Murdered for Being Different: Sophie Lancaster Ten Years On

Sophie Lancaster is a name that resonates deeply with every Goth, from long-term lifers who have been part of the subculture for decades to the newest of teenage baby bats. The horrific and unprovoked attack on Sophie and her boyfriend Robert Maltby that ultimately resulted in Sophie’s death in hospital thirteen days later happened ten years ago this year-the anniversary of her death is the 24th August.

The attack on Sophie and Robert-perpetrated by a gang of potentially fifteen people (although only five were ultimately prosecuted) who were only in their mid-teens themselves made national headlines, and sparked some real conversations among both the public and the police about the nature of hate crime.

A lot of good work that is bearing fruit today began in the aftermath of Sophie’s murder, including the formation ofTheSophie&LancasterFoundation by her family, to honour her memory and campaign on behalf of Goths and other subcultures for attacks on members of said subcultures to be recognised under the umbrella of hate crimes.

Now, in the run-up to the ten-year anniversary of Sophie Lancaster’s untimely death at just twenty years of age, the BBC have aired an hour-long drama retelling the story of the attack on Sophie and Robert in a Lancashire park-entitled “Murdered for Being Different.”

It took me a couple of weeks to formulate my views on the programme-not helped by the whole “dramatization of a murder” heading. A murder of a woman that I never had the privilege of knowing, but whose story I have internalised as part of the wider Goth narrative, along with I am sure most other people who identify or who have previously identified as Goth.

Sophie’s mother, Sylvia Lancaster, supported the production of the film and naturally, has provided context and background information both within the programme itself and as a result of it airing. You can view a short interview with Sylvia Lancaster herself regarding the programme and her daughter’s murder via the BBChere.

I ultimately sat down atop a mountain of chocolate and tissues to watch the programme-available to view for free viaBBC iPlayer until the 15th December this year-and I want to share my thoughts on the programme itself, and its relevance today.

About Murdered for Being Different

The story itself is told from the point of view of Sophie’s boyfriend Robert, who of course was himself injured in the attack from which his girlfriend ultimately died, but that he survived with a legacy of his own.

Contrasting the early stages of Sophie and Robert’s initial meeting and the development of their relationship, the almost surreal and dreamlike portrayal of a young relationship and all of the heady intoxication of love contrasts jarringly with the graphic, dark and panic-filled depictions of the unprovoked and unexpected attack that ultimately led to Sophie’s death.

The programme doesn’t hold back on the full and horrendous detail of the attack and its aftermath, which it is worth noting that some viewers may find unpalatable-even as hardened as we are to horror and gore in today’s desensitized world of bad news and lurid screenplays, watching a true story that you have probably followed and internalised over the course of the last decade will leave few viewers unshaken.

The depictions of the aftermath of the attack, including the challenges that the police faced in trying to locate witnesses and information from others present and/or involved with the attack or the perpetrators on the periphery of the attack itself is also very telling, portraying effectively the systemic and sociological effects of gang culture and the culture of silence and non-cooperation with the police that it perpetrates, even in the face of a horrific murder.

What was not really referenced in a meaningful way (to me at least) was the significance of the attack itself occurring for no other reason than that Sophie and Robert “looked different,” and that this pointless reasoning was all it took to lead to the deliberate and unprovoked attack against them.

This element of the whole sorry story is of course the legacy that Sophie herself has left behind in the form of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which continues to be the main or perhaps only lobbying organization for the recognition of hate crime against members of subcultures.

Has anything changed?

Lobbying on the part of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation ultimately led to the Greater Manchester Police Force re-classifying attacks on Goths and members of other subcultures as hate crimes in 2013, making them the first police force in the country to do so. This important precedent would not have occurred were it not for the work of Sophie’s family and the Foundation. Let’s not forget that in the aftermath of the attack when local residents near to the park where the attack took place called for additional security and patrols of the park itself, they were brushed off by the local council who said that they could not justify the cost of additional patrols and other improvements.

The recognition of attacks against members of subcultures as hate crime is an important step-it provides complainants and the police that handle them with additional resources and powers to find and prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks, and can also lead to more meaningful sentencing and penalties for those that take part in them.

Ten years after Sophie’s death, Murdered for Being Different has once again brought the attack on Sophie and Robert back into the forefront of society’s collective consciousness, and restarted the conversation about tolerance, prejudice and crime-and while the film is not for everyone and does make for uncomfortable viewing, this can only be a good thing.

R.I.P. Sophie Lancaster
26.11.1986 -24.08.2007

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