‘I don’t ever want to get over it': 10 years on, mother of stabbing victim Jahmai Conquest tells of pain at losing her son

Thursday, 19th July 2012

Middle picture shows Jahmai Conquest. Above: 2002 victims Liz Valad and Andreas Hinz

Published: 19 July, 2012
by PAVAN AMARA

THE pub’s not there any more, it’s a block of flats.

Yet while the spot where Jahmai Conquest was stabbed in the heart looks very different from 10 years ago, the tragedy of what happened outside the Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town will never be forgotten.

On a summer evening, Jahmai and a couple of friends went out for pint. A couple of hours later, the 17-year-old was bleeding on the ground, shivering with the cold as he lost vast amounts of blood, too quickly. It was spilling into the cracks in the pavement.

These were the final moments of Jahmai’s life, a teenager with unforgettable green eyes, long dreadlocks and still, in the eyes of the law, a child.

A decade later, his mother, Dinah Conquest, has spoken to the New Journal about her son’s killing for the first time, explaining how she lights a candle in his memory every day.

The flat on the Torriano estate where Jahmai grew up is plastered with photos of him, from snaps taken as a new-born to those dating from only weeks before his death.

“When I say he was beautiful, I really mean he was beautiful,” said Dinah, 56. “He came into this world smiling.

"When he was a baby, he was like sunshine in a white blanket. I would hold him close to me in a little bundle. I was so overwhelmed with love when I first had him.”

Jahmai was the second of Dinah’s four children, with an older sister and two younger brothers.

He went to Brecknock primary school but lasted just a solitary day at Acland Burghley secondary school in Tufnell Park.

“He went through a bad patch,” said Dinah. “When he was about 14 he was sent to a young offenders’ institute for a bit, but he came back changed when he was 15.

He was always more practical than brainy. He lasted one day at Acland Burghley before never going back. He came back home and said: ‘I know what I need to do mum’, and that was to not go back.

“I’m glad now I didn’t force him to stay somewhere he was unhappy, because he had such a short life. Thank goodness he enjoyed the short life he did have.

"He knew he wasn’t the brainbox sort, and he wanted to be the best in everything he did. So he left. He knew he wouldn’t be good at that.”

Instead, he spent time cooking, playing drums and reading on Hampstead Heath.

“He was known on this estate for how quickly he could scramble an egg,” said Dinah. “That was his favourite food, and you will never have seen anyone do it faster.

"He’d go round the estate making very quick breakfasts for all the elderly people. Sometimes when I watch cookery programmes I think: ‘My Jahmai could have shown you how to do that better.’

"It makes me smile. I want him to be in the stars watching down on me. Every time I walk in or out of our block of flats I see him again.”

Growing up without a father, Jahmai was protective of those younger and smaller than him.

“He became the man of the house,” said Dinah. “In the end that’s how he died.

"But he spoke sense, he laid down the rules, he was loyal, more of a man than most grown men you’ll meet.

“On the estate he’d set the standards – he didn’t like people who didn’t respect their mothers.

"A lot of the kids here didn’t grow up with their fathers, and he’d say: ‘We’ve got to double respect our mothers, because they’re the ones who’ve done everything.

"He kept the idea of respect going for the kids of this estate.”

When he was 15 he ran into a blazing flat on the estate and rescued hamsters in cages.

Dinah said: “I was walking back onto the estate one night and I saw my friend’s flat burnt out. I panicked because I thought: ‘What has happened to her and her children?’

"I ran into our flat and then I saw them all sleeping soundly on our sofas.

“The police told me afterwards the children and my friend were already out of the flat, but he [Jahmai] found out their hamsters were still in there so he’d knocked the door down with a hammer and brought all the cages out before the fire brigade arrived.

“Then he had brought the entire family to our flat and had been cooking for them all night, and sorting out where they’d sleep.”

Raised as a Rastafarian, Jahmai loved nature, spending a lot of his time on Hampstead Heath.

“He wanted to be everyone’s dad,” said Dinah. “He was so overprotective of anyone younger than him, because he was used to being the man of the house.”

On the night he was stabbed, first in the heart and then in his back, friends drove Jahmai to Whittington Hospital where he died at 2.30am on Friday, July 13, 2002.

It was one in a series of unrelated killings in Camden that year.

“I received the call to come to the hospital almost straight away, and to this day I don’t know if they ever operated on Jahmai to save him or not because nobody ever told me,” said Dinah.

“I was going through hell. I had to be strong for the other kids because they kept worrying he was going to die.

"Jahmai was left on a bed for about half an hour to 45 minutes on his own without a doctor seeing to him, only a nurse had briefly seen him.

“He was freezing because he kept losing blood and he kept saying: ‘Mummy I’m cold.’ "His teeth were chattering, and I kept asking the nurses for a blanket, but we didn’t get one. They were all too busy for that.

“While my back was turned they wheeled him somewhere else, I don’t know where. I still don’t know whether they took him to be operated on or not. I asked but it seemed no one had time. He died.

"I didn’t get to say my goodbyes because they didn’t tell me they were taking him away from me. I may have squeezed his hand for a second or given him one last kiss if I’d known.”

She added: “The next day police asked us if the hospital had treated us right, and a relative answered for me, saying: ‘Yeah, fine’ because I was unable to speak so soon after, and because we all just wanted to get on and grieve. But it wasn’t all right.

"It made me feel like they’d strangled my heart and ripped it out of my body, and I haven’t really been able to talk about it for this long.”

Talking of the killer, who was sentenced to seven years but only served three, before moving to Turkey, according to Dinah, she said: “He slaughtered my child.

