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July 2016

ON MY SHELF – 18th July

OMS July 17

S5 Uncovered by James Durose-Rayner
Top of the pile is the monumental S5 Uncovered. Running to 899 pages, it is a detailed account of a police undercover operation which, if the book is too be believed, should have become a national scandal. The author is a journalist, and he tells the tale of the last days of Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, SOCA,  before being reborn as the National Crime Agency in 2013. At the heart of a long and complex tale is a huge money-making exercise to boost the finances of The Police Federation, the coppers’ trade union which represents officers from Constables up to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector. The Proceeds of Crime Act (2002) was intended to confiscate money and goods retained by criminals who had been convicted and jailed. In this instance huge amounts of cash and goods were taken from Sheffield gangsters, and transferred to the coffers of TPF. The author says that a BBC Panorama film about the scam was made, but never broadcast. S5 Uncovered is available now.

A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward
Sarah Ward introduced us to Derbyshire policeman Inspector Francis Sadler in her 2015 novel, In Bitter Chill. Now, she continues the weather metaphor with a murder mystery where not only the perpetrator is unknown but so, it transpires, is the victim. This a police procedural set in Ward’s home county of Derbyshire, and it concerns the 2004 murder of a man called Andrew Fisher. His wife, Lena, is convicted of his killing, and serves 12 years behind bars. You only die once, they say, but in 2016, with Lena Fisher once again free, the corpse of a man identified as Andrew Fisher is found in a disused mortuary. Sadler and his team face their biggest challenge to discover the truth behind the curtain of lies ad deception. A Deadly Thaw is available as a Kindle and in print versions.

Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds
Charlie Yates is a bitter and disillusioned journalist in post WW2 America. Are there any sweetly optimistic ones, I wonder? If there are, they are not in Charlie’s friendship circle. In the book prior to this one, The Dark Inside, Charlie was involved in a noir-ish tale of death and corruption on the border between Texas and Arkansas. Having sought temporary solace in the more laid-back surroundings of California, he is now back in the land of moonshine, chewing baccy and denim cover-alls, when an old friend is desperate for his help. You might be surprised to learn that, for a writer who can so vividly recreate the menace and skin prickle of a hot Southern night, Rod Reynolds is a confirmed Londoner. Black Night Falling will be out in August on Kindle, and in the spring of 2017 in print.

Homo Superiors by L.A. Fields
Fields takes one of the most infamous murder cases of the 20th century, and reshapes it with a modern ambience. In 1924 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two bored and wealthy Chicago students kidnapped and killed a 14 year-old boy, Robert Franks. The killers, dazzled by their own perceived intellectual superiority, and their admiration for the  writings of Nietzsche, were convinced that they they had committed the perfect crime. Of course, they hadn’t, but they escaped the death penalty after a trial where they were defended by the celebrated lawyer, Clarence Darrow. In Fields’ version, we are still in Chicago, but she explores the brittle intellectual pretensions of Ray and Noah, as they make the same errors as their real-life counterparts. Homo Superiors is available as a Kindle or a paperback from Amazon.

Investigating Mr Wakefield by Rob Gittins
The Welsh publishers Y Lolfa have carved a niche for themselves as publishers of all kinds of books in the Welsh language, but they also an impressive list of Welsh authors who write in English. One such is Rob Gittins, a TV screenwriter by trade. His debut novel, Gimme Shelter, was a brutal and no-holds-barred account of a Witness Protection officer who locks horns with a fiendish serial killer. In his latest book, he moves away from the world of police investigations, and into the thorny world of personal relationships, and what happens when one obsessive man begins to suspect that his partner is deceiving him. As a former war photographer, Jack Connolly is on intimate terms with the details of death, but when he turns his meticulous sharp focus on someone to whose life he has intimate access, the results are terrifying. You can get Investigating Mr Wakefield from the publisher, or from Amazon.

