old Shannon Matthews had been drugged and tethered in the flat of a man she hardly knew in the 24 days of her 'kidnapping', but the growing sense that those weeks were, in some respects, an improvement on the life she was used to.

In the time Shannon was held captive by Michael Donovan, who was variously described as an 'oddball' and a 'weirdo' and by his own counsel as a 'pathetic inadequate', she seemed to think of him as a 'more better' parent than her mother. To the people who should have loved her, Shannon had always been missing.

As Karen Matthews - Shannon's mother - and her accomplice, Donovan, tried to blame each other for the plan that led to the girl's incarceration, their most consistent emotion was self-pity. Matthews' stock response as her five differing accounts of events were unpicked by the prosecution was an indignant: 'It were nothing to do with me.' There were moments in her cross-examination when it seemed she would have to face up to the terrible thing she had done - risked her daughter's life for money. But in court she maintained her self-righteous sense of grievance to the end. She was, in her own mind, the victim in all of this. Donovan, toothless and apparently barely strong enough to speak, also claimed to have had no say in the matter: 'Karen told me I had to follow the plan.'

Shannon herself rarely seemed to cross her mother's mind. The prosecution never fully examined Matthews' motivation for the pretend abduction. The ransom money - £50,000 was the figure they had hoped for - was either to pay off debts or, as Matthews suggested others involved had said, to 'go on our holidays and buy stuff'. Watching her give evidence, though, there seemed much more to it than that: it was as if she had wanted the world to pity her as she pitied herself. The tears she gave to the TV cameras on the breakfast-time sofas were real enough, but they were never for her daughter, they were for the mess of her own life.

In court, Matthews gave away her guilt long before she took the witness stand. While the cruel details of Shannon's time with Donovan emerged - the handwritten list of rules that required her not to make a sound, the Temazepam (a drug she been forced to take for two years) to keep her compliant, the elastic strap that allowed her only to reach the lavatory - Matthews sat, arms folded, sullenly defensive; Shannon's terrors and deprivations were clearly, she believed, 'nothing to do with her'. She eventually broke down in tears in the dock not because she recognised the nightmare she had visited on her own daughter but because she was being made to carry the can for a plot she claimed involved many others, particularly her estranged partner, Craig Meehan (who was not called to give evidence). It wasn't fair. She still, she allowed herself to think, 'loved Shannon to bits'.

Shannon's invisibility in her mother's eyes grew more tragic to observe as the trial went on. Shannon's own account of events was not examined in court, partly in order to protect her, but also, apparently, because her understanding of the events was so confused by her sedation. Even to the end it seemed she could not believe that the adults in her life might have used her in the way that they had. When the police were banging on the door of Donovan's flat and she had been forced to hide in the base of his divan bed ('Stop it! You're frightening me!') she expressed the hope that it might be Meehan outside, her abusive stepfather, finally come to save her. She was definite in one of her judgments, though: on release, when asked if she wanted to return to her mother, she answered with a single word, 'No'.

Shannon was often left alone in Donovan's flat while he went to the supermarket or to the chemist's. She wrote letters that would never be sent, on paper he had given her. None of those letters was to her mother. One, addressed to her brother, read: 'I am missing you so much. I will ask Mike to take me to see you. Ok? I love you so much.' She had long since lost sense of who her father was. In another letter, she appeared to think of Donovan as her new dad, a more reliable substitute than either her estranged biological father, Leon Rose, or her stepdad, Craig Meehan , who had, she told Donovan, a habit when drunk of throwing beer cans at her head. 'When me and my dad go to Blackpool,' she wrote, describing Donovan's recurring fantasy of their new life together, 'we are going to take some pictures of Blackpool seaside and of us. Love Shannon and dad.' She became obsessed, it was said, with playing her Super Mario computer game, in which the hero eventually saves the princess from her dungeon.

June Batley, Donovan's neighbour from downstairs at the flats in Lidgate Gardens, Dewsbury, was the only person to have heard Shannon in the weeks of her incarceration. Batley three times noticed 'tiny footsteps' from upstairs, 'which we thought was a toddler, not a nine-year-old girl. No way'. Even when Donovan was out, Shannon, frightened or sedated, was obviously obeying his rules. She was tiptoeing around the flat so as not to raise an alarm. Just once Batley heard laughter, but again it sounded like that of a very young child. We thought, Batley said, he might have a new girlfriend with a little one. Other than that, for more than three weeks, Shannon was silent.

While she was locked away, however, the lost girl became very visible indeed. We got to know her school photograph as well as we knew those of our own sons and daughters. Like those familiar images of missing girls before her, the photograph was suddenly everywhere, as if by its repetition she would be kept alive.

It is not clear just how visible Karen Matthews thought her daughter would become in those weeks. Did she imagine the scale of the search? The candlelit vigils? The 75 detectives and £3.2m police operation? The 22 'body dogs' commandeered from Surrey to Strathclyde to sniff for clues? Like Michael Donovan, who had changed his name by deed poll to that of a favourite action hero from the science fiction series V, Matthews seemed to live half her life through one screen or another.

She had described a typical day to police as 'getting her children off to school [where they had their breakfast], watching Craig [Meehan] play on his computer games, surfing the net and watching Jeremy Kyle on TV'. It was suggested during the investigation that the plot of the pretend kidnap had been borrowed from the TV series Shameless. The police discounted that idea, though the coincidence was hard to ignore - the episode in which Liam, aged nine, was mock-'kidnapped' by his sister in the TV show had been broadcast the week before Donovan claimed Matthews hatched her plot. If the idea did not come from that drama, however, there is no doubt that it was influenced by the year's most enduring television narrative.

By the time that Shannon was reported lost, Madeleine McCann had been missing for 10 months. The story that had sustained headlines and bulletins and blogs for so long was beginning finally to disappear from the papers. There was a need for a new angle. Consciously, to some degree, Matthews supplied that need.

From the outset she knew that Shannon's disappearance would be compared with that of Madeleine. She knew that the public was primed for more sympathy, and she knew, too, how to generate it. Like Kate McCann, she clutched one of her daughter's cuddly toys. She talked repeatedly of her lost girl as her 'princess' (as Gerry McCann had done; 'I hope she is being treated like a princess, as she deserves'.) She invented a clairvoyant who had apparently contacted her to disclose a dream vision of Shannon's whereabouts (the police, intensely wary throughout not to be seen as Portuguese, duly followed the lead).

She also, whether by design or not, and with the help of innocent friends, planted the infectious idea that because Shannon was not middle class enough, or pretty enough, she was not getting the obsessive attention from the public that she deserved. Meehan commented on one occasion on the McCann case, saying: 'It's two families from two different backgrounds ... basically a poor family and rich family. To me, the McCanns are like celebrities in other people's eyes.'

