Spread­ing the mes­sage of hope and tol­er­ance

Rossendale Free Press - - Sophie’s Legacy – 10 Years On - BETH ABBIT freep­ress­news@men­media.co.uk

IT’S a decade since So­phie Lan­caster died af­ter be­ing bru­tally at­tacked in a park.

The Hasling­den stu­dent’s un­timely death at the hands of a gang of ‘feral’ teenage thugs shocked the na­tion.

Her fam­ily, pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice in­sist she died sim­ply be­cause she looked dif­fer­ent.

De­scribed as a ‘goth girl’ dur­ing the furore that fol­lowed her death, So­phie in fact loved all kinds of al­ter­na­tive mu­sic and cul­ture.

It has been her friends and peers in sub­cul­tures across the coun­try that have spent the last decade spread­ing a mes­sage of hope and tol­er­ance in So­phie’s name.

From tragedy came the cat­a­lyst for change.

Her mum Sylvia has spent the past 10 years work­ing tire­lessly to stamp out hate crime and in­tol­er­ance in So­phie’s name.

In the wake of her daugh­ter’s death Sylvia set up the So­phie Lan­caster Foun­da­tion - a char­ity ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing a last­ing legacy to the bright young woman.

Dur­ing the early days the group re­lied on al­ter­na­tive bands to help spread their mes­sage at gigs and fes­ti­vals.

But it quickly snow­balled and, in the years af­ter her death, it was im­pos­si­ble to go to a gig in the north west with­out spot­ting a ‘S.O.P.H.I.E’ wrist­band.

The mes­sage grew fur­ther as punks, mosh­ers, met­al­heads, emos and goths spread those ideals at al­ter­na­tive gigs and fes­ti­vals, such as Re­bel­lion and Down­load Fes­ti­val.

Bands in­clud­ing Gold­blade, The Damned and The Lev­ellers sold the wrist­bands from their mer­chan­dise stalls.

In 2009 the or­gan­is­ers of metal mu­sic fes­ti­val Blood­stock ded­i­cated a stage to So­phie. That same year the foun­da­tion gained char­ity sta­tus.

It was a flurry of ac­tiv­ity that car­ried So­phie’s fam­ily through those first dif­fi­cult years af­ter her death. But it wasn’t easy.

Sylvia said: “When I look back at the old pic­tures of my­self in the early days I see how an­gry I was. I can see it.”

These days she is dif­fer­ent - softer - she says.

“It’s just time. You just deal with things dif­fer­ently. You live along­side the grief. She ain’t com­ing back so you just get on with it. It’s been ther­a­peu­tic to have this to put my en­ergy into.”

So­phie was just 20 when she and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were set upon by the ‘feral thugs’ in Bacup.

The gang of teenagers first at­tacked Robert dur­ing the early hours at Stub­bylee Park, on Au­gust 11, 2007.

When So­phie rushed to help him they fo­cused their at­ten­tion on her, kick­ing her in the head and leav­ing her for dead. The cou­ple were so badly beaten that when paramedics ar­rived they could not tell if they were male or fe­male.

So­phie, who was placed on a life-sup­port ma­chine, bore the shape of a foot­print on her head. She died 13 days later.

Bren­dan Har­ris and Ryan Her­bert are both serv­ing life sen­tences for So­phie’s mur­der.

Broth­ers Joseph and Danny Hulme and Daniel Mal­lett have all since been re­leased from prison af­ter serv­ing sen­tences for griev­ous bod­ily harm.

The judge who jailed the young men said So­phie and Robert had been the vic­tims of a hate crime and were tar­geted be­cause their ap­pear­ance was dif­fer­ent.

Judge An­thony Rus­sell QC said: “This was feral thug­gery. It raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the sort of so­ci­ety which ex­ists in this coun­try at the start of a new mil­len­nium which was her­alded with such op­ti­mism.”

Sylvia re­mem­bers the night of the at­tack as a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You can’t grasp it fully,” she says.

“It just didn’t make any sense. And then you are be­ing fed lots of in­for­ma­tion and you have to try and process it. I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘why would any­one want to at­tack her? How very odd’.

“Then you get to the hos­pi­tal and find out friends are not al­lowed in, just fam­ily, and you hear more about what went on. You see the in­juries for the first time - that’s hor­ri­ble. Es­pe­cially if you’ve never seen any­one who’s been beaten up be­fore and you see that dam­age.

“You think ‘she will be al­right to­mor­row’ and then ob­vi­ously, she isn’t. She was gone and you could see that. It’s very strange.”

Though she did not know the cir­cum­stances of the at­tack when she first re­ceived that fate­ful phone call from po­lice, Sylvia im­me­di­ately knew it was linked to So­phie and Rob’s ap­pear­ance.

“When I heard the ages of the kids re­spon­si­ble, in­stantly you know that’s the re­al­ity,” she says.

“There was never any doubt in my mind.”

So­phie was a pop­u­lar, car­ing young woman with a keen in­ter­est in books and po­etry. The gap-year stu­dent had planned to start an English de­gree later that year.

It’s likely that she in­her­ited her love of al­ter­na­tive mu­sic from her mum and dad John - both fans of punk and rock bands such as Whites­nake, Meat­loaf and the Pix­ies.

It was tes­ta­ment to the im­pact she had through­out her short life that hun­dreds of peo­ple turned out to So­phie’s fu­neral, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists and tele­vi­sion crews.

Though it was dif­fi­cult for Sylvia, John and So­phie’s brother Adam to have such a pub­lic fu­neral, they were keen to spread a mes­sage of tol­er­ance.

Sylvia’s hard work over the years has re­sulted in an OBE. And So­phie’s name has been em­braced as a bas­tion of unity.

A stage at the metal fes­ti­val Blood­stock, a make up blusher and a black eye­liner all bear So­phie’s name.

The Il­la­masqua eye liner, in par­tic­u­lar, Sylvia says, she would have loved.

And then there are the ‘S.O.P.H.I.E’ branded zippo lighters, hip flasks, badges, T-shirts and note­books that the char­ity team has spent the sum­mer lug­ging around var­i­ous fes­ti­vals and events.

Si­mon Ar­mitage cre­ated the award-win­ning poem Black Roses, writ­ten in So­phie’s voice.

It was later adapted into a play - just one of many cre­ative out­pour­ings sparked by So­phie’s death.

“Peo­ple have been so kind,” says Sylvia.

“When we’re at fes­ti­vals at the end of the night of­ten peo­ple will throw their fake horns at us and I love that.”

A decade af­ter So­phie’s death, Sylvia has no grand plans to mark the oc­ca­sion. In­stead she will spend the day re­flect­ing.

“I want peo­ple to see how peace­ful and what a plea­sure she was,” Sylvia says. And fun - she wasn’t mis­er­able by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.

“My most vivid mem­ory is how funny she was. She was sar­cas­tic and quick and could be quite cut­ting. But gen­tle. She was a quiet lit­tle thing re­ally. She read con­stantly from be­ing a lit­tle girl. She al­ways had a book on her arm. That’s how I re­mem­ber her - with a bot­tle of Coke, a choco­late bar and a book, read­ing peace­fully.”

●● It is a decade since So­phie Lan­caster was killed

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