[UK] The night my daughter was stabbed

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[UK] The night my daughter was stabbed

Postby GOSA » Mon, 2007-03-26 07:56

The night my daughter was stabbed - and my liberal instincts died

The Daily Mail
March 5, 2007


The evening with my family had been perfect. My 18-year-old daughter, Amy, and her sister had cooked a meal for their mother's birthday and there had been a couple of glasses of champagne.

After dinner, Amy popped down to the corner shop. It was 10.30pm. When she returned, she staggered through the front door smeared with mud - and soaked with blood from a dreadful wound in her chest.

In the 500 yards between shop and home she had been followed by a youth whose face was concealed by a hood, pushed to the ground, robbed of her bag and stabbed in the ribs with a screwdriver.

Judging by what we've become used to over the past few weeks, maybe we shouldn't be surprised at random violence in any part of a British inner city. But this wasn't just any old sink estate.

Here among the gracious Edwardian streets of this North-west London suburb live the aspiring families who have jobs at the BBC's nearby Television Centre or at Canary Wharf, just a short commute by Tube. This is the heartlands of what are often referred to as the "chattering classes" - bankers, lawyers, publishers. I'm a journalist and have long worked at the "liberal" end of the national press. Amy's mother is an academic. Nearby live the actor Peter O'Toole and Ken Livingstone, the London mayor.

But your liberal instincts soon evaporate when your own daughter is attacked, replaced by an intense anger - at the attacker himself, of course, but also at the police for not preventing the crime and yourself for ignoring for so long the truth about what is happening in our society. Amy's stabbing took place a short walk from where young lawyer Tom ap Rhys Price was murdered by hoodies last year for his mobile phone and loose change. The story was in the headlines for months.

Yet here we are, a year later, in almost identical circumstances. Amy survived, but only because she was stabbed through three layers of clothing and the screwdriver stopped just short of her lung.

The attacker ("with a Jamaican accent and about 19", Amy said) had picked her out as his victim in the shop on a brightly-lit main road, where posters boast of new lighting "designed to cut crime" in the area. As soon as she left the shop, she sensed he was following her and sat on a wall hoping he would pass by. But he didn't.

"You look like a nice girl," he said. "You must have some money." She hadn't - she had left home with just a couple of pounds. "Well, give me your phone," he said.

"He seemed glazed. As if on drugs," said Amy. But she hadn't got her phone, either. So he pushed her to the ground and ran off with her handbag. Only afterwards did she realise he had stabbed her. Twice.

But when Amy got home, her ordeal was not over. Terrified, we called an ambulance which came promptly enough, but took her to A&E not at her local hospital, where she receives regular treatment as an insulin-dependent diabetic, but to another much further away.

After an initial inspection, she was left untended for more than three hours, without the wounds being cleaned. Yet the hospital did not appear busy, and nurses spent a lot of time chatting on mobile phones.

When Amy protested that she needed, at least, to be given some insulin, she was told by a nurse: "Don't think you're gonna pin a complaint on me." The police, sadly, weren't much better. They arrived within minutes of the 999 call, but their approach seemed to lack any reasonable expectation of capturing the culprit.

"You're a lucky girl," one of them told Amy. "It could have been worse. This was a very rare crime."

"Lucky?" said Amy afterwards. "Surely it would have been luckier if I hadn't got mugged and stabbed at all."

And rare? After Rhys Price had been stabbed in the same manner close by? Frankly, the response of the hospital and the police seemed to convey that far from this being a rare crime, it was commonplace.

The next day, I telephoned the detective in charge. I had imagined that, with a violent man on the loose prepared to stab a young woman in the street, there would be a full-scale search under way.

"The detective's not available," the woman at the police station told me cheerfully. "He's got a day in court. But he is one of our best officers." When we eventually talked, he said: "Let me run through with you, Mr Williams, exactly what we are doing."

They hadn't been able to make an identification despite Amy having drawn a sketch of her attacker; they had found none of her property and nothing was clear on CCTV.

What about forensics? Amy scratched the youth's face with her fingernails. "Did she?" asked the officer. "Well, she didn't tell us." But the police hadn't asked. Now it was too late.

And, of course, the detective constable was "very busy" dealing with "unruly kids at school lunchtimes", as well as crimes like this.

This is not entirely a tale without redemption. The young woman who heard the attack from her flat and drove Amy home, disregarding the blood on her seats, was brave. She said: "I had to intervene. I heard the whole thing. It made my blood curdle."

And Amy herself fought back bravely and tried to give chase, despite losing her shoes.

With the empathy and optimism of youth, Amy has tried not to issue blame. "I pity him," she says. "He's been conditioned into a life he can't escape from."

A commendable view, perhaps, and one that up until recently I would have shared. But not any more. Nothing shatters one's dearly-held liberal beliefs quite like a brutal clash with the reality of crime.

On our streets today it is the middle-class young people - the products of our liberal homes - who are being targeted. Amy is convinced there is a growing war on London streets between the dispossessed of the graffiti-covered estates and the middle classes: "Trust me, Dad. He wouldn't have gone for one of his own."

So is there anybody out there who is accountable? The terrible fact is that, in these well-tended million-pound-plus houses with their state-of-the art security systems, people have long known what's going on in the street outside.

But they have closed the blinds and simply turned away. And so have I.

To the dispossessed, the politicians have become irrelevant. To the young man who attacked my daughter, the wrangling between David Cameron and Education Secretary Alan Johnson over the significance of family breakdown in social disintegration would be a matter of supreme indifference.

That sort of talk - because talk is all it is - might as well be taking place on another planet for all the effect it will have on the streets round here. More police and stronger punishments may have an effect - but I fear the rot has gone too deep.

We have put our heads in the sand for too long about this problem and have done nothing about the indifference of the authorities to much that is wrong in our society. We certainly backed the wrong policies on education - no one who could possibly avoid it would send a child to a comprehensive school around here.

Worse, we have done this at the expense of our own children, who now have to forge their lives in the bleak urban environment we have allowed to develop.

Friends who have moved out to the commuter belt frequently ask: "How can you live with the drugs, the crime, the dirt, the anti-social behaviour?" "Ah," I used to be fond of replying, "there's a parallel universe out there and, thank God, the two worlds never meet."

As I, and all the others with Paul Smith suits and briefcases, strode past the addicts shooting up outside the Tube and the Special Brew drinkers on the kerb, I used to think smugly: "Well, this doesn't touch me."

But, the chances always were that it would in the end. And it did, in the worst possible way. My beautiful daughter has been violently stabbed in the street by a stranger high on drugs.

Amy is probably right. There is a war out there. And the dreadful admission is: I am guilty of helping to create it.


Re-form the special patrol groups, turn back the clock, zero tolerance,
meet violence with violence, create a climate of fear within the feral
gangs who roam our streets. Of course these measures will never be
introduced by the "old gang parties" and the cycle of violence will
- Steve Michael, Kent

Raoul Duke, Merseyside. Well said. I am born and raised 'coucil estate
trash' as most here would see me. I have seen stuff like this going on
for ever and a day. Get used to it and embrace it. If it's good enough
for me it's good enough for you lot too.
- Mark, Leeds, UK

Absolutely nothing will be done by any of those in power, unless and
until "one of their own" is attacked or killed in this fashion. Those in
power are even more removed from reality than the liberal elitist father
in this story and they certainly don't care about us "nothings"
(ordinary people) and our fears, concerns, hopes and dreams.
- Denise, England
What have YOU done for YOUR rights today?
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