Sophie Lancaster (born 26 November 1986) was a former pupil at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, Haslingden High School and a gap year student planning to attend Accrington and Rossendale College to do an English degree. She had been dating Maltby, a 21-year-old art student at Manchester, for three years, and they both had a long-standing attachment to the goth subculture. The couple’s family described them as “Goths”, and said: “They’re both intelligent, sensitive kids. They’re not the sort of people to get in trouble, but they have had problems in the past because they stand out.” While returning home, Sophie Lancaster and Maltby were subjected to a “vicious mob attack” from “a large group of people” between 01:10 hours and 01:20 hours on Saturday, 11 August 2007, at the skate park area of Stubbylee Park, Bacup (grid reference SD865218). The couple were walking home and came across a group of teenagers at the entrance to the park. The group followed them, but there was no trouble until some of them suddenly assaulted Robert Maltby without provocation. When he was knocked unconscious, the gang attacked Sophie Lancaster, who was trying to protect him by cradling him in her arms. A 15-year-old witness told police: “They were running over and just kicking her in the head and jumping up and down on her head.” One distraught witness used a mobile phone to call for emergency services saying: “We need… we need an ambulance at Bacup Park, this mosher has just been banged because he’s a mosher.” Witnesses revealed that afterwards, “The killers celebrated their attack on the goths – or “moshers” – by telling friends afterwards that they had “done summat [something] good,” and claiming: “There’s two moshers nearly dead up Bacup park – you wanna see them – they’re a right mess.” The injured couple were assisted by some of the teenagers who called emergency services and then stayed with them and tried to tend their wounds. At the trial they were commended by the judge.
Police said soon afterwards that it was “a sustained attack during the course of which 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 were hospitalised as a result of the attack, initially at Rochdale Infirmary. Maltby’s injuries left him in a coma with bleeding on the brain. He gradually recovered, but was left with lasting brain damage. Lancaster, in a deep coma, was moved to Fairfield General Hospital in Bury, then to the neurology unit at Hope Hospital (now Salford Royal Hospital) in Salford. It became clear to hospital staff that she would never regain consciousness, and on 24 August 2007 her family agreed to switch off life support. Lancashire Police arrested five individuals in connection with the attack soon afterwards, but conducted extensive further investigations, as it appeared that up to fifteen people were in the area and may have witnessed or participated in the assault. The police identified the gothic dress of the couple as a possible motivation for the attackers. A 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were remanded in custody, while two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old were released on bail. They were originally charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, but following Sophie Lancaster’s death the Crown Prosecution Service upgraded the charges.
By 5 October 2007, after questioning over 100 people, the police concluded that they were not expecting to make any more arrests in the case, and although 15–20 people were in the park at some point during the night of the attack, police believe many were not directly involved, as the area was a regular night time hangout spot for teenagers. Local residents identified the park as a spot often used by, “drunken, violent yobs” guilty of vandalism and under-age drinking. They had asked for measures to be taken about the area before the tragedy occurred. Following the murder, residents called for improved security in the area, but Rossendale Borough Council said park rangers would be too expensive. On 6 September 2007 the five suspects were charged with murder at Burnley Youth Court, three were let out on bail, two boys aged 15 and 17 from Shawforth, and a 17-year-old boy from Bacup. On 18 October at Burnley Youth Court all five were committed for trial at Preston Crown Court. A preliminary hearing was held on 31 October 2007, where the five accused faced a charge of murder for the death of Lancaster and a charge of grievous bodily harm with intent for the assault on Maltby. A further plea and case management hearing was ordered by Judge Anthony Russell QC for 14 December. The judge also indicated a provisional trial date, on both allegations, of 10 March 2008. At the hearing on 14 December 2007 the five accused pleaded not guilty on both charges.
At the beginning of the trial on 10 March 2008 all the accused admitted being guilty on the charge of grievous bodily harm with intent, Ryan Herbert pleaded guilty to murder, Brendan Harris pleaded not guilty to murder, while the murder charges against the other three were withdrawn. As the trial opened the prosecution told the hearing: “Sophie and Robert were singled out not for anything they had said or done, but because they looked and dressed differently.” The jury heard extensive descriptions of the severity of the attack from a number of witnesses and through a recorded phone conversation taken at the time. At the conclusion of the trial on 27 March 2008, Brendan Harris was found guilty of murder, and the judge ordered the names of both Harris and Herbert, which had been concealed during the trial, to be made public. Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell of Lancashire Police said it was one of the most violent murders he had come across in his lengthy career: “I do not think Herbert and Harris have recognised how violent the attack was. They have just done it without thinking, but they seemed to have enjoyed it, and carried on remorselessly kicking at two very defenceless people who were unable to protect themselves because of the level of violence inflicted upon them… I am very critical of some of the parents involved. I really don’t think they have taken completely seriously how repulsive this incident was…” He said that when Harris was initially interviewed about the assaults he was “laughing and joking” with his mother.
Sentencing in the case was set for 28 April 2008. Both Harris and Herbert were sentenced to life imprisonment with the trial judge recommending that Harris should serve at least eighteen years and Herbert at least sixteen years and three months. In his closing remarks the judge described the attack as “feral thuggery” which raised serious questions about the “sort of society which exists in this country”. He added: “This was a terrible case which has shocked and outraged all who have heard about it. At least wild animals, when they hunt in packs, have a legitimate reason for so doing, to obtain food. You have none and your behaviour on that night degrades humanity itself.” The three other defendants were also sentenced for their role in the attack. Brothers Joseph and Danny Hulme, and Daniel Mallett, who had all earlier pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent on Maltby, were jailed. Mallett was sentenced to four years and four months, and the Hulme brothers for five years and ten months each. On 13 June 2008, it was reported that all the defendants were appealing against the sentences set for their convictions. The appeal was heard on 7 October 2008 with an announcement that the result would be released at a later date. On 29 October the results of the appeal were announced. Ryan Herbert had his minimum term reduced from sixteen years and three months to fifteen years and six months, a reduction of nine months after the appeal judges ruled not enough allowance had been made for his guilty plea in the initial trial. Brendan Harris and the three other defendants failed to obtain any reduction in their sentences.
- November, 26, 1986
- United Kingdom
- Lancashire, England
- August, 24, 2007
- United Kingdom
- Hope Hospital, Salford, England
Cause of Death
- head injuries
- Whitworth Cemetery
- Whitworth, Lancashire, England
- United Kingdom