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The Murder of Sophie Lancaster was a murder case in the United Kingdom in 2007. The victim, along with her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, was attacked by a number of males in their late teens while walking through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Rossendale in Lancashire.[1] As a result of her severe head injuries she went into a coma, never regained consciousness, and later died. The police said the attack may have been provoked by the couple's wearing gothic fashion and being members of the goth subculture.[2]


Sophie Lancaster, 20, was a former pupil at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar school, Haslingden High School and a gap year student planning to attend Accrington and Rossendale College to do an English degree. She had been dating Maltby, a 21-year-old art student at Manchester, for three years and they both had a long-standing attachment to the goth subculture. The couple's family described them as "Goths", and said: "They're both intelligent, sensitive kids. They're not the sort of people to get in trouble, but they have had problems in the past because they stand out."[3]

Lancaster's parents said of her after her death:

"We were proud to know our daughter. She was funny, kind, loving and brave. She was a beautiful girl with a social conscience and values which made her a joy to know. Not being able to see her blossom into her full potential or even to see her smile again is a tragedy beyond words."[4]

Lancaster's mother said:

"The thing that makes me most angry is that it is seen as an isolated incident, maybe the seriousness of what happened to Sophie is isolated, but attacks are far from isolated. Just because you follow a different culture you are targeted; you are seen as easy pickings."[5]

The attack

While returning home, Lancaster and Maltby were subjected to a "vicious mob attack" from "a large group of people" between 01:10 hours and 01:20 hours on Saturday, 11 August 2007, at the skate park area of Stubbylee Park, Bacup (Template:Gbmapping).[3] The couple were walking home and came across a group of teenagers at the entrance to the park.[6] The group followed them, but there was no trouble until some of them suddenly assaulted Robert Maltby without provocation. When he was knocked unconscious the gang attacked Sophie Lancaster, who was trying to protect him by cradling him in her arms. A 15-year-old witness told police: "They were running over and just kicking her in the head and jumping up and down on her head." One distraught witness used a mobile phone to call for emergency services saying: "We need... we need an ambulance at Bacup Park, this mosher has just been banged because he’s a mosher."[7] Witnesses revealed that afterwards: "The killers celebrated their attack on the goths — or "moshers" - by telling friends afterwards that they had, "done summat [something] good," and claiming: "There's two moshers nearly dead up Bacup park — you wanna see them — they're a right mess."[8] The injured couple were assisted by some of the teenagers who called emergency services, and then stayed with the couple and tried to tend their wounds. At the trial they were commended by the judge.[9]

Police said soon afterwards it was, "a sustained attack during the course of which the pair received serious head injuries and their faces were so swollen we could not ascertain which one was female and which one was male." Both were hospitalised as a result of the attack, initially at Rochdale Infirmary.[2] Maltby's injuries left him in a coma with bleeding on the brain, but he gradually recovered over the next two weeks. Lancaster, in a deep coma, was moved to Fairfield Hospital in Bury, then to the Neurology unit at Hope Hospital in Salford. It became clear to hospital staff she would not recover from her injuries, and on 24 August 2007 her family agreed to switch off life support and she died.[4]

Arrests and investigation

Lancashire Police arrested five individuals in connection with the attack soon afterwards, but conducted extensive further investigations as it appeared up to fifteen people were in the area, and may have witnessed or participated in the assault. The police identified the gothic dress of the couple as a possible motivation for the attackers. A 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were remanded in custody, while two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old were released on bail. They were originally being charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, but following Lancaster's death the Crown Prosecution Service upgraded the charges.[10]

By 5 October 2007, after questioning over 100 people, the police concluded that they were not expecting to make any more arrests in the case, and although 15-20 people were in the park at some point during the night of the attack, police believe many were not directly involved, as the area was a regular night time hang-out spot for teenagers.[11]

Local residents identified the park as a spot often used by, "drunken, violent yobs" guilty of vandalism and under-age drinking. They had asked for measures to be taken about the area before the tragedy occurred. Following the murder, residents called for improved security in the area, but Rossendale Borough Council said park rangers would be too expensive.[12]