As a delightful bonus, the people at Y Lolfa also sent me the latest book by Dr Jonathan Hicks. I had reviewed – and enjoyed – two previous books by the academic and historian, The Dead of Mametz and Demons Walk Among Us. Both featured investigations by a Military Policeman, Thomas Oscendale. Now, on the centenary of the Battle of The Somme, Hicks has produced an account of a military action which has come to be synonymous with the memory of Welsh soldiers who took part. The Welsh at Mametz Wood, Somme 1916 is the story of the 20,000 men of the 38th Welsh Division. They were all volunteers, poorly trained and inadequately led for the massive task of evicting experienced German troops from the heavily fortified wood. They eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost, and Hicks seeks to put the record straight about an event over which, at the time, the 38th Division received much criticism. Below – Mametz Wood, then and now.

Mametz

WW2 HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION (2) A Coin For The Hangman

A Coin For The HangmanA REAL LIFE SUSSEX BOOK DEALER called Ralph Spurrier has written a book. It starts in the present day, with a Sussex book dealer, name of – you guessed it – Ralph Spurrier, and Mr S has bought a job lot of books and bits. Their erstwhile owner is dead, and his bungalow and its contents are being sold at auction. The fictional Mr S – and probably his real-life doppelganger – make their livings by buying van-loads of books in the hope that somewhere in the pile of book club reprints and assorted dross there will be a first edition, something autographed, or another rarity which can be sold on to pay the bills.

The wheat amongst the chaff in this case is the autobiography of Britain’s most celebrated hangman, Albert Pierrepoint who hanged, among many others, Gordon Cummins and Ruth Ellis. The book is inscribed to Reginald Manley who, fictionally, was to become a hangman himself. Manley’s effects include a diary written by one of his judicial victims, a young man called Henry Eastman.

Executioner-Pierrepoint

The diary tells how Eastman was convicted of murder. His victim? A man called George Tanner. At this point, the law of coincidences takes over, because Tanner and Manley were in the advanced patrol of Allied troops who forced their way into the nightmare landscape of the Belsen concentration camp. The things they saw – the smells and the sensations – would stay with them for ever. But all wars end, and George Tanner, after demob, ends up in a small English town. He strikes up a friendship with a war widow, Mavis Eastman, proprietor of a small sweetshop in the town, struggling with post-war economic privations, helped only by her son Henry.

Henry Eastman watches impotently as his close relationship with his mother dilutes with every day that Mavis becomes closer to George. Mavis, however, does not lack for admirers, but when George is found dead, Henry Eastman becomes the prime suspect. He is unworldly, far from stupid, but naïve. He is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Now the executioner, Manley botches the job, but eventually Henry Eastman is laid in the ground, but far from ‘at rest’. Eastman’s copious diary is kept by Reginald Manley and, as a reader, you are left to speculate whether or not it is a reliable narrative, or the ramblings of a delusional young man.

Ralph Spurrier (the real one) has written a compelling novel which weaves together the threads of a possible miscarriage of justice, the grinding pressures of post-war austerity and a hint of the timeless damage caused by an Oedipus Complex. Best of all, for me, is his beautiful recreation of an England which I remember, but will never come again. The sights, the sounds, the noisy shuffle of steam trains in country stations, all are recreated with a telling authenticity.

This book ticks all the boxes that, for me, make for a good novel. The characterisation and plot are both well out of the ordinary and the sense of time and place reveals just what a fine writer Spurrier is. It is not a book that could ever have a sequel, or become part of a series but it is, nonetheless, a superb read.

A Coin For The Hangman is available on Amazon, where you can also read more about the author (below)
Ralph Spurrier

WW2 HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION (1) A Lily of the Field

EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD LIST, and I’m no exception. To kick off a series of features on historical crime fiction, I am starting with my own favourite period – World War 2. I just missed it, by a couple of years, but both my mother and father served, as did my wife’s parents, and so ‘The War’, as it was always known in our house was – and remains – very much part of my consciousness. My selection is subjective, and there is no order of merit, but each of the five is a cracking read.

ALOTFA LILY OF THE FIELD by John Lawton

Lawton is a master of historical fiction set in and around the war. His central character is Fred Troy, a policeman of Russian descent. His emigré father is what used to be called a ‘Press Baron’. Fred’s brother Rod will go on to become a Labour Party MP in the 1960s, but is interned during the war. His sisters are bit players, but memorable for their sexual voracity. Neither man nor woman is safe from their advances.

