Michelle McPhillips: ‘Two girls have lost their dad... I want JJ’s killer to see me carrying his coffin’
PUBLISHED: 09:13 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:21 29 March 2017
The family of Jonathon ‘JJ’ McPhillips will finally be able to grieve at his funeral on Friday. But with his killer still at large, mum Michelle McPhillips says his death has ‘ripped the heart’ out of her family. She speaks to James Morris.
In the front room of his family home in Milner Square, hundreds of photos of Jonathon “JJ” McPhillips are scattered across the floor.
There’s also a copy of The Independent newspaper from May 1998. A nine-year-old JJ is pictured on the front page celebrating Arsenal’s Premier League and FA Cup trophy parade outside Islington Town Hall.
Outside the same building, 19 years later, JJ was stabbed to death.
In the early hours of February 25, the 28-year-old was knifed in the chest. While on a night out, he was waiting for his cousins to catch up and sat on the Assembly Hall steps.
A fight erupted nearby and a boy, 17, who JJ knew, was also stabbed, escaping serious injury. It is believed JJ intervened.
His mum, Michelle, was behind the bar at The Green Man, a pub she owns in Essex Road, when she had a call from his cousin. She grabbed her car keys and sped to the scene.
JJ had collapsed outside Be At One bar. 200 yards away. She recalls: “I saw the ambulance. JJ was on the floor, with paramedics. They lifted him into the ambulance. I got in the back with him. He grabbed my hand and said ‘mum’. That was the last word he ever spoke.
“It’s always been just me and him – I was a single parent. And it ended just me and him.”
He suffered a cardiac arrest, and in hospital was diagnosed with severe brain damage. There was no way back for the dad-of-two. His life support machine was switched off at 9.30pm on February 28.
“The whole family was there,” says Michelle, 53. “I asked the staff to sit him up so I could hold him. I put my hand on his heart until the last heartbeat.”
JJ’s family will finally be able to mourn on Friday, with a funeral service at St Mary’s Church.
“They’ve had to keep his body in a fridge as evidence,” Michelle explains. “A traditional Irish funeral takes place three days after death. So it’s been a month and we haven’t been able to grieve. These people have robbed us of a proper farewell.
“I’m head of the family. I have to be strong. But it’s the ripped the heart from us.
“I lost my only child. His four cousins were like siblings, so they’ve lost their big brother. And his two daughters [Lexi, aged four, and Evie, two] have lost their father.
“I was pushing Lexi on the swings the other day. She said: ‘Push me higher so I can kick Daddy’s butt in the sky and tell him to come back’.”
So far, four people have been arrested in connection with his death. But no one has been charged.
And Michelle pleads: “We need more information. No one is safe while this person is walking around. The scary thing is, he knew what he was doing with the knife. The wound was in a straight line. It wasn’t wild random slashes.
“How can someone wake up in the morning and put a knife in their pocket, knowing they may use it? It’s sick. And now my grandkids don’t have a father.”
She adds: “JJ wasn’t a violent person. He didn’t drink. He was a lover, not a fighter. I know he’d have been trying to be a peacemaker.
“Someone’s mother knows their son did this. Sorry, but covering for him makes them as guilty as the killer. In any case, what life has he got now? It will be a case of always looking over his shoulder.
“My message is: give yourself up, take the punishment and let everyone move on. And for anyone who has information, this isn’t snitching. An innocent man has been killed.”
At 11am on Friday, Michelle will help carry the coffin from the house. And she says: “I want the whole of Islington to see the funeral. I hope his killer sees me carrying my son.”
Anyone with information is urged to call police on 020 8345 3775 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
JJ, a former Highbury Grove School pupil, had been with girlfriend Kennedy Parker for 10 years.
“I feel like I can’t grieve yet,” she told the Gazette. “I have to be strong for the girls. But I can’t even explain how bad it has been.”
Kennedy, 26, said: “Lexi and Evie are proper daddy’s girls. They would follow him everywhere! They were his best friends.
“When I had Lexi, JJ completely changed. He matured instantly. He was such a loving dad.”
Cousin Georgia Sparkes, 21, added: “He was the brother I never had. It feels like half of me has gone.
“I’m still adjusting to this new world without him. Whenever I needed JJ, he would be there for me, always ready to listen.”