Trial and aftermath

On 6 September 2007 the five suspects were charged with murder at Burnley Youth Court, three were let out on bail, two boys aged 15 and 17 from Shawforth, and a 17-year-old boy from Bacup.[13][14] On 18 October at Burnley Youth Court all five were committed for trial at Preston Crown Court. A preliminary hearing was held on 31 October 2007, where the five accused faced a charge of murder for the death of Lancaster and a charge of grievous bodily harm with intent for the assault on Maltby.[15] A further plea and case management hearing was ordered by Judge Anthony Russell QC for 14 December. The judge also indicated a provisional trial date, on both allegations, of 10 March 2008.[16] At the hearing on 14 December 2007 the five accused pleaded not guilty on both charges.[17] At the beginning of the trial on 10 March 2008 all the accused admitted being guilty on the charge of grevious bodily harm with intent, Ryan Herbert pleaded guilty to murder, Brendan Harris pleaded not guilty to murder, while the murder charges against the other three were withdrawn.[18] As the trial opened the prosecution told the hearing: "Sophie and Robert were singled out not for anything they had said or done, but because they looked and dressed differently." The jury heard extensive descriptions of severity of the attack from a number of witnesses and through a recorded phone conversation taken at the time.[19]

At the conclusion of the trial on 27 March 2008, Brendan Harris was found guilty of murder, and the Judge ordered the names of both Harris and Herbert, concealed during the trial, to be made public. Detective Supt. Mick Gradwell of Lancashire Police said it was one of the most violent murders he had come across in his lengthy career: "I do not think Herbert and Harris have recognised how violent the attack was. They have just done it without thinking, but they seemed to have enjoyed it, and carried on remorselessly kicking at two very defenceless people who were unable to protect themselves because of the level of violence inflicted upon them... I am very critical of some of the parents involved. I really don't think they have taken completely seriously how repulsive this incident was..." He said that when Harris was initially interviewed about the assaults he was "laughing and joking" with his mother."[20][21]

Sentencing in the case was set for 28 April 2008.[22] Both Harris and Herbert were sentenced to life imprisonment with the trial judge recommending that Harris should serve at least eighteen years and Herbert at least sixteen years and three months.

In his closing remarks the judge described the attack as "feral thuggery" which raised serious questions about the "sort of society which exists in this country". He added: "This was a terrible case which has shocked and outraged all who have heard about it. At least wild animals, when they hunt in packs, have a legitimate reason for so doing, to obtain food. You have none and your behaviour on that night degrades humanity itself." [23]

The three other defendants were also sentenced for their role in the attack. Brothers Joseph and Danny Hulme, and Daniel Mallett, who had all earlier pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent on Mr Maltby, were jailed. Mallett was sentenced to four years and four months, and the Hulme brothers for five years and ten months each.[23]

On June 13, 2008, it was reported that all the defendants were appealing against the sentences set for their convictions.[24] The appeal was heard on October 7, 2008 with an announcement that the result would be released at a later date.[25] On the 29th of October the results of the appeal were announced. Ryan Herbert had his minimum term reduced from sixteen years and three months to fifteen years and six months, a reduction of nine months after the appeal judges ruled not enough allowance had been made for his guilty plea in the initial trial. Brendan Harris and the three other defendants failed to obtain any reduction in their sentences.[26]