Apart from being an elegant and sharp-tongued writer, Lawton’s great skill is to people his books with real personalities of the period. Sometimes they are thinly disguised, but more often than not they play themselves. Across the spread of Fred Troy novels, we meet, in no particular order, Nikita Kruschev, the entire Labour Shadow Cabinet, Winston Churchill’s gunmaker and an American presidential candidate.

Fred becomes one of London’s top coppers, but to categorise the novels as police procedurals is accurate only in as far as that there are policemen in the books, and they occasionally have procedures. All this being said, Troy is in the background during much of A Lily of the Field. We follow the life of teenager Méret Voytek, a brilliant young Viennese cellist. Through her own naivete and a tragic act of fate, she is caught holding a bundle of anti-Nazi leaflets while traveling on the tram. She is taken by the SS and ends up in Auschwitz. Meanwhile, her parents have been likewise detained, and their family home ransacked.

In the bitterest of paradoxes, the Auschwitz commandant, has a musical ear, and so he puts together an orchestra made up of the many skilled inmates. One of their bizarre duties is to play beautiful music as their less talented companions trudge off to work in the morning. Méret plays for her life, literally. The physical privations she undergoes are heart-breaking, but still she plays, still she clings on to what is left of life.

In January 1945, with the Russians approaching from the east, and the British and Americans from the west, the Germans realise that the game is up. Auschwitz inmates who are too infirm to walk are shot, and the remainder are sent out, under guard, to start the infamous Death March. In the freezing conditions few survive, but just as Meret is about to succumb, their column is overtaken by a Russian detachment. Salvation? Hardly. The first instinct of the Russian soldiers is to rape the women. Méret is saved by a no-nonsense officer. At this point, Fred Troy aficionados will recognise Major Larissa Tosca, Fred’s one-time lover. She has, in her time, spied for both America and for Russia, but here her cap bears the Red Star.

Long-time Lawton readers will know that he leaps about between the years with a sometimes bewildering agility. True to form, the climax of this book is played out in post war London and Paris. Méret’s rescue by the Russians has come at a price, and we find her tangled up in the spy ‘games’ which characterised much of the Cold War period. Lawton is much too clever a writer just to tell this one tale, however gripping it may be. Woven into the fabric is another thread which involves an interned Hungarian physicist, Dr. Karel Szabo, who ends up as a key figure in the American efforts to build and test the first atomic bomb.

One of the key figures from the spy ring of which Méret is a part is murdered in London, and it is then that Frec Troy becomes involved. For all his many qualities, Troy is an inveterate womaniser, but he is not a sexual beast, and the late scenes where he spends time with the fragile Méret, still beautiful but old before her time, are haunting in their compassion.

‘Troy had never heard her laugh. It was like that moment in Ninotchka when Garbo laughs on-screen for the first time. It is not merely that she laughs, but that she laughs so long and so loud.

As the laughter subsided she was grasping at words and not managing to get a sentence out.

“Oh, Troy ….oh, Troy..this is….this is a farce. Don’t you see? Viktor taught us the same part.”
“We’re two left-handed women trying to dance backward. Neither of us knows the man’s part.”

She reached up her sleeve for a handkerchief to dab her tears and found none. Troy gave her his, a huge square of Irish linen with an overfancy  ‘f’ in one corner.

Being drunk did not make her loquacious. In that, she was like Troy. At two in the morning Voytek was deeply asleep in front of the fire. Troy picked her up, astonished at how little she weighed, carried her upstairs and slid her into the spare bed. She did not wake. He went to his own bed.’

A Lily of the Field is far from being a dry history novel where the factual details are more important than the plot and the dialogue. It is tense, funny, occasionally very violent, and written with a style and fluency which leaves lesser authors struggling in Lawton’s wake. A final little gem, which I only noticed recently. If you look closely at the cover, you can see Méret Voytek, in her red coat, moving away from us. With her cello slung over her shoulder, she walks into history.

A Lily of the Field is available in all formats, and John Lawton has his own Amazon page
and website.

 

TESTING THE WATERS OF NOIR by Andrez Bergen

Noir is, in some respects, the water of life.

It can be applied to so many different kinds of creative media: writing, film-making, photography, art, comic books, fashion, even music. For me, noir’s best application is when it is combined with other genres, veering from pulp, crime and science fiction to gothic horror.

