This article was taken from the September issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
Some stories stay with you and never leave you until they’re told, even if it takes years to get the opportunity to tell them. One such story is the murder of Richard Everitt in 1994. Not solely because of the tragedy itself, which attracted little press coverage at the time, but because the response to the crime exposes a double standard in the unremitting debate on race that’s become ever more apparent in the intervening years. Here was the murder of a teenager that drew parallels with that of Stephen Lawrence a year earlier in 1993, except in this instance the victim of the crime was white and his killers were not.
The details of the Lawrence story have been justly documented at length and will be aired again in a three-part sequel to the 1999 ITV drama The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. A recent BBC film dramatised the murder of black teenager Anthony Walker on Merseyside in 2005, for which the brother of footballer Joey Barton was charged, but films relating to Richard Everitt have been conspicuous by their absence. This is therefore an apposite moment to tell a story I’ve attempted to tell previously.
The first opportunity arose in 2008, when the man sentenced for participating in his murder was released from prison.It was, perhaps, the final chapter in a story of which little was known beyond the basic facts offered as a footnote by broadsheets. The 15-year old was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack by a group of Asian boys in Somers Town, north London. One of the culprits was now free having served 12 years of a life sentence. He was 19 years old at the time of the trial.
The Everitt family were adamant it was a racist murder – a contention backed by many people off the record
In 2009 I pitched a proposal to the Sunday Times and was commissioned to write an investigative feature for its magazine. From the outset the Lawrence and Everitt murders attracted my attention beyond the futility of the crimes, and the impact on the respective families. I was familiar with the area where Lawrence was murdered; some of my relatives had moved from council homes in south-east London and bought houses in Eltham and the neighbouring suburbs. Their children attended the same school as the teenager. As press interest intensified over time, it struck me how both race and class were central to the coverage. The lack of O-levels of the murder suspects, the revelations that their mothers were neither non-smokers nor natural blondes were cited as though evidence of guilt.
I was criticised for commenting on this by pundit Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who wrote in the Independent that I was “proffering an intellectual alibi for the killers of Stephen Lawrence”. My point was that the residents of Eltham, and the whole of the white working class, were put on trial. A London cab driver expressed it more succinctly: “When Stephen Lawrence was murdered I thought it was terrible,” he said. “Three years later I thought I’d killed him myself.”
Armed with these basic facts I headed to Somers Town, a neighbourhood responding to change with the gentrification of nearby King’s Cross a snapshot of the shape of things to come. (The Shane Meadows film Somers Town had put it back on the map the previous year). Eurostar had been rehoused at St Pancras where the refurbished Midland Grand Hotel, the monumental nineteenth-century Gothic creation of George Gilbert Scott, would soon accommodate the longest champagne bar in Europe.
The art of Eduardo Paolozzi and Anthony Gormley figured in the piazza of the British Library, which in 1997 relocated to the site of an old rail goods yard that was once a key source of employment for local residents and migrants alike.
In the nineteenth century Somers Town appeared in the fiction of Charles Dickens. After his father’s release from debtor’s prison his son moved to The Polygon, the neighbourhood’s first major housing estate. In Bleak House, Harold Skimpole lives there along with “poor Spanish refugees walking about in cloaks, smoking little paper cigars”.
Further housing projects emerged when a local priest established St Pancras Housing Improvement Society to eradicate slums. The landmark Sidney Street estate was built in the 1920s. Turks, West Indians and Africans arrived over time, with families coming from Sylhet, Bangladesh, in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, white British families were taking up the right-to-buy option with many later selling up and shipping out to Essex or elsewhere. As Pret and Starbucks came, regeneration began to erase the past and one notable chapter in Somers Town history became dust and ashes.
The singular reference to the murder of Richard Everitt was a plaque bought by his parents, Norman and Mandy Everitt, to commemorate their son. When the site where it was displayed was demolished they transferred it to a tiny park tucked in the corner of the neighbourhood. “I knew people would forget Richard,” his mother told me in 2009, “but I didn’t want them to forget the circumstances of his death.” (In June this year the plaque was removed again, due to current redevelopment.)
The Everitts — native north Londoners — moved to Somers Town Estate with their three children in 1986. The Sir William Collins school was another staple of the area, established in the 1890s and re-christened South Camden Community School by the time their youngest son attended. There was a diverse ethnic mix within the classrooms. Close to 60 per cent of pupils were Asian, 25 per cent black and 15 per cent white. Following his death, the annual Richard Everitt trophy was introduced and awarded to two children at the school. According to the department for Children, Schools and Families at Camden Council it was presented to pupils who showed “leadership in promoting community cohesion”.