Tributes to Sophie Lancaster

The park where the attack occurred was covered with floral tributes to the couple soon after the attack and online message boards have seen many tributes to Lancaster from well-wishers, including some from Europe and America, including a special Facebook and a Bebo group in her honour.[27][28] The attack was widely condemned in Lancashire and Rossendale by Council leaders and the local community.[29] At the alternative electronic music festival Infest in Bradford on 26 August 2007, just after Lancaster's death, Ronan Harris of VNV Nation dedicated the song "Illusion" to her and contacted the family to offer his condolences.[30][31] There has also been discussion of a plaque in her memory in the park.[32] A song was dedicated to Lancaster in concerts at Bacup’s Royal Court Theatre on September 6 and 7, 2007, and a collection taken.[33] A twelve hour long concert in her honour was held on 6 October 2007, at the grounds of Bacup Borough F.C. featuring 10 bands. The club played a game during the concert with all the takings going to the memorial fund.[11][34][35] This included a song written in Lancaster's honour.[36] Lancaster's family and friends have set up a website in her memory and have decided to use the contributions from wellwishers and these events to set up a special fund to be known as "S.O.P.H.I.E" standing for "Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere" aiming to "provide an appropriate memorial; a lasting legacy to raise awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Sophie Lancaster and to work towards a more tolerant, less violent society."[37] Lancaster's mother said: "it will also help fund group sessions with young people to teach them about alternative cultures and to respect everyone." A special black ribbon was being sold to support the fund available at the many events being held across Rossendale and in local shops. Lancaster's memory was further honoured at the Eccentrik Festival, in North Carolina, "and three more concerts are planned in California, one in Iowa and one in Brisbane, Australia."[38] A number of gothic gigs and club nights across the UK and Ireland dedicated a night to Lancaster in October and November 2007, including the Whitby Gothic Weekend. A collection of over £3000 was raised from these events to place a memorial bench to her in Whitby.[39][40][41] The bench was put in place on Whitby's West Cliff in January 2008.[42] The "Sophie Award" has been established as an ongoing prize for innovative and experimental filmmaking at Bacup Film Festival.[43] Lancaster's funeral was public and organised for 12 November 2007, and was attended by hundreds of people and BBC film crews.[44][45][46] Lancaster's friends held a memorial concert to "commemorate Sophie’s uniqueness" featuring Lancaster's favourite local bands held on 25 November 2007, the night before what would have been Lancaster's 21st birthday at St Mary’s Chambers in Rawtenstall the concert was covered by Granada Television.[47][48] A repeat event is planned for 26 November 2008 headlined by The Damned and AOR featuring Dave Sharp founder member of The Alarm.[49]

On 13 January 2009, it was announced that the Bloodstock Open Air festival were to rename their second stage to The Sophie Lancaster Stage in tribute and to promote the S.O.P.H.I.E. Campaign.[50] The second stage again carried the name of The Sophie Lancaster Stage in 2010.

On 24 and 25 June 2008, Carabas Theatre Company performed a new dark comedy that dealt with perceptions of the Gothic subculture, donating all profits to the S.O.P.H.I.E fund. The work was performed at the Gregson Centre, Moor Lane, Lancaster, and was attended by a friend of Sophie Lancaster. In a discussion after the performance, the cast and audience discussed Gothic culture, the issues raised in the performance, and the possibility of educating young people about different subcultures to foster unity and acceptance from a young age. The work, "Suckers," was written and directed by MJ Wesolowski, and the production raised £200 for the S.O.P.H.I.E fund.[51]

Media reaction

The original assault was mainly covered by the local media, but Lancaster's death two weeks later was mentioned on national television and widely in national newspapers.[citation needed] The attack was discussed in the media in connection with a wave of youth gang related violence in the UK, over the summer of 2007, including the murder of Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones.[52] Conservative leader David Cameron mentioned the attack as an example in a "speech criticising youth crime and Britain’s 'real and growing' problem with violence."[53][54] Since then coverage has mainly been restricted to the local press and the internet, except the funeral which received wider coverage. In February, 2008 The Observer compared the limited amount of coverage the Sophie Lancaster case received to the large amount of coverage worldwide which the media paid to the case of discrimination faced by a Yorkshire goth couple who were thrown off a bus.[55]

The trial in March 2008 saw extensive coverage in national media.[7][8][19][21] On 13 March 2008 Bizarre magazine launched a "Proud to be Different" campaign in honour of Sophie.[56]

On the 26 November 2009, which would have been Lancaster's 23rd birthday, a 4 minute animation based on the murder was released onto the internet and shown on MTV.[57] The film was also projected onto a screen in the Cathedral Gardens in Manchester.[58]

In July 2010 the book Weirdo Mosher Freak by journalist Catherine Smyth was published about the murder.