Hence you’ll witness Ed Brubaker taking varied routes in his comics like Fatale (horror noir), Criminal (crime, obviously) and The Fade Out (noir served straight).

With my own approach to noir, I’ll readily ‘fess up to inspiration from Brubaker, along with the style’s pioneers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane and Ross Macdonald.

I’m forever scouring or re-reading their work, and as a movie buff am enamored with cinematic adaptations like John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, or The Big Sleep as channeled by Howard Hawks.

Coming from a twenty-first century perspective in which a sense of the meta and pop-cultural references hold sway, you’ll find a million and one allusions to these gems between the lines of my comic books and novels – respect where it’s due, and all that jazz.

Hence characters and room numbers and hotel names mirror those found within the worlds created by Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, et al. Choices of drinks, taxi companies, even clipped moments of dialogue.

But as a writer I like to distill the noir into other elements, as I already mentioned, to create a different kind of tapestry.

FRONT COVER_BLACK SAILS DISCO INFERNOWhat noir enables me to do is isolate those genres and render them a little different, whether it be an homage to golden age comic books from the 1940s (Bullet Gal), or rebooting a medieval romance (Black Sails, Disco Inferno). The standards of noir – a certain sense of cynicism, the not-so-happy outcome, mood, drinks, and cutting dialogue – bring out the best in any such side-step.

While some would decry taking a fine Scotch whisky like Bunnahabhain ($300 plus) and mixing it with water straight from a city faucet, I’d go so far as to assert that this adulterated tap water adds flavor – a gloriously varied one, depending on the metropolis in question.

Just skip the debased local H20 I discovered once in Hong Kong.

 

Andrez Bergen

Andrez Bergen’s novel Black Sails, Disco Inferno is out now via Open Books.

His seventh novel Bullet Gal will be published through Roundfire Books in November.

BULLET GAL novel cover

THE KRAYS

Legend

Vallance RoadREGGIE AND RONNIE KRAY have been the subject of almost as many books, documentaries and dramas as their 19th century near-neighbour Jack the Ripper. The East End that he – whoever he was – knew has changed almost beyond recognition. The Bethnal Green of the Krays is heading in the same direction, but a few landmarks remain unscathed. They were born out in Hoxton in October 1933, Reggie being the older by ten minutes. The family moved into Bethnal Green in 1938, and they lived at 178 Vallance Road. That house no longer stands, modern houses having been built on the site (left)

The schools they attended still stand, but with different names. Wood Close School (left) is now The William Davis School, while Daniel Street School (right) is now The Bethnal Green Academy.
Schools
Their life of crime is well documented elsewhere, but this brief guide focuses on the two ‘hands-on’ murders the twins committed. How many other deaths they were indirectly responsible for is a matter for others to catalogue.

Glib histories sometimes say that the Krays “ruled London’. That is totally inaccurate. Yes, they were very powerful within their own domain, and were well connected with several high profile personalities. But south of the river, the Richardson brothers, of whom more later, held sway. Generally, the two gangs acknowledged each other’s territory, if only for the reason that open warfare would benefit no-one. London is a big place, and there were plenty of pickings to be shared. Occasionally, though, personalities clashed, and it was one such example of personal antipathy which led to the first murder.

George CornellGeorge Cornell (right) had known the twins from childhood. Their careers had developed more or less on similar lines, except that Cornell became the enforcer for the Richardsons. On 7th March 1966 there was a confused shoot-out at a club in Catford. Members of the Kray gang and the Richardsons gang were involved. At some point, George Cornell had been heard to refer to Ronnie Kray as a “fat poof.” That might seem unkind, but was not totally inaccurate. Ronnie was certainly plumper than his lean and hungry twin, and his liking for handsome boys was well known.

The LionOn the evening of 9th March, Cornell and an associate were unwise enough to call in for a drink at a The Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road, very much in Kray territory. Some thoughtful soul telephoned Ronnie Kray, who was drinking in a nearby pub, The Lion in Tapp Street (left). Ronnie, pausing only to collect a handgun made straight for the Blind Beggar, strode in, and shot George Cornell in the head at close range. His death was almost instantaneous. Needless to say, no-one else in the pub had seen anything. Pictured below are a post mortem photograph of Cornell, and the bloodstained floor of The Blind Beggar. Below that is the fatal pub, then and now.

