Friday, 12 June 2009

Two victims of London knife crime - Ben and Shaquille

Two terribly sad court cases in London this week, illustrating the extent to which knives are used in a casual and random way to wipe out the lives of innocent boys.

Ben Kinsella, 16 was celebrating the end of his exams in a bar in Holloway, north London when he was stabbed by three boys who thought they'd been shown disrespect. Shaquille Smith, 14 was sitting in a park in Hackney when he was stabbed by gang members with a grudge against the brother of the boy he was with. Ben and Shaquille did absolutely nothing to provoke their attackers.

In the case of Ben Kinsella. witnesses braved intimidation to give evidence. This is just an extract from a letter sent by one of the defendants to a witness: "You all best hope I don't bust case because people will be in trouble and you will never snitch on anyone again, I promise you that.

"You see, snitches get touched. You see blood [brother or fellow gang member], Tottenham ride [flee] or die ... if I get found guilty it's down to you."

Shaquille's mother Sandra read a statement to the court, saying: “It is difficult to describe the life Shaq has lost. I can describe his birth, his first smile, his first tear, when he first walked, going to nursery and onto school.“What I can’t tell you is how he would manage his exams, his graduation, his first job, his first car, his first girlfriend, getting married, having children.“A light has been dimmed and put out of our lives. We never had a chance to say goodbye.”

And Ben Kinsella's mother told the Old Bailey: "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....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."

Ben Kinsella's attackers were jailed for life today, with a recommended minimum of term of 19 years. Shaquille Smith's killers have been warned that they will also get life sentences.

It's hard to find even a glimmer of hope when reading about these two beautiful boys whose lives were taken from them. Maybe it's in the hundreds of Ben's friends who marched against knife crime in the days following his death. Maybe in the news today that a police raid against gangs in London saw 200 people arrested.

Reading about cases like these make me question myself about the ethics of writing about knife crime in a novel. Could my book be seen as exploiting real human tragedies like these? Is it offensive to grieving parents like the Kinsellas and Smiths to base a work of fiction around a London stabbing? I feel this particularly about Shaquille, because he, like the victim in my book, died in a Hackney park. All I can say is that I hope my book might make some boys think twice before they arm themselves with knives, and that by examining questions about justice and truth, others might find the courage to stand up against intimidation.
As a news journalist I know how the news agenda moves on so quickly as the media bores easily. Maybe fiction offers a different way to keep the hunt for justice alive.

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