Reaction in the goth and alternative community

The crime has received much discussion and expressions of sympathy, not just amongst the UK goth subculture, but in other subcultures, and overseas as well. Martin Coles who organized the Whitby bench fund said "Since starting the on-line campaign to raise awareness of the collection I've been contacted by people from all over the world that have been shocked by this, and not just those from the gothic community, I've been talking to goths, bikers, metallers, people from the electro and indie scenes, just about any 'alternative' genre."[39] Many discussions have focused on whether the attack should be described as an example of a Hate crime and has been compared to the murder of the punk Brian Deneke in the United States.[citation needed] It has been widely perceived by goths as a more extreme example of the social intolerance, violence and abuse people can suffer as a result of their attachment to the goth subculture. The Observer said on 17 February 2008 that the case was one of a "rash of violent attacks targeting punk, goth and metal kids... Sophie Lancaster's case has become a rallying cry for those in the goth scene worried about this upsurge of violence."[55] This discussion of the case has led to an online petition to the Prime Minister "to Widen the definition of 'Hate Crime', to include crimes committed against a person or persons, on the basis of their appearance or subcultural interests" on the 10 Downing Street website.[59] Ade Varney creator of the petition said that goths "get verbal assaults every day, and not just from young people. But now younger teenagers have the mentality of hardened criminals and I definitely sense this violent aspect getting worse... Sophie's death has made people think and I have heard of teenagers, especially girls, modifying the way they dress when they walk through certain areas."[60] This led to political developments: "Rossendale MP Janet Anderson and Hyndburn MP Greg Pope are set to request a debate in the Commons to call for the widening of the law to include such an attack under the definition of a hate crime as soon as possible. They will also be putting forward an early day motion calling on the government to give the matter "urgent consideration".[61] In May 2009 the Justice Minister Jack Straw said while he could not change the law, he could amend the sentencing guidelines to require judges to treat an attack on a member of a subculture as an aggravating factor similar to a racially motivated or homophobic assault when sentencing perpetrators.[62]

