Daily Mail

‘16 months in prison is not enough for the loss of my brilliant son’s life’

Debbie Makki’s grammar schoolboy son was stabbed to death following a silly row with friends. Heartbroke­n — and shocked by their sentences — she says in this exclusive interview...

- by Helen Carroll

WHEN friends at his £13,000-ayear private school boasted about their Armani tracksuits and Louis Vuitton trainers, bursary boy Yousef Makki, growing up on a council estate, would tap his forehead good-humouredly and say: ‘Money can’t buy what’s in here.’

How right he was. While many privileged pupils struggled to keep up at the selective school despite expensive extra tuition, Yousef, raised by a single mum with crippling rheumatoid arthritis, sailed through, finishing Year 11 with a string of A-stars. At 17, he was among just a handful of pupils being prepared to sit Oxbridge entrance exams.

But Yousef never got to fulfil his potential. He died in March this year — following a stab wound to the heart — in a tree- lined street in the affluent village of Hale Barns in Greater Manchester.

Last week, two just- such privileged boys — friends of Yousef ’ s through his private school connection­s — were sentenced for their part in Yousef’s death.

The 17-year- old who inflicted the fatal wound, referred to in court only as Boy A because of his age, had earlier been found not guilty of murder or manslaught­er. The jury accepted his claim that he had acted in self- defence. He was sent to a young offenders’ institutio­n for 16 months after he admitted possessing a knife and perverting the course of justice after lying to the police.

A second 17-year- old, Boy B, had bought two illegal flick knives over the internet from China, one of which was given to Boy A and used to inflict the fatal wound. He also admitted the charge of possessing a knife, for which he received a four-month custodial sentence. He had previously been cleared of perverting the course of justice.

But for Yousef’s mother, Debbie, the outcome of the trial has failed to give her any sense of resolution or peace. For her, it has compounded the agony of losing her son. She cannot rid herself of a sense of injustice because her child has died.

‘ I’ve only been able to bring myself to make one meal in the four months since Yousef died,’ Debbie says. ‘I broke down when I realised I’d put a dinner plate out for him and he would never sit at our table again. I can’t face that feeling again.

‘I still can’t believe it and still keep expecting him to walk through our door.

‘Like me, none of my children has ever been in trouble with the police and I used to have every faith in the British legal system.

‘But I can’t help thinking that if it had been the other way around and Yousef, a boy from a council estate, had been in the dock charged with murdering one of these boys, whose parents are part of the wealthy “Cheshire set”, then the outcome may have been different,’ Debbie, 54, says firmly but quietly in her first newspaper interview since her beloved son was killed.

‘ Sixteen months was not enough for the loss of a life.’

His mother is not the only one who has felt anger in the wake of the trial. Last Wednesday, the day before sentencing, Yousef’s family and friends — including his father Ghaleb, who had attended the trial — led a 150strong protest on the steps of Manchester Crown Court, holding up photos of the teen with the slogan Justice For Yousef Makki written on them.

On Friday, police revealed they were investigat­ing a ‘sickening video’ that Boy A uploaded to his social media profile.

Believed to have been recorded in the court building during a break in his trial, it shows him making stabbing gestures and with ‘drill music’ playing in the background — the hip-hop subgenre blamed by campaigner­s for fuelling gang wars and the current epidemic of knife crime.

By any measure, the way Yousef Makki lost his life was a terrible and entirely preventabl­e tragedy. During the four-week trial, the court heard how the teenager died after a row with his friends following their botched attempt to rob a drug dealer of £45 worth of cannabis.

Boy A was attacked in the failed robbery, jurors were told, leading to a later confrontat­ion with Yousef. Boy A initially told police that two men in a silver car had stopped and killed their friend — a downright lie.

He told the jury he pulled out a flick-knife because Yousef had also produced a knife (a claim disputed by the victim’s family) and said he then accidental­ly stabbed his friend in self-defence.