"He admitted it, and they called it manslaughter, which means he wasn’t up for murder. Is that okay then?

"You can just say: ‘Oh okay, I did it, but I didn’t mean it’ and be out of prison in less time than someone who commits bank fraud but doesn’t take a life.

"It was a pitiful sentence. When you stab someone three times, of course you mean to kill them.

"If you’re angry and you want a fight and you lose your temper, then it can happen where you end up punching someone but when you plunge a knife into a teenage boy’s heart you know what you’re doing. You know he could die. That man was 24, he was a man, he knew what he was doing.

"It’s ridiculous that you can get manslaughter for stabbing someone, even if they don’t die it should be an attempted murder charge, because when you hit someone it’s a fight.

"When you stab them you know you could kill them.”

She added: “What has been an absolute insult is watching the sentences people have been getting for rioting.

"People who had not done anything violent, some of them had just taken a pair of trainers because they were lying on the street anyway and then walked on, and they get years in prison.

"So my son is as valuable as a pair of trainers according to the law?”

The death shattered Jahmai’s devoted girlfriend. “Her heart was broken when Jahmai died,” said grandmother-of-four Dinah. Mine was too.”

Dinah attempted suicide in the years following her son’s death.

“When your child dies you feel like dying with them,” she said. As soon as I had children I started living for them. Then when Jahmai died I didn’t want to live any more.

"Now I live for my other children and my grandchildren. I would say it’s possible for a mum to love her children as much as I love Jahmai, but not more. 

"It’s not possible for anyone to love anything more than I loved Jahmai.”

She added: “About two years after his death I walked to Kentish Town tube station to kill myself.

"I was all set to do it, until I couldn’t get through the ticket barriers because I’d left everything at home thinking I’d no longer need it.

So without my Oyster card and no money they wouldn’t let me onto the platform.

"After arguing with the staff to let me onto the platform I came to my senses and realised: what would my other children do without me?

"Since then I’ve known I have to get through it for them.”

Weeks after his death, Jahmai was buried in a Rastafarian ceremony headed by Abba (priest) Brahana Selassie of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

On Friday, on the anniversary of Jahmai's death, the entire family spent the day at Hampstead cemetery, where Jahmai is buried, and then returned home for a party in his honour.

“We played garage music from the year 1995 because that’s what he danced to and listened to, with a few roots and reggae songs in between,” she said.

“We drank Budweiser because that was his favourite and ate curried goat, rice and peas, and macaroni and cheese. I don’t ever want to get over it. If I do I’ll feel like I’m letting him down.

"The mother-and-child bond is that you can’t be without each other. So if I can’t be with him, then I’ll never get over him.

"It’s my way of holding on to him, and him knowing I’ll never let him go.”
 

‘Murder mile’: 2002, a year of savagery

THERE was a moment in the summer of 2002 when the murder rate in Camden Town was beginning to challenge crime-hit, inner-city areas of the United States and lawless parts of Johannesburg.

For a brief spell, “murder mile”, a term usually if unfairly connected with Hackney, was borrowed for neighbourhoods linking Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Kentish Town.

The cases were unrelated, but led to pressure for more police officers and extra CCTV.

There was a march against knife crime.

One week, the New Journal front-page headline read: Another Week, Another Killing.

This may seem dramatic but the painful memories linger on.

In May 2002, 19-year-old Frankie Kyriacou was stabbed in an unprovoked by a man high on drugs near his family home in Falkland Road, Kentish Town.

The following month, Italian father-of-one Pierluigi Campioni was killed near a pub on the towpath at Camden Lock after England’s World Cup match with Argentina.

Three men went to prison.

The grim news continued in July: Jahmai Conquest died in a stabbing outside the Tally Ho pub and human rights campaigner Kon Thiep was found dying in Ferdinand Street after trying to break up a fight.

Both cases were judged as manslaughter.

Detectives were in Camden Town in July 2002 to investigate the murder of trainee rabbi Andreas Hinz, who met his killer in the Black Cap pub.

He was taken home to Thomas McDowell’s flat, where his body was mutilated.

McDowell, serving a life-means-life sentence, put the body parts out with the rubbish at his home in Baynes Street.

That shocked even seasoned detectives numbed by a lifetime of investigating horrific murders.

But it wasn’t the end of the violence.

In October, antiques dealer Tommy Scott, 35, was trying to find a cab after taking the wrong branch of the Northern Line.

Lost in Kentish Town, he was attacked by four teenagers and young men, who effectively beat him to death by landing blows, including one with a knuckleduster.

Two killings remain unsolved from 2002.

Student Wajahat Sheikh died after being attacked on the dancefloor of the Scala nightclub in May.

He was at a Miss Dynamite gig when he was punched on the head.

Somehow, his killer was able to escape the packed nightclub.­

The man who stabbed builder Tom Breen was also able to flee the scene of the crime.

Mr Breen was knifed in Camden High Street in August.

Then, after a miserable year, murder squad detectives ended 2002 in Camden Town investigating a case that attracted national media interest.

Serial killer Anthony Hardy – nicknamed “the Camden Ripper” – murdered two prostitutes, Liz Valad and Brigitte MacClennan, at his flat on the College Place estate.

He then dismembered their bodies and wrapped them in bin bags.

A homeless man found the severed limbs.

Hardy was arrested after three days on the run, only for the scandal of his case to be revealed.

He had killed another woman who worked as a prostitute, Sally White, in his flat in January 2002.

An inquiry into her death was closed off early after a pathologist ruled she had died from natural causes, even though her body had been found bloodied and bitten.  

 

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