Matthews, it seemed, had developed a jealous resentment of the McCanns for that tragic celebrity. She wanted to see how it felt. She began, her friends recalled, despite specific police instruction not to talk to the press, to relish her performances in front of the microphone. She got annoyed when Craig, 'my rock', was left out of the spotlight. In some senses, she seemed to see the search for Shannon as something that was happening on TV, not on Dewsbury Moor estate outside her front door. On TV she looked like something she had failed to be: a caring mother.

During the search, she went to stay with her friend, Natalie Brown. Most of the time she was just normal, 'making cuppas, having a laugh', Brown recalled. But when news about Shannon came on the television, her mood would change. On one occasion, when Shannon's school uniform photograph appeared on the news, Matthews turned to her younger daughter and said, 'Look, Shannon is on TV! She's famous!' 'She's not famous,' Brown reminded her. 'She's missing.'

With the media anxious for the opportunity to present the two iconic photographs alongside each other - Madeleine and Shannon - a comparison between the two girls quickly became current. The two 'tragedies' were inevitably debated in terms of class. The lost girls became symbolic of Britain's divided society.

This mostly insidious argument - that Shannon was being neglected by the press because of where she came from, that her parents were being judged for their lifestyle (Matthews had seven children, it had emerged, from five fathers) - became the means to get her story on to the front pages. Shannon filled the Madeleine-shaped hole, just as Matthews had apparently hoped she might.

Criticising the McCanns for their campaign had by then become a recognised media blood sport. Commentators tried to outdo each other in callousness. Novelist Anne Enright celebrated her Booker Prize win by counting the ways she loathed the McCanns. Shannon's disappearance offered up a new way to despise the couple.

Beatrix Campbell led the charge in the Guardian. 'Karen Matthews has acted appropriately throughout,' she wrote, on the occasion of Shannon's release, before Matthews had been arrested. 'She was waiting for Shannon at home; she contacted the police as soon as she had exhausted all the obvious locations. And yet, our eye is drawn to her poverty, numbers of partners, cans of lager going into her household. Everything about Ms Matthews' life has been up for scrutiny.'

The culmination of this intrusion, in Campbell's eyes, was that Karen and Craig had 'been subjected to a Today programme interrogation that appeared to position the mother as the perpetrator: Sarah Montague asked her seven times about her lifestyle. Her patronising preoccupation was how many men there have been in her life, not her judgment about them. Has any other apparently blameless mother been so sweetly assailed?'

By contrast, Campbell claimed, the McCanns' 'resources - money, looks, religion, organisation, focus (all a function of class)' - had been mobilised 'to protect them and to obscure the question of culpability'.

Campbell's argument may not have been true - can any couple ever have been subjected to more media scrutiny about their lifestyle than the McCanns? - but it appealed to the class warriors on the blogs. The McCanns were traitors to their working-class roots, with their medical careers and their aspirations for their children and their Mark Warner holidays. Karen Matthews, who had never worked a day in her life, became an unlikely role model for working-class solidarity.

It would be pushing the sophistication of Matthews' scam to suggest she had been aware in advance that these politically correct arguments would be made on her behalf - though, having conned the social services and the benefits office in the past, she was probably well versed in the possibility. But if she did not explicitly invite the suggestion of tragic inequality, she nevertheless seemed quick to exploit it: a few days after the argument had been first broached, an email from Meehan's computer was sent to the Find Madeleine appeal fund, demanding that money be shared with Shannon's less starry campaign.

For those who felt moved to eulogise her in the press though, Matthews was the real thing. Kate McCann - under instruction from criminal psychologists - had not cried during her televised appeals. Matthews, however, couldn't seem to control her emotions at all. She looked like she had been up all night, every night. She donned a shapeless T-shirt for her daughter. There was no backdrop of Praia da Luz and its whitewashed villas; there was Dewsbury Moor on a dark and wet Wednesday. She was, as many commentators observed, 'authentic'. This was what maternal anguish should look like: raw-eyed, unkempt, clawing at her face, crying to the cameras. Except, of course, it wasn't.

There has been a lot of outrage, some of it justified, in recent weeks, directed at social workers unable to see through the calculated deceptions of parents who abuse their children. The case of Baby P ran in parallel to that of Shannon, a more horrific shadow. Occasionally, in the way of these things, the two stories seemed to merge on the news and in the public mind. It has subsequently been proved that as with the mother of Baby P, Karen Matthews was well known to social services but no sustained action was taken to save her children from her.

One of the ironies of the Matthews case, in this light, is that it has given a brief insight into just how difficult the job of a child protection officer might be. Matthews not only duped her social workers over the years, she duped the entire media and the whole country, who scrutinised her every move for more than a month. Channel 4 Dispatches made a documentary in her house during the weeks of the hunt. Those same observers who so roundly condemned the Haringey case workers were completely suckered by her lies. And you could begin to argue that they were led astray for some of the same reasons: an ideological refusal to judge anyone in challenging circumstances, or to trust instinct; a determination to give a mother the benefit of any and all doubt.

By this latter argument, just because Matthews had, by the age of 30, seven children by five fathers without any notion that she might support them through her own efforts, did not mean that her fitness as a mother could be questioned in any way at all. When family members - her parents and her sister - alleged that there was violence and abuse in her home and that they had feared for the safety of her children this, too, was apparently to be respectfully ignored.

When Sarah Montague dared to put some of these concerns, delicately, to Matthews and Meehan on the Today programme she was vilified for her 'middle-class snobbery'. Lyn Costello, co-founder of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, said: 'The question asked of Karen Matthews about the numbers of her children and their fathers is very typical. How is that in any sense relevant to what has happened to Shannon?'

As it turned out, watching in court, it seemed very relevant. It was the kind of question that, if asked long ago, could have begun to expose Matthews' history of neglect of her children - the tales of plastic bags taped to them for nappies, of dirt caked like concrete to their feet, of their systematic drugging, and repeated violent threats to their various fathers to leave and to take the children too. It was the kind of question that might have led to more determined intervention once the social services psychological report had concluded Matthews 'always put her own needs above those of her children'. Such questions may be ideologically unpalatable, they may even be middle class or snobbish, but they can't afford not to be asked. Matthews' 'lifestyle' was her choice, and to a certain degree that of her partners, but you can be certain it was not her children's.

One of the things that had been most striking sitting through the trial was the sense that Matthews had never remotely had to come to terms with the consequences of any of the choices she had made in her life. She was not used to being judged; she appeared to have no remorse; just a childish sense of the unfairness of her predicament.

Her body language was borrowed from the daytime talk shows she rarely missed. She carried herself in court just as she would have done had she been on Jeremy Kyle's stage with a caption underneath her reading 'FIVE MEN LEFT ME WITH THEIR KIDS'. She could act the part of a grieving parent for the cameras, but elsewhere she seemed to have no idea what would be appropriate to the role.