Cornell

Blind Beggar

Cd-1 Jack McVitieFolklore has it that now that Ronnie had ‘done the big one’, there was pressure on Reggie to match his twin’s achievement. The chance was over a year in coming. Jack McVitie (right) was a drug addicted criminal enforcer who worked, on and off, for the Krays. His nickname ‘The Hat’ was because he was embarrassed about his thinning hair, and always wore a trademark trilby. McVitie had taken £500 from the Krays to kill someone, had botched the job, but kept the money. He had also, unwisely,been heard to bad-mouth the twins.

Everington RoadOn the night of 29th October 1967, McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington,(left) on the pretext of a party. There, he was met by Reggie Kray and other members of the firm. Kray’s attempt to shoot McVitie misfired – literally – and instead, he stabbed McVitie repeatedly with a carving knife. McVitie’s body was never found, and the stories about his eventual resting place range from his being fed to the fishes of the Sussex coast to being buried incognito in a Gravesend cemetery.

The murders were to be the undoing of the twins, but it wasn’t until May 1968 that Scotland Yard had enough evidence to arrest them. Once they were remanded behind bars, hundreds of witnesses who had hitherto imitated The Three Wise Monkeys, were suddenly available to give evidence. Reggie and Ronnie were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Ronnie died in a Berkshire hospital in March 1995, while Reggie was released on compassionate grounds in August 2000. He died of cancer in October of that year.

Chingford_Mount_Cemetery_08

THE BLACKOUT RIPPER

Heinkel_over_Wapping

BlackoutWHEN LONDON BECAME THE PRIMARY TARGET of Luftwaffe bombers in World War II, one of the first responses of the government was to institute a night-time blackout. Given that the silvery ribbon of the River Thames couldn’t be hidden, and German knowledge of the whereabouts of factories and docks, the effect of the blackout was more psychological than practical. What it did do was to liberate criminals from the fear of being seen by what remained of the police force – bear in mind that most able bodied men of fighting age were very quickly drafted into the armed forces. Despite the affectionate folk myth of plucky Londoners ‘grinning and bearing it’, domestic crime rocketed. An often used wheeze was for criminals to dress up as Air Raid Wardens. In the darkness and confusion, they could raid shops and be about their dishonest business with a new freedom. Looting was not uncommon, and more than one gang discovered the effectiveness of going around the dark streets in a fake ambulance.

Thieving is one thing, however. Cold blooded murder is something else altogether. In one frenzied spell in February 1942, a handsome, well spoken and thoroughly plausible RAF man savagely murdered four women. Two more potential victims were lucky to escape unharmed before the killer made a stupid mistake and was found.

Gordon Cummins, 28, was a serving Aircraftman. Yorkshire born, his debonair and suave manner, and his hints that he came from noble stock, had earned him the nickname ‘Duke’ or ‘Count’. He had no criminal history of any kind, and was not thought to be a violent man. And yet, in the course of less than a week, he committed four brutal murders, and attempted to attack two other women.

Victims

Bernard SpilsburyRather like the Whitechapel killer of 1888, the attacks became more frenzied and the mutilations more awful. Weapons used included razor blades, a can opener, a kitchen knife and a candlestick. After the frenzied killings of Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouannet, Sir Bernard Spilsbury (right), the most celebrated medical examiner of the century, remarked that the murders were the work of “a savage sexual maniac”. The press were quick to coin a new name for the killer, and for the brief period of his notoriety, he became known as ‘The Blackout Ripper’.

On Friday 14th February, Cummins was disturbed while attempting to attack Greta Hayward in a doorway near Piccadilly Circus. In the panic, he ran off, but left his RAF issue gas mask behind. It was simple work for the police to trace the issue number and identify Cummins. He had attacked another woman on the Friday evening but she, too, had escaped. When police searched Cummins’ flat they found items of clothing belonging to his victims.

cummins_frederick_gordonCummins was tried at the Old Bailey in April 1942, and was very quickly found guilty. The judge was none other than Lord Chief Justice Humphreys, who had been involved in many of the most high profile trials of the century. On the day Cummins was hanged on the morning of 25th June, 1942, and the hangman was Albert Pierrepoint. It is said that an daytime air-raid raged overhead when Cummins died, a bitter irony given the circumstances of his crimes.

