A few days ago I watched “Murdered for Being Different”.
It’s a “real life drama” that tells about the love between Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby. It also tells about the murder of Sophie, and the equally brutal attack on Robert that left him almost dead.
A significant motivating factor in the attack and murder was the fact that Sophie and Robert, as goths, were seen to be different.
There’s an article in Cosmopolitan here that talks about the people and what happened. And a review of the drama by Julia Raeside in The Guardian here. As she says, "It’s not a programme you’ll love, but it will stay with you long after the credits have rolled."
At the end I was left wondering. How can people do that? What makes them that way?
And it has stayed with me.
Julia Raeside mentions this moment:
When they are chased by another gang of youths, Rob wants to hide. “Hiding means the idiots win,” she tells him, grinning and inviting him to the pub.
“My initial memory was seeing the coffin and thinking, that’s too small,” he says. “Her entire life shouldn’t have fitted into that small box. That’s when I began to crumble. And I’ll be honest, I was resentful of the fact so many people were there. They had the best intentions, but I was thinking: ‘Did you ever eat a meal with her? Did you know how she took her coffee? You just saw this archetype on the news. You didn’t know her.’”
But for Maltby, struggling alone in Bacup, the “goth murder” narrative widened the gap between his and the public understanding of what had happened, and who Lancaster was. “I have never seen it as a hate crime,” he says. “It was always like: ‘Sophie Lancaster was killed because she was a goth.’ No she wasn’t: she was killed because some arseholes killed her. Why can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone? Not what it is about someone that made them be murdered.”
To Maltby, the media focus on their appearance in the aftermath of the crime felt like a form of victim-blaming. “Besides being patronising, the goth thing was also an oversimplification of a much broader social issue,” he explains. “Life hasn’t progressed in these poor areas. There is still that dissatisfaction, that stagnation. These areas are still forgotten, and forgotten people will feel like … well, it can breed nihilism. I’ve never tried to demonise the attackers and, in many ways, they were victims.”
After the funeral precipitated a steep decline in his mental health, he became a recluse. On receiving proper treatment, eventually he felt ready to return to the park, and then to visit Lancaster’s grave in a nearby village. “I said: ‘I’m sorry, I have to find my life again’,” he says. “If anything, it was a ceremony for myself, to go: ‘Look, this has happened but now I need to be me again.’” Going back to university became part of that process. He studied illustration with animation at Manchester School of Art and moved to the city for his final year. But none of these moments felt like breakthroughs. “They were both incredibly profound and entirely meaningless,” he says. “There is no panacea, no one big thing that snaps you out of it. It has been gradual and hard.”
Maltby was not in court when his attackers were sentenced, but a lawyer read out a statement. “Before all this happened I was settled into a life quite independent,” he said. “Now I’m finding the whole world a terrifying place.” Today, he no longer lives in fear, but finds life “terrifyingly meaningless”, albeit in a strangely reassuring way. “Life is chaos, anything can happen and it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things,” he says. “No matter how significant something is to you, the universe doesn’t care. But there’s something freeing in that: do what you want, what makes you happy.”
What is it about some people that makes them want to murder someone? Hate? Fear? Ignorance? Evil?
I don’t know the answer. But I think that there’s more than one.
Somewhere in it all, I think, is the fact that we don’t know each other. Rob’s words made me stop and think:
‘Did you ever eat a meal with her? Did you know how she took her coffee? You just saw this archetype on the news. You didn’t know her.’
And I didn’t.
It can be surprisingly easy to harbour phobias about the kind of people that we don’t know. And phobias aren’t good things. At the heart of them there is no sense. Just non-sense.
A thing that I take away from this is a renewed personal commitment to engage with people that I see as being different from me whenever that is possible. To not make assumptions about people without taking the trouble to get to know them.
And also to do what I can to make it safe for people, so that there is no need to hide. For, if we hide, then it may seem as though the idiots win. But when idiots win, we all lose. Idiots included.