These lapses were evident from the beginning. On the morning after Shannon's reported absence when the family liaison police officer came round, Matthews had started dancing to the jingle on his ringtone (this was a theme - in the police car on the way to see Shannon after her release, she asked the officers not a single question about her daughter's condition, or the facts of her discovery, but wondered if one of them could 'bluetooth his ringtone to her'. The track in question: Gnarls Barkley's 'Who's gonna save my soul, now?')

While neighbours helped to organise search parties, she had joked about one police officer's physique, how she 'wouldn't mind taking him upstairs'. She had the family liaison officer, Detective Grummit, (and his partner Detective Cruddas) run various errands, including taking Meehan to a computer shop to get some new games for his console. At Natalie Brown's house she argued and drank and 'play fighted' with Meehan 'as normal'. What was her mood? Brown was asked. 'It was just like she was a little child,' she said.

Both Matthews and Donovan seemed to have been systematically infantilised by their lives. Donovan had been bullied and sent to special schools. When asked to describe anyone in the dock he generally began by suggesting, 'he were taller than me'. His cocktail of anti-depressants and muscle relaxants and tranquillisers had left him unfit for any work. Before his young daughters had been taken into care, it was said that they had been looking after him. He had given up his double bed for Shannon, while he slept in his own daughter's bunk bed. He was found by police officers in the foetal position under the divan. Like Matthews he didn't appear to understand any of the ordeal he had put Shannon through, but he knew who he felt most sorry for: he seemed outraged that police officers had bumped his head while making the arrest.

The police officer in charge of the case Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan branded Matthews as 'pure evil' when the verdict was announced. It seemed a lazy, populist thing for a senior police officer to say and, whatever it might mean, the description didn't fit. Matthews seemed rather someone who, having never been made to take responsibility for anything in her life, had no sense of any duty of care. She lived in that uncomfortable gap between public and private space exploited by the talk shows; she had taken the overwhelming frustrations of her personal life and found a way to make them national news. It was easy to present her as a representative of a feckless underclass, a broken society, a generation of parents only concerned for their own childish emotions.

During the course of the investigation, Dewsbury itself had been made to stand for all of those things as well. It was one of those white working-class postcodes where bad things seemed to happen. It had the highest BNP vote in the country ('the jewel in our crown', Nick Griffin called it). The Dewsbury Moor estate was not the best place in the world to live, its impoverishment of opportunity was no doubt a factor in Matthews' behaviour, but even so, others seemed to manage it much better than she did.

Julie Bushby, her friend, had organised the campaign to find Shannon. She represented the possibility of a different kind of community. With her volunteers at the Moorside residents association, Bushby organised family events for the estate, did day trips for the elderly. In the first days after Shannon's disappearance, it was Bushby who kept the community house open, kept the kettle on. She did a whip round to get some torches, £165 worth, to help with the search, and they got Asda to donate 24 T-shirts on to which she ironed the question 'Have you seen Shannon?' They begged a photocopier from a copyshop up the road and had leaflets printed. Bushby negotiated the complications of a charity account for the money they raised, got the estate out for a march, and then a candlelit vigil. They had been developing the idea to plant trees and flowers in Matthews' garden for her missing princess, but Shannon was found first. Dewsbury Moor was a needy place, like many others, but it wasn't all broken.

Looking for clues to the idea of Dewsbury, in breaks from the trial, I re-read Stan Barstow's novel A Kind of Loving, written in 1961 and set in Barstow's native town. The novel, if you remember, described the fall-out of the culture of shame of the late Fifties before the shameless 'permissive society' took hold. Barstow's narrator, Vic Brown, gets a local girl, who he's not sure he loves, pregnant and, chucking away his hopes for himself, vows to stand by her, to make an honest woman of her. It was, for better or worse, the last moment when such social strictures applied in Dewsbury, and Barstow did not particularly mourn them.

With the story in mind, though, Matthews' life looked for a while to me like the extreme fall-out of that sudden collapse in values, of ideas of propriety and duty that disappeared along with the mills and the industry in the area. Not one of the fathers of her children had ever thought to make an honest woman of her. 'They'd all,' as she complained, 'left me.' Shame was not a part of her life as a result. No politically correct person, or social worker, or benefits officer, would judge her lifestyle choices, but pride and self-esteem or any other adult value weren't part of it either.

The most plausible of Matthews' many explanations of the whole tangled abduction plot was that she had promised Donovan in a drunken moment at a funeral that she would move in with him. She didn't love Meehan any more, she thought, and she had wanted him to leave. He had been treating her badly and was - as was later suggested in the court case for which he was convicted of possessing indecent images of children - viewing those images in her presence, or in the presence of her kids.

Anyhow, she had needed the children out of the way while she sorted her life out. She always, it seemed, wanted the children out of the way to do that. When it came to it, though, when she sobered up, she felt differently about things: perhaps Meehan wasn't so bad, perhaps 'Uncle Mike' Donovan was weird. Shannon was already out of the way, though, when she bottled it, and so the moneymaking scam emerged. Why not?

On the day before the verdict against Matthews and Donovan was announced, the Lancet produced a report into child maltreatment in developed countries. Every year in Britain, it was suggested, one million children are subject to abuse, which is defined as either 'hitting with an implement, punching, beating or burning'; while at least 15 per cent of girls, and 10 per cent of boys, are exposed to sexual abuse - which 'ranges in severity from being shown pornographic material to penetrative sexual abuse'. Our overwhelming anxiety about headline cases such as Shannon's and Baby P's masks these truly horrifying facts. Addressing them, though, involves asking some of the same hard questions.

It is not enough to conduct witch-hunts against child protection officers who are faced, as the Shannon case reveals, with making judgments daily that we would find impossible to make ourselves. It is the framework of those judgments that needs examination. It is not right either to lump every individual in a problem postcode into an underclass. Child abuse is not a class issue. But parents living in poverty who want better for their children are not helped by political attitudes that protect at every turn those who take no responsibility for their lives. No parent's 'lifestyle choices' should be exempt from scrutiny if they are clearly risking the welfare of their child.

Frank Field, who as a constituency MP has been engaged in these issues for a working lifetime, commented with reference to these cases, that we are, as a result of family breakdown of the extreme kind seen in the Matthews case, facing a social crisis in parenting 'every bit as dramatic as the economic recession we are now entering'. Parents are no longer 'made aware by society of what is expected of them and what the community will contribute'. Karen Matthews, certainly, was never asked to confront those facts. Her daughter was forced to live with the consequences.




From kidnap to court

19 February 2008 Nine-year-old Shannon Matthews disappears after a swimming trip with her school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

21 February More than 200 volunteers join police in their hunt for Shannon.

1 March Karen Matthews issues an emotional appeal for Shannon's return on the eve of Mother's Day.

14 March Shannon is found in the base of a divan bed with a relative of her stepfather, Michael Donovan, at his home in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire.