THE POET AND THE NOIR NOVELIST

Henry Treece was a poet, and a writer of historical fiction for children. In 1939 he took the job of teacher of English at Barton-upon-Humber Grammar School. When war came, he joined the RAF as an intelligence officer, and was well acquainted with the many air bases in Lincolnshire. This poem dates from that time.

Lincolnshire Bomber Station

All well and good, you may say, but what has this to do with crime fiction? The connection is that one of the pupils at the Grammar School was a boy called Ted Lewis. Throughout his time at the school he had excelled in art and English, and when he left, it was his ambition to go on to art school. His parents were against the idea, and it was only the intervention of Henry Treece on Ted’s behalf that persuaded them to allow him to go.

Lewis’s first novel, All The Way Home and All The Night Through, was published in 1969, but it was the 1971 novel Jack’s Return Home, later filmed as Get Carter, which was to make Lewis one of the immortals of crime fiction writing. Below, Treece and Lewis, both busy at their typewriters.

Treece Lewis

SO SAY THE FALLEN – Between the covers

 

SSTF

Neville-Stuart-Colour-c-Philip-ONeill-Photography2Stuart Neville (left) returns with another hard-bitten and edgy tale of life and crimes in Northern Ireland. Set in a fictional village on the edge of Belfast, we are reunited with DCI Serena Flanagan, who first appeared in Those We Left Behind. Like much of life in Ulster, fictional and real, religion and the stresses and strains it places on secular life is never far from the surface. The sacred influence in this case is provided by the Reverend Peter McKay. The clergyman is a widower, but we find that he has been taking his parochial duties above and beyond what is normally expected. The recipient of his pastoral care is Roberta, the attractive wife of Henry Garrick.

The unfortunate Garrick has been of little solace to his wife in recent times, as he was lucky to escape with his life after a catastrophic road accident which resuted in him losing both legs, and rendering him totally dependent on his wife and visiting carers. When he is found dead one morning, with empty sachets of morphine next to his bed, it is clear that the poor man has had enough of his living death, and decided to make it final. Flanagan is sent to the scene, and as is the way with these things, her bosses expect her to sign off the death as a suicide.

But this is crime fiction, and regular readers will know that suicides in these stories are seldom what they seem to be. They will also know that police Inspectors are rarely happy, healthy people, untroubled by their job and with idyllic family lives. Flanagan doesn’t buck the trend. She is recovering from cancer, and the intensity she brings to the job is having a destructive effect on her relationship with her schoolteacher husband and their two children.

Flanagan has a nagging suspicion about the death of Mr Garrick, and she is troubled, not by the arrangement of family photographs around the bed, but by the one that is missing – that of the Garrick’s young daughter – and only child – who was drowned in a tragic accident in Spain.

This is a cleverly written book on many levels. We know early in the piece that Henry Garrick’s death is not what it seems to be. We can also make a shrewd guess as to who is responsible. Neville uses the narrow space occupied by the few unknowns left to us to expand the characters, describe their unsettled personal lives, and paint a mesmerising picture of the ordinary – but strangely intense – lives of church-goers in the parish of Morganstown. The final action set piece, as Flanagan homes in on the killer, is as gripping as anything Neville has written. The title? It is taken from lines written by the American writer Dennis Lehane.

“I can’t just live for the other world. I need to live in this one now.
So say the fallen. So they’ve said since time began.”

You can buy So Say The Fallen from good booksellers, and from Amazon.

BEN KINSELLA

ShillibeersAs they say, in America, “School’s Out!” On the evening of Saturday 28th June 2008, school was pretty much out for a group of teenage London boys. Their GCSE exams were finally over and, despite nor being legally old enough to drink, they were having a night out to celebrate. They went to Shillibeers (left), a popular bar and brasserie in Holloway. Among the group was Ben Kinsella, a 16 year-old pupil at Holloway School.

