Tuesday, 15 December 2009

When bullying turns to murder

Just over three weeks ago I woke up to the news that two teenage girls had been convicted of the “manslaughter” of a seventeen year old girl by viciously beating her, chasing her and causing her to fall 50 feet to her death to escape their vicious assault. The girls – feral monster Hatice Can (then 13) and mentally deranged Oluwakemi Ajose (then 17) subjected Rosimeiri Boxall to a two year campaign of bullying, culminating in the innocent girl’s death.

Two years before the fatal attack, when Can was only 11, she pushed Rosimeiri off a wall and threatened another girl with a knife. In the immediate assault in which Rosimeiri was murdered, Can and Ajose punched and slapped her, pulled by her hair and sprayed deodorant into her eyes. They also set her trousers on fire on a kitchen hob. And oblivious to the irony, they also called her a 'whore' and a 'slag'.

Just before they caused Rosimeiri to fall from a third floor window, Hatice Can said to her: “Do you want to die? Jump out of the window.” The terrified Rosimeiri replied “Do you want me to jump?” To which Can replied “yes” – thereby making it very clear to Rosimeiri that jumping out of the window was the only way to avoid further immediate violence. Then the vicious Hatice Can stood over the dying Rosimeiri and said “Serves you right, bitch.”

Now in many states of the US, causing some one to die in these circumstances would constitute murder rather than manslaughter. The reason for this is that a number of US states have enacted statutes that include a category of murder defined as “causing death by acting with a depraved disregard for another person’s safety.” However, in Britain the law makes no distinction between “reckless disregard” (which is mentioned specifically in the law) and “depraved disregard” (which is not recognized as a separate category). In practice, both are lumped together as manslaughter. In Britain one is only guilty of murder if there is an intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. But clearly anyone who tries to cause some one to jump 50 feet is trying to cause grievous bodily harm. And yet the killers of Rosimeiri Boxall were only found guilty of manslaughter.

It should come as no surprise that these two killers had a long background in bullying and thuggery. Other victims of the pair reported being locked in bedrooms and in one case had mobile phone charger flex wrapped around their hands. It should also come as no surprise that gang leader Hatice Can didn’t take the trial seriously and was sure she was going to get away with it. She actually spent much of the trial laughing and talking on her mobile phone to her friends. At one point she tried on her barrister's wig and gown for a laugh

However, she wasn’t so tough when the verdict was delivered. She wailed like a baby when the jury found her guilty and could still be heard long after she was led away. For the first time in her life she had learned that actions have consequences. Although knowing how soft our legal system is, one wonders how severe these consequences will be. But at least it will be better than the non-involvement of Can’s parents, whom she very rarely saw and who showed no signs of trying to assert their parental authority.

Today Can was sentenced to eight years imprisonment - hardly sufficient to deter others from doing likewise, but enough to focus her mind. Again she was led away from court in tears, still feeling sorry for herself rather than her victim. Ajose was sentenced to be detained indefinitely at a psychiatric hospital. But in turns out that she still hasn't given up her bullying activities. She has been trying to get some of her fellow inmates in Holloway "to hang themselves with their bedding," according to the judge.

The case brought back to me the recollections of another case 37 years ago: a 15-year-old girl called Tina Wilson who committed suicide with sleeping pills after being hounded by bullies. I never knew Tina Wilson, but the reason the case sticks in my mind is because I was the same age as Tina and I too had suffered bullying at school (although not nearly as intense). I was deeply moved when I read about the Tina Wilson case and it prompted me to write a short story from the girl’s point of view culminating in her suicide. It was one of the first things I every wrote and the first from a female point of view.

Although never published, it was praised by the then editor of Woman magazine. who wrote: “I was sure it was a literate teenage girl writing.” Interestingly, I remember that each time I changed the manuscript on other people’s advice, it got worse rather than better. The reason for this is that the original draft – which I created directly in the typewriter – came straight from the heart and drew as much on my own experiences as the reported facts of the Tina Wilson case.

In my case the bullying was dealt with by personal connections. I didn’t want to commit the cardinal sin of being a snitch, but because the bullying led to truancy, it resulted in me being pressured by my parents into telling them. Fortunately, my father was a colleague of the father of the “School Captain” and he asked his colleague for help. The School Captain “had a word” with the bullies and the bullying stopped. It was all done without involving the teachers.

Many years later, bullying again became a theme of my writing. My latest thriller Mercy is about a man on death row in California for the murder of a girl he mercilessly bullied in high school. He too believed that actions didn’t have consequences. But in real life they do: sometimes for the victimizer; always for the victim.

David Kessler

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