17 March Donovan charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.

7 April Karen Matthews arrested in Dewsbury on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. The next day she is charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice.

4 December Karen Matthews and Donovan are found guilty of all charges and warned they face 'substantial' jail terms when they are sentenced.

    She 'loved Shannon to bits'. But she had her kidnapped. Inside the dark, dangerous world of Karen Matthews, O, 7.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/dec/07/shannon-matthews-kidnap-trial






Death threats, intimidation and attacks, the price of being a 'grass'

Sir Ian Blair left the Metropolitan police citing neighbourhood policing and a fall in violent crime as his legacy.
One mother who turned whistleblower tells a different story, writes Sandra Laville


Saturday November 29 2008
00.01 GMT
Sandra Laville
This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday November 29 2008 on p20 of the UK news section.
It was last updated at 00.06 on November 29 2008.


The pictures in the hall of a smiling toddler and a fashionable teenage boy are the only evidence that Sally and her son ever lived as a normal family.

In the last two years the boy in the photographs, a particularly vulnerable young man who suffers from autism, has been forced to leave his home, suffered a mental breakdown and had to abandon his education as a result of his mother's decision to do the right thing in a culture where police officers are routinely met with a wall of silence as they tackle gun and knife crime.

Sally (her name has been changed) has been left to live among a gang who repeatedly bullied and targeted her son. She has suffered violent attacks, constant intimidation and death threats after telephoning the police when she discovered her son was storing a firearm in his bedroom.

Finding the weapon helped detectives convict two men for murder and track six other shooting incidents, all of which involved the gun. "They would never have found this weapon without me," she said. "But I feel like I've been treated as a criminal." Terrified for her life after receiving death threats she was told by one officer: "Don't worry. They've never shot a mother yet."

Sally's son was one example to add to the growing evidence that younger teenagers living in inner-city areas where street gangs prevail are being intimidated into storing firearms by older hoods.

The government has responded with a three point action plan against gun crime, including tougher punishments for those who force minors to store guns.

To tackle witness intimidation the Home Office formed the National Witness Mobility Service to "arrange the timely and effective relocation of witnesses living in social housing", and teams are also in place to identify and help young people at risk of being sucked into gang culture.

But Sally's story suggests the policies are not feeding down to the grassroots. It was her son, who had a mental age of 11, who was arrested and charged, while the older man who gave him the weapon remains at large.

Sally was expected to give testimony against her own son in public gaze and despite asking to be moved from the area remains at her address.

It was one morning two years ago that her son left for school telling her: "Mum, whatever you do, don't look in my room."

Already concerned at the bullying her son was suffering at the hands of gang members and aware the autism made him more vulnerable, she went to his bedroom where she discovered a large bundle, wrapped in a sock and hidden in a rucksack. Inside she found a black handgun and ammunition.

It had been in the house less than 24 hours. Her son confessed that he had been called out the night before to meet a gang member who ordered him to store it. As text messages on his mobile phone revealed, the same man had been intimidating him for months.

"My son didn't know it was a gun," she said. "When I opened the bundle I was just in shock. My son has a mental health worker because of his autism. She told me to phone the youth offending team."

Within an hour a detective called her to say his officers would kick down her front door to get access to the firearm. "I said please don't do that, I'm on my way home. He said he was going to arrest my son, and I said he has special needs, he has a mental age of 11, he always comes home, please don't arrest him at school, he will come home."

A few hours later the school rang to say her son had been taken from his classes and arrested. "That was the end of his education. He never did his GCSEs and has had no education since," his mother said.

The boy spent that night in a police cell before appearing in court the next day charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition.

In a statement seen by the Guardian the teenager provided information to detectives. He denied knowing there was a gun in the bag, and said he had been told to look after it by someone who regularly bullied and intimidated him. A property was raided but no one else was charged in connection with the discovery.

Police and crown prosecutors decided that it was in the public interest to charge Sally's son. They acknowledged the danger he was in and placed him a safe house but she remained in the area and in the weeks that followed the intimidation and threats began.

On the day of her son's appearance in a crown court Sally received two calls on her mobile at 7.30am. "A man's voice said 'you are going to die ... bitch'." She informed the police who said they would flag her address up as sensitive.

A DVD film of rappers singing about killing anyone who grasses was posted through her letterbox, her car was trashed with concrete blocks, she was threatened repeatedly and asked to reveal where her son was, and one of his friends was stabbed to frighten him into giving away the boy's whereabouts.

"I was going through all this and everyone kept saying my son was going to prison. I said he is not going to prison. He knew nothing about it. There was no DNA on the gun, he was bullied and frightened."

Charges against her son were dropped when she refused to give evidence in court. "If he had been an obnoxious unruly boy with a criminal history it would be different," she said. "But I knew he was being bullied, I knew they had been coming to my house threatening him. He was not the criminal."

Shortly after the case he suffered a mental breakdown. On the wall of the bedroom in the safe house he had scrawled: "Someone please help me, get me out of here."

Today he is still unable to return home and suffers from deteriorating mental health. In a statement he said: "Before this happened I really loved going to school. I'm not allowed to go to school now, and I have received no education whatsoever since arriving [at the safe house]. It has been very difficult for me."

Recounting how he was involved in storing the weapon, he said: "When I got home I did begin to panic about what might be in the bag. I was arrested the following day. I told police who had given me the gun but as far as I am aware he has not been arrested. In fact people just keep calling my mum asking where I am and what I have said to police."

A police source said the issue of rehousing witnesses was complex and far from perfect. He said temporary accommodation was often offered as a first resort, but that could mean bed and breakfast rooms which not everyone would accept.

"In a perfect world we would have a number of suitable flats available so that we could move people quickly into suitable accommodation. But it's not a perfect world."

He said officers were now trying to work with Sally to find her a suitable new home.

    Death threats, intimidation and attacks, the price of being a 'grass', G, 29.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/29/ian-blair-knife-crime






Doctor alerted police to 'distressed' mother hours before child killings

• Woman, 21, sectioned under Mental Health Act
• Social services launch inquiry into family's case


Friday November 14 2008
00.01 GMT
Helen Carter and Sandra Laville
This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday November 14 2008 on p4 of the UK news section.
It was last updated at 08.30 on November 14 2008.


The family of a baby and his two-year-old brother who were stabbed to death at home expressed their complete devastation yesterday at the loss of their "beautiful, innocent" children.

A senior police officer described the scene inside the home in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, as "something no human being should ever have to see in their life". Police and ambulance crews who attended the house have been offered counselling.