During the course of the evening an argument broke out between one of Ben’s friends and a group of other young men. It seems it was yet another chapter in the sorry tale along the lines of “Who d’you think you’re looking at?” Apparently peripheral in the row, but eager to get involved, was Jade Braithwaite. 19 years old, and 6’6” tall, he already had an extended criminal record for various offences involving drugs, robbery and violence.

Ben Kinsella was at no time involved in the disturbance, which was eventually broken up by the pub doormen. In the small hours of the morning, Ben’s group decided to call it a day, and set off to walk home, unaware that Braithwaite had ‘phoned two friends – Juress Kika and Michael Alleyne, both 18 years-old, and with similar histories of violence – to say that he had some unfinished business and needed their help. Below, left to right, Kika, Braithwaite and Alleyne.

Killers

When Braithwaite, Kika and Alleyne reappeared, Ben’s friends – who had been involved in the original fracas – decided to run for it. Ben, wrongly believing that he had nothing to fear, simply carried on walking. In a short but savage attack, lasting just a matter of seconds, the trio kicked Ben to the ground and inflicted a flurry of stab wounds to his body, puncturing his lungs and pulmonary artery. He was able to stagger from the scene, and collapse into the arms of his friends. Despite the best efforts of the medical services, he died later that morning, from catastrophic and irreplaceable blood loss. The moments before and after the attack were captured on closed circuit security cameras.

The map below shows the location where Ben was stabbed.

BK murder site

The three killers were quickly captured by the police, but during the resultant investigation, Braithwaite and Alleyne first denied knowing each other, and then tried to blame each other. Throughout the process, and during the trial, Kika, exercised his right to silence. Each was sentenced to 19 years in jail, and this was later upheld when they appealed against what they said was the severity of the sentence.

It is worth adding, in full, the complete victim statement made to the Old Bailey court by Ben’s mother, Deborah.

“I make this statement and the feelings and emotions are felt by all my family but no amount of words could ever express the daily pain we feel for the loss of Ben. On 29 June 2008 our beautiful son Ben was brutally and savagely stabbed to death. We as his family have been left devastated and in total despair. Our whole world has been totally turned upside down. Ben went for a good night out and never came home again.

Ben had only just finished school – a straight-A student, he had a job and had got his place in college (he never learnt of the wonderful exam results he had achieved and worked so very hard for). Ben loved life, he loved living and he had so much to live for. He knew where he was going and where he wanted to be.

Ben loved nothing more than to make people laugh, he was a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky boy with a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone. A testimony of this was his funeral that was attended by so many friends who filled the church and pavements outside.

Ben loved art and wanted to be a graphic designer, he loved his family, cooking, football, music and girls. The people who murdered him knew nothing about our Ben, not a hair on his head, a bone in his body, not anything about our wonderful son. They had never met him before or spoken to him – they just cruelly took his life away with knives for no apparent reason.

We had brought Ben up to always walk away from trouble. This sadly cost him his life. He walked away to get safely home and they took advantage of that – he was one boy on his own. It seems unfair their intent was to stab someone that night.

We were a big, happy, loving family (we are one down, one missing). We are hard-working and just wanted the best for all our children in life. There are now just three of us at home. We have had to move house because it broke our hearts to not see Ben in his bedroom curled up sleeping and safe in his bed. We so miss Ben’s love and laughter and most of all the boy thing in our family. Ben was our precious son that we cherished and were so immensely proud of, and by the way we had brought him up.

He had values and respected everyone he met. We as a family will never know the man he would have become, the wife he would have met and the children he would have had. This has all now been taken away from siblings, his grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and us.

No parent or sibling should ever have to go through or see what we have seen with our son. He died in front of us, we then had to visit him in a morgue, the undertakers and finally to bury him. We can now only visit Ben at a cemetery, our beautiful son who so loved life.

We cry every day for the loss of Ben, we do not sleep like we did before. Nearly a year on our nights are still filled with nightmares, of our son’s last moments and what he went through that fatal night. Our lives will never be the same – we have all been so deeply affected. We as a family will never get over the loss of our Ben. We are just trying to get through it. Our family now face a lifetime of feeling this way.

Nothing we can say or do will ever bring Ben back. All we can hope and pray for is that justice will prevail, maybe then we can find some form of closure to this awful event that has devastated our family’s lives.”

BELOW – BEN KINSELLA’S FUNERAL

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