I watched my poor boy knifed in the heart
They rounded on my innocent only child like a pack of animals
Clutching my hand, Azaan, then 5, gazed up at me as we walked home from school. ‘When you’re older, I’ll look after you, Mummy,’ he said, chatting away. ‘Will you?’ I smiled.
‘I’ll buy you a car with pink and purple spots,’ he grinned.
My only child, his innocent words melted my heart.
It was 2006, and his dad and I had divorced three years earlier.
He still saw his dad regularly but, as a single mum, I put a lot of effort into my relationship with Azaan.
From an early age, his caring personality shone through.
As he got older, he preferred to be called AJ – short for Azaan John – but that didn’t stop him being my little boy.
‘I love you,’ he’d say as he left the house or ended phone calls. Unlike some teenage boys, he wasn’t afraid to show his feelings.
In June 2017, love blossomed between AJ and his friend Sarah, 17.
They’d known each other for years, and looked so sweet together. AJ was a caring boyfriend, too – when Sarah’s grandfather fell ill in 2018, AJ went to hospital with her every day.
That March, AJ and I spent Mother’s Day together, like always. AJ held my hand as we wandered around the local shopping centre. Not your typical 18-year-old!
He had his moments, like all teenagers, but I was lucky.
Sadly, Sarah’s grandfather died, and on the morning of the funeral, AJ worried as he didn’t have a suit.
‘Do I look OK?’ he asked me, wearing a smart black top and trousers.
‘So handsome,’ I said to him.
As he and Sarah left, I hugged them both.
‘Love you, Mum,’ he said.
A few hours later, my friend picked me up to drive us to Lidl. Only, on the way, my phone rang – it was Sarah.
‘AJ’s been stabbed!’ she screamed.
My blood ran cold as, through hysterics, she told me where they were.
‘I’m coming,’ I said, hands shaking, numb with fear.
The 10-minute journey felt an eternity, my panic rising with every red light.
He’s fine, I told myself. Surely Sarah didn’t really mean stabbed.
‘Probably just a cut,’
I said, picturing my clumsy AJ sitting on the kerb with a minor leg wound.
Only as we turned the corner, I saw the road was cordoned off. Police vans had parked up.
I leapt from the car and ran. But as I approached the centre of the chaos, I saw someone on the ground. It was my AJ. He motionless, surrounded by police.
‘My son, my son!’ I screamed, rushing over, but an officer pulled me back.
‘The paramedics need space,’ she said.
‘Please, please, please, they won’t let me near him!’ I wailed, falling to my knees.
I looked on, helpless and sobbing, as AJ was put in an ambulance.
Sarah and I got in a police car and as we followed AJ to Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, she told me what had happened. ‘We were walking home from the funeral,’ she wept. A teenage boy on a bike cycled by, staring at them. AJ had glared back. The boy stopped, put his hand down his trousers, as if to pull out a knife. Azaan opened his jacket, showing the boy the handle of a knife he was carrying, too. ‘He had
It is society’s violent culture I blame
a knife?!’ I asked, horrified.
I learnt AJ had started to carry a knife a year earlier, for protection. He was living in fear after being badly attacked by a grown man.
I wished I’d known, had talked sense into him.
The boy had gone round a corner but, in moments, a car pulled up alongside AJ and Sarah. Three teenagers piled out, a fourth stayed in the driver’s seat.
My boy was repeatedly stabbed in broad daylight, then the gang had fled.
‘I tried to stop them!’ Sarah wept.
I could barely breathe from the horror.
As we burst into A&E, a doctor asked if AJ was allergic to any medication.
He’s still alive, I thought, breathing a sigh of relief.
‘No,’ I said as he was rushed to surgery.
Six hours later, I was taken to see AJ, unconscious, a tube down his throat. The doctors said he’d been stabbed up to 20 times.
Crying, hoping, I sat with him all night, holding his hand. Sarah was at the police station, answering questions.
But the next day brought devastating news.
A knife to AJ’s heart had caused catastrophic damage and, despite 30 transfusions, only life support was keeping him alive. He was brain dead.
I wept uncontrollably, and after sitting with AJ another day, I found the strength to let him go.
Turning off the machines was unbearable, but he was already gone. As he slipped away, I told him I loved him. Sarah was there, too, and had a few minutes alone with AJ to say her goodbyes
After, I was in a state of shock and devastation. My boy hadn’t deserved this.
Using CCTV footage, the police arrested Harrison
Searle, 18; Rashaan Ellis, 19; Callum Smith, 19; and Reece Bliss-McGrath, 20 – charged them with murder.
That May, hundreds came to AJ’s Muslim burial, followed by his Christian blessing, honouring the two faiths he’d grown up with.
Then, while I grieved, I started visiting schools, mosques and churches, to warn kids about gang crime.
In December 2018, Searle, Ellis, Smith and BlissMcGrath stood trial at the Old Bailey. All pleaded not guilty. I watched in horror as they arrogantly laughed and joked in the dock.
There was nothing funny about their 22-second, barbaric attack on my son.
The four thugs struck after a phone call from the cyclist. The CCTV footage was played. They’d rounded on AJ – who they didn’t know – like a pack of animals.
Searle, Ellis and Smith were convicted of murder, given life.
Ellis and Smith will both serve 18 years minimum, Searle was given a 16-year minimum sentence.
Bliss-McGrath was cleared of murder, but found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to 11 years. In February 2019, I visited one of the killers in prison under a restorative justice scheme. It was tough, but I wanted to release my anger.
Otherwise it’d build until I was a ball of resentment, unable to get out of bed. ‘I forgive you,’ I told him. It’s society’s violent culture I blame.
Sarah and I have become close, she lost so much, too, is the daughter I never had. My connection to AJ. I work for Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) now, tackling knife crime, gang culture and exploitation.
Losing my AJ was so senseless, I want to make his life matter.