The boys, Romario Mullings-Sewell, two, and his three-month-old brother Delayno, were discovered at 6pm on Wednesday, a few hours after a family doctor had called police to express concerns at the erratic behaviour of their mother, Jael Mullings. The brothers had single stab wounds to their abdomens.

As Mullings, 21, was arrested on suspicion of murder and sectioned under the Mental Health Act yesterday it emerged the family was known to social services, though the children were not on the at-risk register. The admission that the family was on the radar of social services is likely to once again focus attention on the efficiency of child protection measures in the wake of the death of Baby P in Haringey, north London.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was assessing whether to launch a full inquiry after it was contacted by Greater Manchester police. The IPCC is already to investigate whether two officers who called at the house following the doctor's telephone call could have done anything to prevent the deaths.

Teddy bears and floral tributes were left at the house yesterday as neighbours and friends struggled to understand what had happened. Melissa Bell, a 23-year-old friend of Mullings, said: "They were just gorgeous, beautiful, the three-month-old had just started to get a personality of his own."

Details of the hours leading up to the murders emerged yesterday. Greater Manchester police received a phone call at 1.20pm on Wednesday from a GP who had been contacted by Mullings and was concerned for her and her children. Officers arrived at the house 90 minutes later as they had been given four separate addresses for Mullings. Unable to get an answer, they left after checking the back of the house and the surrounding area.

A neighbour told police Mullings had been pushing a double buggy at a nearby shopping centre in a distressed state. Mullings then went to her mother's house. A police spokesman said: "While we were making these inquiries, we got a 999 call which suggested that the children were back in the house, dead."

At 5.45pm paramedics were called to Mullings' home where they found the bodies of the children. The boys' family described their complete devastation in a statement released through Greater Manchester police.

"This family had two beautiful, innocent children called Romario, who was just two years old, and his brother, Delayno, who had only been born in July this year," they said.

"We ... are struggling to come to terms with the tragic events ... We cannot even begin to understand what happened. We hope that wherever the boys have gone to, they are at peace."

Mullings and her children were known to social services but it is understood they were signed off from their care in January Pauline Newman, the director of children's services at Manchester city council, said an urgent review of her team's involvement with the family was under way. "This is an appalling tragedy and we offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of these two young children," she said.

"Children's social care were not currently involved with the family, however in recent months the family were in receipt of community support services including nursery and childminding provision, whilst mother was attending higher education classes."

Detective Superintendent Shaun Donnellan said his officers had been met by a scene no human should ever witness. The family, he said, were shellshocked.

"This is a lovely family, a fairly close family with two young children who everybody adored and doted on." He said police were alerted because people were worried by Mullings' demeanour and because an "unpleasant" situation was arising.

Neighbours said Mullings had been troubled in recent months. They noticed her shouting in the street and talking to herself on Wednesday morning.

Sandra Barnes, 41, said: "She was shouting 'Are you going to bomb me? Are you going to shoot me?' People were bringing their kids inside."

Donna Rawson, 31, said: "At around 4pm all the kids were outside as they were getting ready for a school disco. She was on her own shouting at them asking if they were laughing at her. She was not with her kids. It makes me feel sick what has happened."





Morning Neighbours notice that Romario and Delayno Mullings-Sewell's mother, Jael Mullings, shouting in the street and talking to herself.

1.20pm A family doctor calls police to express concerns at her erratic behaviour.

2.50pm With four separate addresses for Mullings, police officers eventually arrive at the boys' home in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, but leave after getting no answer. They later receive a 999 call to say the children are in the house.

5.45pm Police and paramedics reach the house, where they find the children's bodies.

Later Mullings is arrested and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

    Doctor alerted police to 'distressed' mother hours before child killings, G, 14.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/nov/14/child-protection-mental-health-manchester






Teenage model is found stabbed to death at home


Monday, 10 November 2008
The Independent
By Sadie Gray


A former drama student who had worked for the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks and modelled for Cosmopolitan magazine has been found with fatal stab wounds in her home following what detectives believe was a row with her boyfriend.

Amy Leigh Barnes, 19, was a popular figure on Manchester's social scene, where she had met and later dated the Blackburn Rovers striker Benni McCarthy. The pair were no longer romantically involved.

She was taken to hospital with stab wounds after police were called to her home in Bolton on Saturday morning, but died of her injuries.

Police in Birmingham later arrested a 21-year-old man. He was taken to Manchester, where he was questioned on suspicion of murder last night.

Ms Barnes had only recently moved into a terraced house in Moss Street, Farnworth, having lived near Bolton with her mother, Kathryn, 40, an artist who teaches at a sixth-form college, and her stepfather, John Killiner, 36, a welder.

"Amy was a very special person and much loved by her family and friends, of which she had many," they said. "She was the most beautiful princess. We loved our baby so much, she was our reason for living. We as a family are absolutely distraught and destroyed. Words cannot express the pain we are in. We will not rest until justice has been done for our gorgeous daughter."

Ms Barnes was educated at the Lords Independent School in Bolton, and later studied performing arts at Pendleton College, Salford.

She taught drama at The Phoenix in Bolton, a charity offering performing arts training to children and young people, but after making the finals of last year's Miss British Isles contest and the UK Model of the Year competition, she had begun to focus on her burgeoning modelling career, posing for men's magazines including Playboy and Nuts.

Following her success in the competitions, she told a local newspaper: "I have always modelled but I have never really entered any competitions before and I didn't really think this would come to anything. It was just something I thought I would have a go at. I want to stick with modelling now. I've been getting more and more work and my parents are behind me all the way."

She was a regular at fashionable clubs in Manchester, Bolton and Blackburn where she met a number of footballers, including McCarthy, 31. Friends on her Facebook page included Leroy Lita of Norwich, Fraizer Campbell of Manchester United and Tottenham, and Everton's Phil Jagielka. A number of players have posted website tributes to her, including Ishmael Miller of West Bromwich Albion and Paul Black of Oldham.

A friend said: "Amy Leigh was the life and soul of the party and she will be deeply missed. She was very popular and loved going out night after night.

"She knew loads of footballers and went on dates with them. Although she knew lots of people, she never let it go to her head. It is a tragedy that her life has been so cruelly cut short."

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: "A 21-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder following the death of a 19-year-old woman in Farnworth. At 11.40am on Saturday, police were called to an address in Moss Street after reports that a woman had been stabbed. She was taken to hospital, where she later died."

    Teenage model is found stabbed to death at home, I, 10.11.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/teenage-model-is-found-stabbed-to-death-at-home-1006730.html






Teenager stabbed to death in London street


Monday, 10 November 2008
The Independent
By Paula Fentiman


Police investigating the fatal stabbing of a teenager have arrested three men. The 19-year-old is the 28th teenager to meet a violent death in Greater London this year.