Boy A broke down in tears, telling the jury: ‘ I got more annoyed. I [took] it out straight away, I don’t really know what I did, kind of lifted my arm up. I didn’t realise anything had happened at first.’

As the victim lay dying, the panicking defendants hid the knives in bushes and down a drain, dialled 999 and tried to staunch the blood pouring out of Yousef’s wound.

SINCE there were no witnesses to the confrontat­ion, which occurred on the evening of March 2 in a residentia­l street in Hale Barns, which boasts £5 million mansions and is home to Premier League footballer­s, only the two defendants really know what happened.

But Debbie is adamant that her son, a keen boxer, would never carry a knife — unlike Boy A, who admitted in court to doing so at all times.

‘Yousef was 6ft tall and athletic,’ she says. ‘He could handle himself and said he didn’t believe in knives. He was all about boxing.’

Yet, as is often the case with teenagers, there were disturbing things going on in Yousef’s life that his mother didn’t know about. These came to light in the most painful of circumstan­ces when his post-mortem results were read out in court.

They showed that Yousef, just like Boy A, had cannabis and the dangerous anti- anxiety drug Xanax in his system. The court also heard that the boys lived out ‘idiotic fantasies’ of being gangsters.

‘ I knew all the lads at the grammar schools smoked cannabis,’ Debbie says. ‘But I didn’t think Yousef, who was always very sporty, would be drawn into that.

‘He knew I didn’t approve. I’d do anything for my kids but I raised them with strict boundaries. I don’t even allow swearing in my house.’

Debbie, a nurse who had to give up work 13 years ago due to inflammato­ry rheumatoid arthritis, has a younger son, Mazen, 15, and two daughters from a previous marriage — Rachel, 32, who runs a successful beauty business, and Jade, 28, a primary school teacher and mother-of-three.

DEBBIE was divorced and working as a psychiatri­c nurse in Manchester when she met Yousef and Mazen’s father, Ghaleb, a chef originally from Lebanon. The couple married in 2001 and Yousef was born in November that year.

It was clear early on that there was something remarkable about Yousef. By the age of four, he was already reading a daily newspaper, and soon moved on to devouring his mother’s old medical books.

At Ladybarn primary school, he picked up the curriculum with such ease that his teachers would stem his boredom by encouragin­g him to help his classmates.

Although it was unheard of for children from his school to feed into the local selective private grammar schools, one teacher encouraged Debbie to enter Yousef for the entrance exams.

‘We couldn’t afford tutors so I bought him some of the practice papers and he just whizzed through them all,’ recalls Debbie. ‘He sat exams for six selective schools and was offered places at them all.

‘I left it to him to decide and he picked Manchester Grammar School because he knew it had such a great reputation.’

Although her son was awarded a bursary to cover his fees, meeting other expenses, including the uniform which set her back £1,000, was a struggle for Debbie — who, by then, was raising her sons alone, Ghaleb having moved out of the family home in 2012.

Yousef studied Mandarin and when, aged 13, he begged her to let him go on a school trip to China — something that many of his fellow pupils’ parents could easily afford — Debbie couldn’t bear to disappoint her son, so took out a bank loan to cover the £3,500 cost.

‘We just couldn’t keep up with all the families, so there were many times when I regretted sending him to a private school and I’d think, “If he’d just gone to the local comprehens­ive, he would still have been top of the class but wouldn’t have always felt so different to all those privileged children.”

‘I’ve always instilled a sense of pride in my kids and told them, “You can be whatever you want to be, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” but still I’d go to school parents’ evenings thinking, “I can’t compete with these people.”

‘I couldn’t help feeling inadequate when boys from multimilli­on pound houses would come for sleep- overs, even

though they’d say: “You’re so chilled out and look after us all. We love being here.”

‘ That included ( Boy B) who stayed often. I fed him and covered him up with a duvet when he was cold.’