Camden council expressed an interest in the research, until it showed white racism was not the impetus for the violence
In the 1990s it was a lack of cohesion and violence between ethnic gangs that led the late Rosemary Harris — a reader in anthropology at nearby University College — to make Somers Town the subject for her research, assisted by field workers and youth club leaders. Camden council expressed an interest, until the findings revealed white racism was not the impetus for the violence of Asian gangs.
“Camden Council wanted nothing to do with it,” she told me. “I think because the Bangladeshis failed to emerge as the totally innocent victims of local racism. What angered me at the time was that the findings were dismissed as ‘racist’.” Some of the research featured in the book Divided Europeans: Understanding Ethnicities in Conflict (1999) but the original 50-page document remained unpublished. Yet its content might have offered solutions to issues addressed by the authorities following the Everitt murder.
The pattern of violence began in earnest in 1992, according to the report: “A white boy outside the school offended a group of Bangladeshis and they lacerated his back with knives.” One black youth was stabbed ten times by Bangladeshi boys, yet managed to survive. Harris sat in on a meeting between the parents of a white boy and a teacher, after the parents become fearful for their son’s safety. Previously a knife was pulled on him as he queued for his school meal, now seven Bangladeshi boys attacked him as payback for a tackle made during a football match.
Rosemary Harris wrote that teachers were vulnerable to charges of racism, “an accusation that they know is likely to follow any action by them against misbehaviour by Bangladeshis”. The main culprit was temporarily suspended, with the school denying racism played a part in the assault according to the parents. The victim was Richard Everitt.
In the summer of 1994 a gang of Bangladeshi teenagers between 10 and 15 strong went in search of an elusive boy believed to have stolen jewellery from the girlfriend of a gang member. Having assaulted a couple of white boys — attempting to stab one of them — they happened upon Richard Everett and two friends, aged nine and 17, returning from a burger bar. The trio of boys were ambushed. One was head-butted but managed to flee with the younger child. Richard — 6ft and 13st — was killed by a seven-inch kitchen knife penetrating his ribs, lung and heart.
The local MP believed suggesting there was a racist motive to the crime would have only inflamed the situation
Police descended on the neighbourhood in the weeks that followed. A team of 24 constables patrolled the area to prevent retaliatory attacks or violent flare-ups between gangs. The Everitts appealed for calm, putting their name to a letter distributed to 7,500 local homes, after the firebombing of a halal butcher. An Asian businessman’s offer of a £10,000 reward for the names of the killers proved futile in an investigation hampered by the silence of Bangladeshi families. Several of the suspects were dispatched to relatives in Bangladesh.
The Everitts were targeted with hate mail and moved to a safe house under the witness protection scheme, eventually relocating to the north of England. The family never attempted to capitalise on the racial element of the killing, but were adamant it was a racist murder – a contention backed up by numerous people I interviewed off the record, including former family liaison officers. This was also the line of the crime writer I spoke to at the Sun, one of the few newspapers to investigate the story at length.
At Millbank, I met the family’s local Labour MP Frank Dobson, who believed there was no racist motive to the crime, and to have suggested so would have only inflamed the situation, creating further division. On leaving I asked if he planned to retire before the next election. The party had persuaded him to stand again, he said, because he could “bring in the Bangladeshi vote”.
The groups, quangos and columnists that made anti-racism central to their remit were silent on the racist motivation of the crime and concentrated on fears of a backlash against Bangladeshi families. This was a marked contrast to events following the killing of Stephen Lawrence, when the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Herman Ouseley, telephoned the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to say this was a racist crime, and “it was imperative that it should be investigated as a racist crime”, according to the book Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics (2000).
The following day the Anti-Racist Alliance and representatives from similar groups were on the doorstep of the Lawrences’ suburban home. Two weeks later the couple were at the Athenaeum Hotel in west London for a meeting with Nelson Mandela, who compared the killing to events in South Africa where “black lives are cheap”. The only high-profile person that expressed an interest in the Everitt murder, privately at least, was Princess Diana. She laid flowers on the spot where he was killed.
A young Asian officer voiced his concerns over a reluctance to accept that local gangs were divided by race
At Scotland Yard, I spoke to a young Asian officer recently appointed to Somers Town. He voiced his concerns over a reluctance to acknowledge how gangs in the area were divided by race rather than by housing estates and neighbourhoods: “It was much more comfortable to see these things geographically.” The Everitt killing was originally classified as a “racist incident” by those leading the investigation, before becoming one that was no longer “purely a racist attack”, according to news reports. Perhaps they, like the teachers Harris mentioned, feared allegations of racism, a development that has become more commonplace in recent years, most controversially with the delayed exposure of Pakistani grooming gangs.
The police were also reeling from the fall-out from the Lawrence murder in which charges of incompetence and insensitivity were levelled, with the vague allegation of “institutional racism” added during the Macpherson Inquiry. The argument central to the Lawrence case was that the teenager would not have been murdered if he was white. Yet the race industry never considered Richard Everitt was murdered because he was.
