Brooke Kinsella: '10 years on from Ben's murder, knife crime in Islington is even worse'
PUBLISHED: 07:27 28 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:02 28 June 2018
Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Ben Kinsella's murder. His sister, Brooke, spoke frankly to James Morris about the impact it continues to have on her family and the state of knife crime in Islington in 2018.
Brooke Kinsella knew something was wrong when she woke up to 80 missed calls on her phone.
It was her little sister, Jade, who broke the news about Ben’s stabbing. From there, it was a blurry rush to the hospital. And then, “the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in my life”. Her mum and dad, Deborah and George, were away in Devon. She had to call and tell them Ben had died.
The Gazette is meeting Brooke at her office in central London. She’s looking back on a decade since June 29, 2008. Early that morning, Jade Braithwaite, Juress Kika and Michael Alleyne stabbed Ben 11 times in North Road, near Caledonian Road Tube. They were looking for revenge over an incident earlier that night which had nothing to do with Ben.
Over the course of the interview, Brooke speaks frankly about the impact Ben’s murder continues to have on her family, which stills lives in Islington. She reckons knife crime in Islington is worse than 10 years ago. And Brooke admits her family’s efforts with the Ben Kinsella Trust, the anti-knife crime education charity, sometimes feel like “banging your head against a brick wall”.
Ben would be 26 today, Brooke points out. She is starting to see his school friends getting married, having babies. “It’s a funny thing, time,” she muses. “They say time is a healer, but it’s definitely not. It hasn’t sunk in, 10 years on.
“I look at my mum and dad now. They’re not the same. None of us are. Even when nice things happen in life, they are always tinged with sadness. You can never be happy again. It breaks my heart that there are so many families in Islington going through the same thing.
“We just had Father’s Day and I’m watching my dad, still heartbroken. He’s still got children, but he’s lost Ben. My little sister always buys a gift for my mum and dad from Ben on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s so beautiful and sweet, but utterly heartbreaking.”
As a former EastEnders actor, 34-year-old Brooke – alongside her mum and dad – is the high-profile face of the Ben Kinsella Trust. It was set up almost immediately after Ben’s murder. A powerful exhibition opened in Finsbury Library, in St John Street, in 2012. The trust’s focus is on prevention: educating children at an early age about the horrors of knife crime.
But we are only halfway through 2018 and three young men have already been stabbed to death in Islington. Has the charity’s hard work had any tangible outcome?
“We’ve had 11,500 kids through the exhibition door,” Brooke says. “We have a pledge at the end where the kids can promise not to carry a knife. Pretty much every one of them does.
“Obviously, the only way we’ll know is when these kids grow up and they are faced with that decision. But I like to think if any child has been through the exhibition and heard Ben’s story, if they are ever in that situation when they go to pick up a knife, they change their mind. And that’s one life saved, potentially.”
But she’s realistic. Brooke was actually at the scene when Marcel Campbell was stabbed to death, in broad daylight, in Upper Street last month. “I turned the corner as it occurred and almost witnessed it. We, and many other families, have tried our hardest to make a difference and I really hoped that 10 years on, I could say we’ve helped. I actually think we are in a worse position right now.”
She continues: “Of course it sometimes feels like a losing battle. You feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, sometimes. Every day, I pick up the paper and there’s another one stabbed. It’s soul destroying. You really do think: ‘What is the point? Should I give up?’ You can’t, obviously, and without all the families doing their work, I dread to think what would be happening.
“For Ben, for all the other kids we’ve lost, we won’t give up.”
Brooke, Deborah and George are the defacto faces of the anti-knife crime movement in Islington, and London. It’s a mantle no one would ever choose to take up. Does it ever get exhausting?
“It’s really hard,” Brooke admits. “We’re all holding down jobs. We’ve got to pay the bills. We have lives. I have a husband and my mum and dad have grandchildren.
“But I think it’s really important to point out there are lots of other families doing wonderful work as well. Between us, we’re all trying, but we can’t do it on our own.”
At noon on Saturday, the Ben Kinsella Trust is holding a 10k walk along the Regent’s Canal from Islington to Victoria Park and back. It’s to raise money for the charity and celebrate Ben’s life 10 years on from his murder.
For more information, visit benkinsella.org.uk
‘We want to open an Islington youth centre in Ben’s name’
The Ben Kinsella Trust has done vital work in the fight against knife crime. Ten years on from Ben’s murder, how does Brooke see the charity progressing? “We’re in talks about taking it to other places in the UK which desperately need it. For us, that’d be a wonderful moment.”
There’s also an exciting ambition for Islington: to open a youth centre in Ben’s name.
Brooke says: “We’d love to open somewhere for young people to go where they feel safe, and not just on the streets. There are so many kids in Islington who don’t know what to do and have nowhere to go. Just a little bit of investment will go a long way.”
It’ll be tough, though. Funding is sparse and the Trust relies on donations and sponsorship. “Every year I’m cycling from Paris to London or climbing the Three Peaks. We do feel like we’re constantly asking people for money and it’s just normal working class people like us who don’t really have much to spare. People have been so kind and it’s only the people of Islington and London who have enabled us to do our work.”
‘Short-term fixes are no good – we need long-term thinking’
It’s a question Brooke Kinsella is always asked. What can the people who are in power do to stop knife crime?
“One of the biggest problems is long-term planning and investment,” she says. “Across all the boroughs people try and give a quick fix, an overnight solution.
“There are so many reasons why kids carry knives. There isn’t one magic answer. It takes everybody across the board. Yes, we need more police. Yes, we need tougher sentencing. Yes, we need more education. But we need everybody to do their bit.
“For us, we feel it’s about starting at a young age. I think everyone needs to accept there is a problem in London and take their bit of responsibility.
“For me it’s calling on councils and government to invest long-term. There’s no point giving projects a little bit of money to run something for a year, and then it’s gone before it can make any kind of difference.
“It really does need long-term thinking.”