Yousef had spent the night before his death at Boy B’s house. Boy A was a friend of his who, as far as Debbie knows, Yousef had never met before.

Boy A had attended a string of prestigiou­s private schools and been excluded from at least two, the first aged just five. He was ‘asked to leave’ one of Greater Manchester’s most prestigiou­s private secondarie­s after failing a drugs test, according to his own boast on social media.

In other social media posts, he crowed about drugs and fighting, and the jury was shown pictures and videos of him brandishin­g weapons. In one online post, he also bragged about staying alone in a Radisson Blu hotel suite. ‘Guys — booked this all by myself, OK? Mum gave me the money, booked it — highest and best suite in the whole hotel … look at all of this,’ he wrote.

He had issues too, however, as highlighte­d in this post: ‘I have massive family problems,’ he wrote, adding: ‘They do either to (sic) much or in the wrong ways.’

Despite their existences being cushioned by the kind of money most can only dream of — and a world away from the sort of deprivatio­n experience­d by their counterpar­ts in Manchester’s notorious Moss Side area — the defendants spoke in street slang and listened to drill music.

Indeed, the barrister representi­ng Boy A told the court: ‘They appear to have led double lives, living out idiotic fantasies. Juvenile gangsters, playing around with knives.’

He added: ‘What’s going on with a whole generation of children with the advantage of good families and a good education?’

Debbie blames the material advantages bestowed on children at the expense of what’s really important.

‘If you give youngsters everything on a plate, what else have they got to aim for?’ she asks. ‘They don’t have to strive or achieve anything because, whatever they do, they know they will always have everything they want.

‘Yousef told me about one boy he knew who, when he got an A in an exam, was rewarded by his father with Louis Vuitton shoes and a £1,000 Armani suit, before being dropped off in his family’s private helicopter for a night out.

‘Apparently his father also gave him use of his credit card for the night, and he used it to chop up his cocaine. He was 16 years old.

‘They listen to rap music and watch programmes like Peaky Blinders, and their lives in their multimilli­on pound electric gated houses, complete with private security guards, seem boring, so they look for something exciting.’ In his first few years mixing with children from such a different social class, Yousef felt like he was missing out. ‘He would ask for designer clothes and trainers and I remember crying and saying, “Yousef, I cannot keep up with this, you can’t have what they have because I cannot give it to you,”’ recalls Debbie.

‘Then, when he got to about 16, I’ll never forget him saying to me: “You know what, Mum, I’m not bothered about getting these things now because, one day, I’m going to be able to buy them for myself. I realise now how you’ve struggled to keep up with it all and I’m really sorry.

‘“All that peer pressure from friends made me think about how badly off I am — but I’m not, because when I come home from school you’re there waiting for me with food and you sit and listen and talk to me.”

‘He told me how one of his friends hadn’t seen his parents for a fortnight. He had a cleaner, a driver, a housekeepe­r, but his parents were in Barbados and every other week they went away on business and left him at home.

‘Yousef said they were depressed and came to him asking for advice because they didn’t feel they had families to turn to.’

Sentencing the defendants, Mr Justice Bryan attacked their ‘unhealthy fixation with knives’, adding: ‘Knife crime is a cancer on society and it affects all sections of society — the message that must be brought home is that knives kill and knives ruin lives.’ This, sadly, is something that Debbie and her family, whose lives have been blighted beyond words by Yousef’s death, do not need telling. ‘Yousef had big dreams, and every ability, to be a brain surgeon and set up free hospitals in the developing world,’ says Debbie tearfully. ‘He told me he would achieve such amazing things that his name would be all over the newspapers one day.

‘Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine that it would happen like this.’

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 ??  ?? A life cut short: Yousef Makki and (top right) his mother Debbie Additional reporting: RichARd MARsden
A life cut short: Yousef Makki and (top right) his mother Debbie Additional reporting: RichARd MARsden
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MICHAEL Picture:

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