The man, who has not been named, was killed after an altercation with a group of men in the early hours of Saturday morning in Ilford. A boy, aged 17, also suffered stab wounds in the incident. He is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Two men, aged 23 and 24, were arrested after the stabbing. A 21-year-old man was also arrested in Ilford and taken to an east London police station for questioning.

Detective Chief Inspector John MacDonald from Scotland Yard's homicide and serious crime command said: "I am appealing for anyone who may have been in the Ilford High Road or Clements Road area to contact police. I am keen to speak to a young female who may have had some interaction with the suspects prior to the attack."

    Teenager stabbed to death in London street, I, 10.11.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/teenager-stabbed-to-death-in-london-street-1006617.html






Jilted girlfriend jailed for knifing rival


Friday, 7 November 2008
The Independent
By John-Paul Ford Rojas, PA


A jilted girlfriend launched a frenzied knife attack on a love rival then told her ex: "She ain't that pretty any more", a court heard today.


Heather Westlake was jailed for five years after she admitted stabbing Vicky Wells in the back and slashing her face as she lay in bed.

Westlake, 24, was heartbroken that her long-term boyfriend Lloyd Welling was now seeing her former school friend Miss Wells, the Old Bailey heard.

The victim was lucky to survive after she was left with 22 separate knife wounds and both her lungs punctured, leaving her struggling to breathe.

Westlake and two female friends who joined her in the attack fled with Miss Wells's pink mobile phone, leaving her unable to call for help.

Judge Jeremy Roberts told her: "I know that you know just what a dreadful thing this was you did to another young woman.

"It was a joint attack between the three of you on a defenceless victim who was lying in bed. You are very lucky that you are not here on a murder charge."

The court heard that after the attack, Westlake bumped into Mr Welling and told him: "Go and look at your girl. She ain't that pretty any more. We've just f***** her up."

Westlake had been drinking brandy and a bottle of cherry Lambrini before she attacked Miss Wells, screaming "Why are you f****** my bloke?".

Annabel Maxwell-Scott, defending, said she was "feeling somewhat hurt by the fact that one of her school friends was having a relationship with her ex-boyfriend".

Westlake, of Charlton, south-east London, who has a six-year-old daughter, pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent at an earlier hearing.

Fellow attacker Tanya Phillipson, 19, has already been jailed for 18 months after she admitted actual bodily harm.

A 16-year-old girl who cannot be named was given a referral order after admitting the same charge.

    Jilted girlfriend jailed for knifing rival, I, 7.11.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/jilted-girlfriend-jailed-for-knifing-rival-1000276.html






Boy killed in Liverpool youth club stabbings

Teenager, 15, dies of knife wounds after three friends attacked by group of youths in Everton


Tuesday October 21 2008
09.36 BST
Press Association
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Tuesday October 21 2008.
It was last updated at 09.36 on October 21 2008.


A 15-year-old boy died after being stabbed outside a youth club, police said today.

The teenager and two friends are thought to have been attacked by a group of youths outside Shrewsbury House youth club in Everton, Liverpool, last night.

Police were called to the club in Langrove Street at 8.40pm after reports of a stabbing.

The victim, from Old Swan, was taken to the Royal Liverpool University hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A second boy, aged 17, from Old Swan, was also stabbed. His condition is not believed to be life threatening.

There were 50 to 70 teenagers in the youth club at the time of the stabbing and police believe some of them may know the identity of the attackers.

Chief Superintendent Steve Watson, the area commander for Liverpool North, said: "Sadly, I can confirm that Merseyside police is investigating the stabbing of a 15-year-old boy at a youth club in the Everton area last night.

"Our thoughts and sympathy are with his family at this tragic time."

He said the young people in the club at the time were helping officers with the investigation.

"We believe that a number of people will know who is responsible. They need to come forward and tell us what they know," Watson said.

"We need that information so we can act immediately and bring those responsible to justice."

Today, forensic examinations were being carried out at the scene.
Police had increased patrols in the area and officers were conducting house-to-house inquiries.

A Home Office postmortem examination would be carried out.

• Merseyside police have urged anyone who has any information to contact them on 0151 709 6010, or to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

    Boy killed in Liverpool youth club stabbings, G, 21.10.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/oct/21/stab-knife-everton-liverpool






Man killed in robbery and fire at driving school

Three injured in incident in South Wales


Monday October 20 2008
15.40 BST
Jenny Percival and agencies
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Monday October 20 2008.
It was last updated at 17.17 on October 20 2008.


One man was killed and three others were injured in a reported robbery and fire at a driving jobs agency in South Wales today.

The incident happened at the offices of Driverline 247, a recruitment agency for commercial drivers, on an industrial estate at New Inn, a village near Pontypool, at 1.25pm.

Gwent Police said in a statement on its website that one man had died, another was seriously wounded and two others were injured. The three injured men were taken to the Royal Gwent hospital in Newport for treatment.

A police spokeswoman said later that officers were searching for an offender who made off from the scene, giving no other details.

A spokeswoman for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said there had been a small fire, which had gone out when their engine arrived.

A Welsh Ambulance Service spokesman said: "Apparently it was a robbery which ended up with the building set alight.

"One middle-aged male died at the scene. One other male has been conveyed to the Royal Gwent hospital, Newport, with serious injuries.

"Two other males suffered from smoke inhalation and have also gone to the hospital."

New Panteg Rugby Football Club is on the New Road industrial estate where the driving school is based.

The club's chairman, Maurice Morgan, said there had been a lot of police activity in the area: "We're in close proximity and there's been police cars, police with dogs and we've had the police helicopter overhead.

"They've been searching the area and some have been cordoned off."

Morgan said he did not see or hear any evidence of the robbery and was shocked it had taken place on the estate.

He said: "Where it happened is a big industrial estate, it's generally a safe area. I'm quite surprised that there'd be anything of that nature."

    Man killed in robbery and fire at driving school, G, 20.10.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/oct/20/wales-ukcrime






Father killed in double shooting

· Woman critically injured at isolated Cornish house
· 23-year-old arrested and gun taken for testing


Monday 22 September 2008
The Guardian
Sam Jones
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 BST on Monday 22 September 2008.
It appeared in the Guardian on Monday 22 September 2008 on p8 of the UK news section.
It was last updated at 12.51 BST on Monday 22 September 2008.


A businessman was killed and his wife critically wounded when a gunman opened fire at their isolated home in Cornwall on Saturday night, police said yesterday.

Officers were called to the house in Porth Kea, near Truro, just before 10pm. They arrived to find Adam Hustler, 41, and his 40-year-old wife, Amanda, badly injured. Both appeared to have been shot at close range. The couple were taken to the Royal Cornwall hospital at Treliske, Truro, where Adam Hustler died.

Amanda Hustler, who is thought to have been shot in the back, was later transferred to Derriford hospital in Plymouth, Devon, where she was said to be in a critical condition.