I completed the Sunday Times article. Lawyers for the newspaper made amendments. Time passed. The magazine editor left, pegs and hooks fell by the wayside, the story died. It happens sometimes no matter how handsomely a writer is paid for their efforts. Nevertheless, I persevered as there were other angles of interest. The Everitt trial began at the Old Bailey in October 1995, six months before the private prosecution brought by the Lawrence family was staged there.
The Lawrences’ lawyers were the defence team in the Everitt trial. Before becoming identified with the Stephen Lawrence case the eminent QC Michael Mansfield defended the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Three; now he represented the Camden Six, as their supporters tagged the accused. Ultimately, two of the gang were convicted: one for being a participant in the murder, the other for violent disorder. They received prison sentences of 12 and three years respectively. The legal principle used was “joint enterprise”, the doctrine that assigns criminal liability to all those present at a crime.
In 2009, I found myself seated at lunch within the old Reuters building on Fleet Street — recently converted to a Conran-style restaurant — pitching ideas to the future editor of the Sunday Times. He was familiar with Somers Town but less familiar with the developments in the Everitt story and my attempts to write about it. Within a fortnight the paper’s news editor had me update my feature and rewrite it as a news story. Days before it was to be published, the anonymous sex blogger “Belle de Jour” opted to reveal her identity to the Sunday Times. As I say, hooks and pegs fall by the wayside, stories die. It happens.
Getting the story published was proving more difficult than getting people to talk about it. (Pitches to other newspapers came to nothing, meetings at Channel Four and Radio 4 didn’t progress beyond the perfunctory development meetings.) Many had been ready, willing but unable to speak because of a lack of legal protection. I’d fared no better with those that supported the campaign to free the teenagers shortly after the sentencing. The human rights charity Liberty, Camden Legal Centre, Camden Racial Equality Council, the Society of Black Lawyers, added weight to the campaign, which accused the jury and the Crown Prosecution Service of racism.
In its literature the plight of the “King’s Cross Two” was compared with that of the “Sharpeville Six” in the South Africa of the 1980s, who were convicted under “joint enterprise”. (The London teenagers charged were not activists protesting against apartheid, nor were they sentenced to death.)
The following decade, on the tenth anniversary of the Macpherson Report (1999) on the death of Stephen Lawrence, Trevor Phillips, then Chairman of the Commission for Human Rights and Equality, claimed the battle against “institutional racism” was not yet won. However, the police would deal with the Lawrence murder differently if it occurred today, he said, citing the murder of Anthony Walker, which was immediately treated as a racist attack.
It was unlikely the killing of Richard Everitt would have been treated any differently. The murder of Christopher Yates in Newham at the hands of an Asian gang around the time of Walker’s death was just one of the many incidents in which the racial motive was not considered a factor when the victim was white. If it took the tragedy of the Stephen Lawrence murder to highlight covert prejudice within the police force, it was the murder of Richard Everitt that finally exposed double standards in the race industry.
In 2012, I spent the night with a government minister on a flight from New York. Coincidentally I’d interviewed him for BBC’s The Politics Show just weeks earlier. He was wearing the best Chelsea boots I’d ever seen and, as I pointed out, taking the Tories’ austerity measures seriously by travelling economy, and finding himself seated next to me. We talked of the news that had dominated in the UK during our absence: the latest chapter in the Stephen Lawrence story provided the headlines. Finally, two of the suspects were convicted of the murder, under joint enterprise. Those that condemned the use of this in the Everitt trial were now celebrating, as it resulted in a verdict they approved of.
I informed the minister of my efforts to tell the Everitt story. He suggested that a back-bencher might take up the cause. The Everitt case could have been reactivated years after the investigation had closed, in pursuit of all those responsible for the murder. (Last month the Lawrence investigation was officially classified as “inactive”). Neither the Lawrences nor the Everitts discovered the identity of the actual murderer of their sons, and others involved escaped prison.
Both families had endured battles they should not have had to fight. Norman and Mandy Everitt never saw their son’s murder elevated to the status of a race crime, and also witnessed attempts to prevent his killers being brought to justice. “I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but I sometimes wish that Richard had been murdered by a white boy,” Mandy Everitt told me, when I first approached her with plans to write about her son. “Then we’d have had to deal with the murder but not the nightmare of everything else that followed.”
Ironically, under the interpretation of “racism” according to current hate crime legislation, a racial incident is one that is “perceived” to be as such, regardless of the intention or the motivation of the accused. On the strength of this criteria, Richard Everitt was unmistakably the victim of a racist murder. Twenty-six years later, in the absence of an ITV series or a BBC film dramatising his story, maybe we can at least finally allow him that.
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