Christopher Alaneme left London 18 months ago to escape the violence of the big city and pursue a new life in a quiet coastal town. But the 18-year-old’s name has become the latest addition to the growing list of victims of racist violence in Britain.
Christopher, whose parents are from Nigeria, was stabbed to death in Sheerness, Kent, apparently as he sought to protect his friend, a 14-year-old white boy. Christopher knew he would stand out as just one of a handful of black people living in the town at the mouth of the river Medway. But for the loyal band of friends, nearly all of them white, whom he came to know in this time, he stood out for entirely different reasons.
As a procession of young people came to lay floral tributes yesterday in his memory, the youngsters described him as a “role model”, a “big brother” and even “an inspiration”.
He met his death just before midnight on Friday at the end of a night out in Sheerness. Kent police are treating the attack on him as a racist murder. According to witnesses,he had been subjected to racist abuse and a confrontation ensued in which up to four men fought Christopher. He was stabbed several times in the body and fell to the ground on a patch of grass opposite a McDonald’s restaurant.
Witnesses said blood gushed from his chest “like a water fountain”. They told how a woman working at a nearby pub cradled the dying young man in her arms and tried to get him to sing to stop him from losing consciousness. Another man, a white 29-year-old, was also stabbed and seriously injured during the assault, although it is unclear whether this victim was a bystander or one of Christopher’s group.
Christopher’s friends say he died because he returned to the scene of a fight to save a 14-year-old white boy described by his father as “inseparable” from his black friend. Exactly what words were exchanged on Friday are the subject of a police investigation. According to Christopher’sformer girlfriend Danielle Price, his assailants had shouted “nigger”. But other sources believe the exchange was less explicit. “Someone said ‘he’s a big one, he stands out doesn’t he?’ Another said something about a ‘big black lad’ – that was the only reference to his colour.”
Police have arrested two men and have put out an appeal for the arrest of three further suspects. The three white men are understood to have been identified from surveillance cameras in Sheerness and are believed to be in hiding in London.
The father of Christopher’s friend said he believed the dead man was singled out from the group of four white friends he was with because he was black.
“Why only go for Chris? Why go for the big black lad only,” said the 35-year-old single parent who cannot be named for legal reasons. He described how Christopher had become part of the family sharing their home for the past 10 weeks as he looked for a job and somewhere to live. “He was a role model to my son, a gentle giant. They were inseparable. No one had a bad word to say about Chris, he came back to rescue my son – they were like brothers.”
Christopher stood out from a crowd. At 6ft 4in tall he was super-fit and in every way a typical teenager. Obsessed with his Xbox, hip-hop and garage music, he loved boxing and basketball. His girlfriend, 16, said he rarely mentioned his parents.
The girl said she met Christopher two months ago and they were looking forward to starting life together once he had got himself on his feet, secured a job and found a flat of his own. “I feel completely lost without him. He was lovely, the kindest boy – like a brother to most people. I’m hoping his family will keep in touch with me.”
Christopher had moved to Sheerness to be close to a friend he had made in London. Aston Miller, 18, understood him better than most. Of mixed race, he too had experienced racist abuse in the town while out with Christopher. But he insisted it was a rare occurrence and that the two were not unduly upset by their tormenters. In the worst incident the two had become involved in a fight outside a local kebab shop following taunts about Christopher’s colour. Christopher was arrested and cautioned over the incident.
Christopher was born at Farnborough Hospital in Orpington, Kent, on 1 October 1987. His parents, Gabriel and Agatha Alaneme, moved from Nigeria to live in Britain in the 1970s. He had two sisters, Jane, 16, and Grace, 12, and in their early years they lived in Bromley, south-east London. His mother and several relatives visited Sheerness on Monday to look at the flowers and messages left at the scene of the stabbing. The family live in Upper Norwood, south-east London.
Christopher’s mother, Agatha, who described her son as “a lovely lad”, said that although she did not wish to draw a parallel with the Stephen Lawrence murder she did believe it was a racially motivated attack from what the police had told her.
In contrast to the police inquiry into the Sheerness stabbing, which last night appeared to be making rapid progress, the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation ended in abject failure. The inability to punish anyone for the racist murder of the black 18-year-old remains a source of anguish for his parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence.
The murder, by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in Eltham, south- east London, in April 1993, marked a watershed in Britain’s race relations and a low point in the reputation of the police.
It also led to a public inquiry, chaired by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, whose report forced the police and other public bodies to change the way they deal with race issues, hate crimes and murders.
But despite the undoubted improvements made in the investigation and handling of racist crime, the number of race-hate incidents reported to the police has continued to grow. Chief constables have argued that the rise in reported racist incidents is a positive development and reflects ethnic minorities’ growing confidence in the police to deal with their complaints in a sympathetic and even-handed manner. Last year there were more than 59,000 racist incidents reported to the police, a rise of 12 per cent on the previous year. But the true scale of the problem is far higher. The British Crime Survey estimates that there are more than 200,000 racially motivated incidents every year.
In Sheerness yesterday floral tributes continued to mount at the spot where Christopher fell. One message read: “Why did it have to happen? Things were always fun when Christopher was about.”
Anthony Walker, 18, was murdered on 29 July last year when he was attacked with an ice axe. The killers struck as he walked his girlfriend, Louise Thompson, to a bus stop with his cousin, Marcus Binns, in Huyton, Merseyside. Anthony and his cousin were subjected to racist abuse by Michael Barton and Paul Taylor.
The three were ambushed in nearby McGoldrick Park as they tried to get away, and Taylor drove the axe into Anthony’s skull. He died in hospital some hours later.
Barton, aged 17, the brother of the Manchester City footballer Joey Barton, and his cousin Taylor, aged 20, were jailed for life in December. Judge Mr Justice Leveson described their actions as a “racist attack of a type poisonous to any civilised society”.
Zahid Mubarek, 19, was murdered by his cellmate at Feltham young offenders institution in west London on 21 March 2000, just hours before he was due to be released.
Robert Stewart, a known racist, took a table leg and battered him over the head. Mubarek, who was in prison for stealing razors and interfering with a motor vehicle, was taken to Charing Cross Hospital, but never recovered. Stewart was jailed for life.
Michael Menson died after being set on fire in a street in north London in 1997.
An initial police investigation concluded that the 30-year-old, who had a history of mental illness, set himself alight, but two people were jailed in 1999 for his murder after a fresh inquiry.
Mario Pereira was given a life sentence for murder. Harry Charalambous Constantinou was jailed for 12 years for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.
Stephen Lawrence, 18, was fatally stabbednear his home in Eltham, south London, in April 1993. The A-level student’s killers have not been convicted.
A 1997 inquest ruled he was “unlawfully killed in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths”. The police investigation did not lead to any prosecutions.
A reinvestigation in February 1999 was equally unsuccesssful.
Sharon Bubb, who was six months pregnant, was stabbed to death with a carpet knife by her boyfriend during an argument at their flat in Bow, east London, in July 2001. He also took the life of her unborn child.George McMaster, 27, from Paisley, told the Old Bailey that he attacked Ms Bubb, 31, “because she was black”. He was jailed for life in June 2002.
Firsat Dag, a 25-year-old Kurdish asylum-seeker, was fatally stabbed in a park in Sighthill, Glasgow on 5 August 2001, while returning home from a night out with a friend.
Scott Burrell, 26, from Balornock, Glasgow, was jailed for the murder in December that year. The allegation that the murder was racially motivated was withdrawn by the prosecution during the trial.