At 5am on Sunday, dozens of officers - including armed police and negotiators - went to a house just outside Penzance where they arrested a 23-year-old man, believed to be the former boyfriend of one of the Hustlers' daughters, Danielle. The man, who had suffered facial injuries unconnected with his arrest, gave himself up "without incident".

A gun, understood to be a .22 calibre weapon, recovered from his home is being examined by firearms experts.

The arrested man was also taken to the Royal Cornwall hospital, where doctors were yesterday trying to assess whether he was fit to be questioned.

Danielle Hustler and her sister were believed to be at their mother's bedside yesterday afternoon and will be interviewed by detectives later. Danielle is thought to have been at home when her parents were shot and she raised the alarm.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said a major crime investigation team had been set up, involving around 30 officers, and the inquiry was waiting for the results of a full forensic search. A fingertip search of the murder scene was likely to take a day or two, he added.

Hustler was the managing director of a drain-clearing business in Truro, Clear-Flow Ltd. Other members of the family were also directors of the company.

Neighbours said yesterday that the Hustlers were a quiet and religious family who did not get involved in village activities. They are Jehovah's Witnesses.

One neighbour said: "I don't really know them other than to say hello to. They have been in the house for a few years, but nobody sees that much of them. It is a large house on a quiet lane leading down to a couple of farms.

"I only realised something was wrong when I tried to walk down there with my dogs and was turned back by the police."

Another neighbour, Marie Laity, said: "The family keep themselves to themselves and are strict Jehovah's Witnesses. It is scary to have something this shocking happen so close. It seems to have been caused by something which was personal to them, but it is still frightening."

Tomas Hill, county councillor for Feock and Kea, learned of the shooting after church yesterday morning. "Everyone is in shock," he said. "It's completely unprecedented in my lifetime."

Porth Kea is a hamlet of around 20 houses close to the banks of the River Fal, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The road through the village was sealed off by police yesterday as inquiries continued.

A tribute released through the police yesterday by Tim Mears, a representative from the Jehovah's Witnesses, described Hustler as a loving husband and father. "The family have asked me to say that they are very shocked by these terrible and very unexpected events. Friends and family are providing loving support.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Amanda, and her two daughters at this most difficult time," said Mears. "Adam Hustler was a generous and caring person who thought the world of his wife and daughters. He is a great loss to all who knew him, and especially those that shared his Christian values."

    Father killed in double shooting, G, 22.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/sep/22/9






Triad killings link to 15 brutal crimes

Police suspect that the young couple murdered in their Newcastle flat
may have been victims of a gang that targets Chinese students overseas


Sunday September 21 2008
The Observer
Mark Townsend, crime correspondent 
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday September 21 2008 on p5 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00:12 on September 21 2008.


A ruthless Triad-style gang implicated in at least 15 violent crimes, including kidnaps and brutal assaults, is being linked to the murder of a young Chinese couple in Newcastle last month.

Detectives investigating the deaths of Zhen Xing Yang and his girlfriend Xi Zhou, both 25, have identified a criminal syndicate from Fujian province of China, a traditional Triad stronghold, which is preying upon young Chinese students across Britain.

Senior officers believe the syndicate, which has struck in London, Manchester and the north-east, is targeting Chinese students through online letting agencies. A lodger who had just moved into the flat rented by Newcastle University graduates Yang and Zhou remains on the run, and police believe that he may have been a 'sleeper' placed by the gang to scout the premises for cash.

Days before Zhou was murdered, she telephoned her mother in China to say that the new lodger 'frightened and unsettled' her. The gang, described by detectives as 'serious operators', have extensive links with Fujian, the birthplace of one of Britain's biggest people-smuggling rackets, which is believed to have brought about 1,000 illegal immigrants into the country over two years. Murder squad officers are confident the motive for the double murder was money. 'Not a single penny' was found in the flat after the killings and a number of valuable items were missing.

Detective Superintendent Steve Wade of Northumbria Police, who is leading the investigation, said: 'We have identified a fairly complex criminal network who are ostensibly targeting Chinese rich kids who are seen as easy pickings and soft targets. We have intelligence of at least 15 cases and there have been a number of kidnaps and attacks, but why this escalated into a double murder in this instance remains speculation.'

Police are investigating incidents in Manchester, a number of kidnappings in London, mainly linked to the Chinatown area of the West End, and a similar case in Newcastle in 2004. Despite a long history of intimidation and violence involving the Chinese community, many cases remain unsolved. The mutilated bodies of two Fujianese were found in bags in east London in 1995 in what detectives described as a typical gangland hit.

Officers believe that such is the fear of organised gangs among the UK's Chinese community that potential witnesses have been too frightened to contact police. Wade admitted he was 'disappointed' with the response. Meanwhile, police are closer to piecing together the details of the latest attack.

New evidence from a gastroenterologist reveals that Zhou was killed within hours of her last meal at 3:30pm at a Wagamama noodle bar in the centre of Newcastle where she worked. They believe Yang was tortured for at least an hour and that his girlfriend was killed shortly after arriving at their flat on the afternoon of Thursday, 7 August. Their bodies were found two days later. Zhou's murder may indicate that she knew the killer, possibly the mystery lodger.

Police, although sceptical, have yet to rule out that Yang was murdered after a dispute with a betting syndicate which may have employed him as an agent to gain an edge in betting on the results of Premier League football games. These are shown in China with up to a minute's delay, offering gambling syndicates with live information a critical advantage. Yang was known to have hired 'spectators' to watch matches.

Wade said: 'We have had calls from fans sitting alongside Chinese people who are relaying football commentary live for the full 90 minutes. It's not just Premier League matches.'

Last week the parents of Yang and Zhou flew to England to appeal for help in finding their killers. Zhou's father said she had been a 'wonderful child', who was 'full of love'. Sanbao Zhou added that the family had 'almost lost the will to live' since the murder.

    Triad killings link to 15 brutal crimes, O, 21.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/sep/21/ukcrime.china






Teenager dies after stabbing outside party


Monday 8 September 2008
The Guardian
Damien Francis


A teenager was stabbed to death in Sheffield after a group of up to 40 people, some armed with baseball bats and knives, fought outside a 16-year-old girl's birthday party.

Emergency services were called to Rokeby Drive, Parson Cross, just after 11pm on Saturday. Witnesses said they saw the victim staggering in the street before he collapsed.

The 18-year-old, named yesterday as Dale Robertson, was taken to hospital, where he died from his injuries, South Yorkshire police said.

A 16-year-old and a 17-year-old were last night being held on suspicion of murder.

Part of the street remained cordoned off as officers searched gardens and alleyways close to the murder scene. The police called for witnesses.

