If court transcripts, internet rumours or witness statements are to be believed, the above were the last words Sophie Lancaster heard as she was stamped, kicked and beaten to death in 2007.
She and her partner Robert Maltby, both twenty-one, were attacked in Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Lancashire by a gang of young males. Lancaster sustained the injuries which eventually killed her when Maltby was set upon by the gang in an unprovoked attack. Cradling her partner in her arms and attempting to cover him, the damage inflicted upon the pair was so severe a police spokesman said, “… the pair received serious head injuries and their faces were so swollen we could not ascertain which one was female and which one was male.”
Both slipped into a coma. Maltby eventually partially recovered, although remains brain damaged, but Lancaster died thirteen days later. The young woman’s family were advised that she would never regain consciousness and her family agreed to turn off her life support.
The case attracted widespread attention as a particularly vicious ‘hate crime.’ The couple’s highly distinctive respective appearances – that of members of the Gothic sub-culture – was shown in court to be the reason for the attack.
Ultimately, of the fifteen to twenty-five persons estimated to have been present during the murder, police narrowed their focus to just five individuals. The five, aged between fifteen and seventeen years old, were eventually convicted and sentenced.
Ever since rock and roll – literally a cultural revolution – swept the globe and for the first time created the concept of the teenager as a distinct social grouping, young people have spawned and joined a bewildering number of sub-cultures. From Teddy Boys through to Mods and Rockers, Punks, Goths and New Romantics and many more, music, fashion and lifestyle have fused to create new tribes.
An outraged and conservative Western establishment has reacted with shock and disgust at almost every mutation and diversification as young people sought their own modes of expression and values. From Elvis’s famously mobile pelvis threatening to reduce American youth to an immoral and fornicating mass all the way to Britain’s punks urging anarchy in the UK, the youth movements of teenagers and young people have been viewed as a danger which threatens the very fabric of society.
And violence, too, has been there since the beginning, although one can view, almost nostalgically, the traditional Bank Holiday tear-ups between Mods and Rockers on Brighton Beach when set against the horror of the Sophie Lancaster affair.
Of course, the real fear the establishment has for such sub-cultures is that a section of society will develop its own social, personal and political mores. Thus the hippies of the Woodstock generation, preaching free love and peace – an outright rejection of the ‘The Man’ and ‘straight society’ – led directly to mass protests against the Vietnam war and saw US college campuses turning into battlegrounds.
Such movements – while primarily anti-establishment and rejectionist in nature – are not automatically progressive. Thus the Skinhead culture split along right and left lines; the originals adopting much of the trappings of Jamaican music and culture and explicitly antiracist in expression, while the remainder became synonymous with the National Front and many other far right bodies.
In heavy metal, too, of which the Goths represented a further diversification, a section developed Nazi ideology, linked to Satanism, culminating in the infamous church-burnings and murder of Mayhem guitarist Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth, a key player in the Norwegian Black Metal scene, by Burzum leader Varg Vikernes.
The murder of Sophie Lancaster, however, seemed to mark a turning point for the metal and gothic sub-cultures. Its participants, on the whole, eschew racism, bigotry and homophobia. And while there is not even the hint of a formal or coherent left ideology, many of its members openly espouse progressive causes. When Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford came out as a gay man in 1998, the response of the traditionally macho and male-dominated metal community was overwhelmingly supportive.
British metal band Beholder penned a track in tribute to Sophie Lancaster – Never Take Us Down – and Bloodstock, the UK’s premier annual metal festival renamed one of it stages The Sophie Lancaster Stage. Reflecting a wider progressive stance, the band’s frontman, Simon Hall, and bass player Si Fielding have also been outspoken on behalf of Palestinian liberation, with the former posing for photographs earlier this summer in a ‘Free Palestine’ t-shirt.
The establishment, however, reacts predictably to such events. In the wake of the Lancaster murder, the youngster’s horrific demise was hijacked to further criminalise young people as whole. New legislation regarding knife crime, gang culture and anti-social behaviour has been introduced to police and demonise young people. While most people supported the heavy sentences meted out to Lancaster’s murderers – two of whom received life sentences – the establishment seized on the opportunity to clamp down on basic freedoms and further reduce the room for legitimate protest by young people.
And what of Lancaster’s murderers?
While vicars and middle-class liberals might simplistically and naively class them as ‘victims of society’, socialists would take a more nuanced view; such horrors are the inevitable result of the deep alienation and dehumanisation wrought by capitalism.
We should expect more of the same.
Harry Paterson is a journalist and author based in Nottingham. He
is the author of Look Back in Anger; The Miners’ Strike in Nottingham – 30
Years On. http://harrypaterson.wordpress.com/about/