On 11 August 2007, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster and her 21-year-old boyfriend, Robert Maltby, were walking through Stubbylee Park in Lancashire, UK at 1am when they were approached by a group of boys in their teens.
What happened next was a horrific event that would end one life and forever change many others.
After the group followed the couple, shouting abuse at their gothic clothing and appearance, they rushed them and started assaulting Robert – beating him to unconsciousness. While he lay on the ground Sophie tried to protect her boyfriend. The teens turned on her, kicking and jumping up and down on her head.
One of the witnesses called 999 and reported to the dispatcher –
“We need… we need an ambulance at Bacup Park, this mosher has just been banged because he’s a mosher”999 call log
Witnesses said 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”
“Mosher” is a slang term used to describe goths, grungers, metalheads etc. It comes from “mosh pit,” an event that happens at alternative music gigs.
When police arrived, the couple were both so badly beaten from the vicious, sustained attack that they couldn’t tell who was male and who was female. They were taken to Rochdale Infirmary. Robert was in a coma with internal injuries. Sophie was also in a coma but moved to a specialist unit in a different hospital.
Over the next few days Robert slowly regained consciousness but had lost all memory of the time leading up to and during the attack.
But for Sophie, the damage was far worse. Once in the new unit, staff knew she would never come out of her coma and on the 24th August 2007, 13 days after the attack, they removed her from life support and she passed away.
While police were investigating the attack it came to light there were 15-20 people in the area that witnessed and took part in the assault that morning in the park. They arrested five and determined the reason behind it all was the way the couple looked.
Police started to make arrests, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old remained in custody, while two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old were released on bail. At first they were charged with GBH (Grievous bodily harm) with intent, but after Sophie died their charges were upgraded by the CPS.
In October, all five boys were present at Burnley Youth Court and were told a preliminary hearing was to be held on 31 October 2007 at Preston Crown Court. The five accused faced a charge of murder for the death of Sophie and a charge of GBH with intent for the attack on Robert. At a hearing in December 2007, the five accused pleaded not guilty on both charges.
When the trial started in March 2008, all the accused admitted being guilty on the charge of grievous 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.
The jury heard extensive descriptions of the severity of the attack from a number of witnesses and through a recorded phone conversation taken at the time, including Sophie and Robert had done nothing to engage with the boys.
The trial ended on the 27 March 2008, they were found guilty of murder, and the judge allowed the names of both Harris and Herbert, which had been concealed during the trial, to be made public.
Detective Inspector Mick Gradwell of the Lancashire Police is quoted as saying it was one of the most violent murders he had come across in his 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.
Both boys were later sentenced to life in prison, the Judge recommended Harris serve a minimum of 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 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”
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 Maltby, were jailed. Mallett was sentenced to four years and four months, and the Hulme brothers for five years and ten months each.
A few months later the boys sent their sentences to appeal, Ryan Herbert had 9 months reduced from this tariff due to the fact he pled guilty was not taken into account sufficiently enough at sentencing but the other defendants failed to obtain any reduction in their sentences.
Sophie’s legacy is pretty huge here in the UK, her mother, Sylvia, started the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, S.O.P.H.I.E Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere. The foundation aims to challenge prejudices towards people from alternative subcultures, and campaigns on hate crime legislation. She is an extremely active person, in not only the goth/metal scene, but going to schools all over the country, to share Sophie’s story in the hoped to educate kids so this doesn’t happen again.
Every year metal music magazines like Metal Hammer, and Kerrang, festivals like Download and Whitby Goth Festival remember Sophie. Sylvia is often there, talking about her beloved daughter, raising money selling S.O.P.H.I.E wrist bands, so she can carry on her work, up and down the country, and over the world.
In 2014, Sylvia received an OBE for her work tackling hate crimes. She said at the time- Sophie would be “proud”, she said. “It’s a validation of the work we do and of the alternative subcultures.”
She also went on to write the screen play for “Black Roses” which the BBC made in to a TV movie, which is said to be “is a searingly beautiful elegy to a real life horribly cut short”