See also

  • Murder of Brian Deneke


  1. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/3030751/Boyfriend-of-murdered-goth-Sophie-Lancaster-on-how-he-is-trying-to-rebuild-his-life.html
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lancashire Telegraph - "Couple left badly beaten in skate park" Sunday 12th August 2007
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rossendale Free Press - Young couple fighting for their lives after vicious ‘mob attack’ 16th August 2007
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Guardian 'Tragedy beyond words' for family as woman, 20, dies after park attack, Saturday August 25, 2007
  5. Rossendale Free Press - I can't bury my Sophie 27th September 2007
  6. "The haunting last picture of Sophie Lancaster who was beaten to death for being a Goth". Daily Mail (London). 28 March 2008. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-547708/The-haunting-picture-Sophie-Lancaster-beaten-death-Goth.html.
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Times - "Goth killing trial: extracts from the 999 call" March 12, 2008
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Guardian - "Woman died after drunken gang attacked couple dressed as goths" Thursday March 13, 2008
  9. Witnesses praised for helping Sophie Lancashire Evening Telegraph, 26 Mar 2008
  10. Skatepark youth 'may face murder charge' Lancashire Evening Telegraph Friday 24th August 2007
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rossendale Free Press Sophie's concert set for kick-off, 5th October 2007 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "kickoff" defined multiple times with different content
  12. "Residents call for park patrols after woman's death," Lancashire Evening Telegraph, 27 August 2007
  13. BBC News - Youths in court over park attack
  14. Rossendale Free Press, Five in court over girl's murder, 7 September 2007
  15. Rossendale Free Press, Murder rap teenagers in court, 18th October 2007
  16. Five in court accused of Sophie's murder Lancashire Evening Telegraph Wednesday 31 October 2007
  17. "Five youths deny student's murder" BBC News 14 December 2007
  18. BBC News, Monday, 10 March 2008 - "Teenager admits killing in park"
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Attack jury played desperate call" BBC News 12 March 2008
  20. "Boy convicted of Goth park murder" BBC News 27 March 2008
  21. 21.0 21.1 TEENAGE BOY GUILTY OF GOTH MURDER Express March 27, 2008
  22. Lancashire Telegraph 27 March 2008. "Boy, 15, guilty of Sophie murder".
  23. 23.0 23.1 BBC News 28 April 2008. "Boys jailed for park Goth murder".
  24. BBC News 13 June 2008. "Appeal over Goth murder sentence".
  25. "Appeal over Goth murder sentence".
  26. Goth killers fail to get sentence cuts
  27. "Tributes to student killed in park attack", Manchester Evening News 28/ 8/2007
  28. Rossendale Free Press - Special online book of condolence for Sophie Lancaster
  29. Rossendale Borough Council - Sophie Lancaster - Leaders speak out over tragic attack
  30. Youtube video - VNV Nation - Illusion Infest 2007. Ronan dedicated this song to Sophie Lancaster
  31. Rossendale Free Press - "Parents’ tribute to loving daughter" 30 August 2007
  32. Rossendale Free Press - "Plaque offer to family of tragic Sophie" 30 August 2007
  33. Rossendale Free Press - "Tribute to Sophie", 13 September 2007
  34. Lancashire Evening Telegraph "Sophie tribute unites a town", 7 October 2007
  35. Rossendale Free Press - "Two concerts in memory of attack victim Sophie", 13 September 2007
  36. Lancashire Telegraph - Tribute to Lancaster, 4 October 2007
  37. Myspace "In Memory of Sophie" - Memorial site for Sophie Lancaster created by her family and friends
  38. Rossendale Free Press - "Black ribbon tribute to tragic Sophie", 18 October 2007
  39. 39.0 39.1 Whitby Gazette "Memorial planned for murdered goth girl" 9 October 2007
  40. Halifax Evening Courier "Goths unite in tribute bid for tragic Sophie" 26 September 2007
  41. Whitby Gazette "Sophie's memory to live on" 2 November 2007
  42. Whitby Gazette "A tribute to Sophie" 22 January 2008
  43. "Film festival to rival the best" Rossendale Free Press 30 October 2007
  44. "I can bury my Sophie at last" - News - Rossendale Free Press 1 November 2007
  45. Lancashire Telegraph, "Sophie's final goodbye" 12 November 2007
  46. Youtube video - "Sophie Lancaster's Funeral and Tribute"
  47. "Memorial concert plan for Sophie" Lancashire Evening Telegraph 2 September 2007
  48. "Sophie’s birthday is not forgotten" Lancashire Evening Telegraph 26 November 2007
  49. Punk legends The Damned to headline Sophie Lancaster memorial gig
  50. "Blog Archive » Bloodstock Announce Sophie Lancaster Stage!". Metal Hammer. 2009-04-21. http://www.metalhammer.co.uk/news/bloodstock-announce-sophie-lancaster-stage-2/. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  51. "Suckers to stamp out violence - Morecambe Today". Thevisitor.co.uk. http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/entertainment/Suckers-to-stamp-out-violence.4290093.jp. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  52. "Enough is enough on violent crime", The Birmingham Post 29 August 2007
  53. Rossendale Free Press - "Tory boss condemns culture of violence"
  54. Daily Mail - "David Cameron, More prisons, bobbies back on the beat and less tolerance to offenders is needed"
  55. 55.0 55.1 The Observer - Music Monthly "Undead", Sunday February 17, 2008.
  56. Bizarre's "Proud to be Different" campaign Board
  57. "'Beautiful' film of Goth murder". BBC News. 25 November 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/8378666.stm. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  58. "Proud to be different". Bizarre magazine (London: Dennis Publishing) (158): 39. December 2009.
  59. Lancashire Telegraph, "Petition against violence gains 1,500 signatures" 11th November 2007
  60. "The darker side of life as a Goth" BBC News 27 March 2008
  61. Call for hate crimes law change, Manchester Evening News, April 4, 2008
  62. Sophie Lancaster's mum set to win tougher sentences for hate crimes

63 http://menmedia.co.uk/rossendalefreepress/news/s/1312577_journalist_writes_new_sophie_book

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