A group of tearful youths arrived to place flowers at the scene yesterday afternoon. One said a fight had begun in the street and had been between rival gangs. "It all started after a bit of banter and name-calling between the two gangs. One of them walked off to go home and then they all started fighting.

"About 40 people were involved in the fight - some were carrying baseball bats and knives. It lasted for about 10 minutes. At one point two cars came screeching up the street and you could hear them being trashed."

He added that the victim had walked away before collapsing on the ground.

It is understood members of one of the gangs were invited to the party, but that a rival group turned up without invitation.

A pensioner who called the police said: "There was a tremendous noise and I saw a lot of men fighting. I didn't dare go out so I phoned the police. The next thing I hear, someone has been stabbed."

    Teenager dies after stabbing outside party, G, 8.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/sep/08/knifecrime.ukcrime






Our obsession with crime

is crushing our freedoms

Between talk of broken society
and ever-increasing powers of police surveillance,
there seems to be a competition between politicians
to make us miserable


Sunday September 7 2008
The Observer
Henry Porter
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday September 07 2008 on p29 of the Comment section.
It was last updated at 00:08 on September 07 2008.


The story of Milly, an eight-year-old cat who disappeared out of window in Whitstable two weeks ago, has much to tell us about the petty-minded forces that have come to replace proper policing in this country. Her owners, Stephen and Heather Cope and their son Daniel, 13, searched high and low for Milly, then, failing to find her, did what any normal person would do: put up posters to see if anyone had seen her. The next thing they heard was from one of the local council community wardens, who rang the telephone number on the poster and threatened them with a £80 on-the-spot fine for antisocial behaviour.

Seldom can there have been a more officious, twerpish enforcement of the law, but this kind of action is now one of the established parts of this dreadful government's legacy. As the police retreat from the streets, we are prey to every type of snoop, informant, busybody and vindictive martinet, all of them licensed by the government's accreditation scheme so that they may demand our names and addresses, photograph us, check car tax discs and seize alcohol, issue fines for truancy, rowdiness, graffiti and dog fouling.

In Colchester, litter wardens are taking pictures of alleged offenders to publish them in the local paper. One local council has been reported as using officials to check car numbers outside homes to see who is sleeping with whom, for God knows what purpose. Children as young as eight are among 5,000 private citizens across the country recruited as paid 'covert human intelligences sources'.

The speed with which our dear, familiar democracy is vanishing under the weight of totalitarian pettiness is appalling and one wonders when this easygoing nation will rise against the trends set so blithely by that authoritarian basket case Tony Blair and continued by mediocrities such as Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith.

Even police officers have doubts about the blurring of lines between uniformed officers of the law, whom we know to have received standard training, and these upstarts and busybodies wearing red-and-white prefect's badges. Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation said on the BBC recently that the public would not understand why someone with a 'small badge was telling them what to do'. He added: 'I think it's going to lead to confrontation.'

I hope it does, because only then will people begin to understand what we have allowed Labour do to our society with its informer networks and child spies. Only then will we begin to question the right of a nightclub bouncer with 20 hours' training and maybe a criminal record lurking in the background to challenge citizens and issue fines.

The mystery in all this is: where are the police? Since Labour came to power, the police have basked in the sun, though, like farmers, they always complain about their lot. The facts are these. Between 1997 and 2007, spending on law and order rose by a half a percentage point to 2.5 per cent of GDP. Last year, the criminal justice system received £22.7bn, about £15.13bn of which went to the police. In the past decade, the police have received a budget increase of 21 percent and the police workforce rose by 50,000, which includes an extra 15,000 officers.

To put these figures in perspective, we spend more on law and order than any other OECD country including the United States, France, Germany and Spain. It is fair to say that Britain is in the grip of law and order obsession, yet we seem incapable of putting police officers on the beat to patrol our streets, investigate crimes and keep order with an eye to proportionate and sensible use of their powers. By that, I do not mean three officers on mountain bikes pursuing a colleague on his racer through crime-ridden Hackney to issue him with a £30 fine because he had avoided dangerous roadworks by briefly using the pavement. I don't mean texting the victim of a burglary, as happened to a friend of mine, to see if she had anything more to report.

Despite crime figures going down, we continue to spend more and lock up proportionately more people than any other free country. The most recent figures for London show falls of 14 per cent in both knife and gun crime and a 7 per cent reduction in violent crime generally. Since 1997, the official figures for the country claim a drop in the crime rate of 35 per cent. Academics suggest this figure is hugely inflated, but the downward trend is undeniable and could be claimed by Labour as a victory for its policies were it not for its sinister need to keep us in a state of permanent fear about crime.

The estimable Cherie Booth put her finger on the problem and inadvertently (perhaps) provided a grand analysis of her husband's cynical use of crime to push his authoritarian programme. On the release of a very good report from the Howard League for Penal Reform attacking the government's policy of building Titan prisons, which will hold 2,500 brutalised souls, she used the word 'punitive' a lot and referred to 'the hysterical rhetoric of politicians attempting to ride the tiger of public opinion'. Or what is perceived as public opinion, she added.

We have forgotten all our empirical skills when it comes to law and policing. Instead of assessing what the problems are - the fact that prisons do not reform offenders, that crime is caused by complex social issues as much as by individual moral failure, that police officers at their desks or in squad cars do not deter crime as well as those on the beat - we have allowed a blind and vengeful regime to skew our sense of reason and what is right for a liberal democracy.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, also came out with an excellent report last week, which attacked the creation by Labour of 3,600 new offences - nearly one for each day in power - and pointed out that England and Wales had experienced an 11 per cent drop in crime at the same time as an incredible 45 per cent increase in the prison rate.

Last week, the prison population reached 83,000. The conclusion is clear: we are sending too many of the wrong people to prison and for too long. This impression was supported by the Chief Constable of Kent, Mike Fuller, a contender to succeed the besieged Ian Blair at the Met. He complained last week that his force was 'over-inspected' and that officers were demoralised because sentencing policy was dictated by availability of places in prisons. Criminals who deserved prison were avoiding jail.

Huhne's report nails the politics behind the degraded policy of banging up more and more people. When Blair took over the Labour's home affairs brief in 1992, he skilfully moved on to the traditional law and order territory occupied by the Tories and so began a policy war in which the main parties tried to best each other with, as Cherie Booth put it, 'the hysterical rhetoric about crime'. David Cameron's hyperbole about a broken society and Dominic Grieve's announcement about new surveillance powers for police are both part of this competitive pessimism about our society.

So let us start thinking logically about crime, punishment, policing and the cause of our problems. Let us end this punitive regime. Let us put policemen back on the beat, throw the likes of Jacqui and Hazel out of office and return all their spies and accredited jobsworths to the twilight of their power-crazed fantasy lives.

Our obsession with crime is crushing our freedoms, O, 7.9.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/07/justice.police





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