Sister: ‘Tony killing is tragic, sudden, dreadful, pointless’

Vigil at stall as knife death of ‘loveliest man to sell you a bunch of flowers’ leaves the borough stunned

Friday, 4th June 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Tony Eastlake vigil

A large crowd gathered at Tony Eastlake’s Essex Road flower stall on Monday night – messages were written on the green box in which he stored his belongings

THE sister of an Essex Road flower seller who was stabbed to death over the bank holiday weekend has paid tribute to her “ray of sunshine” brother as a 21-year-old man appeared in court yesterday (Thursday) charged with murder.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Debbie Hughes-Eastlake told the Tribune how the family had been left devastated by the “tragic, sudden, dreadful, pointless” killing of her beloved brother Tony Eastlake.

She said they had been overwhelmed by the number of people that have come forward to pay their respects to Mr Eastlake who sold flowers from his stall in Essex Road for almost 40 years.

Mr Eastlake had sold flowers from his stall in Essex Road for almost 40 years

A vigil was held on Monday night at the stall, two days after he was knifed to death just yards up the road, as a community grieved the loss of the “flower man of Islington”.

Ms Hughes-Eastlake, who works for the NHS as a senior specialist in intensive and critical care, said: “Even though people passing away is part of my career, when it’s such a tragic, sudden, dreadful, pointless taking of a life, it’s so much harder to process.

“My heart goes out to anyone who’s lost a loved one from knife crime. We are truly heartbroken and devastated.”

Mr Eastlake, who was born in the old Royal Free Hospital in Liverpool Road to parents Penny and Frankie, grew up in Bentham Court, just off Essex Road, with his ­older sisters Theresa and Debbie and younger brother Nicky.

The siblings were “extremely close”, spending endless evenings playing chess or out on the streets with friends in a time when “everyone knew each other”, Ms Hughes-Eastlake said.

Mr Eastlake was nicknamed “Basil” after the popular TV character Basil Brush.

He attended St Mary’s Church of England primary school in Fowler Road before moving to Highbury Grove secondary school.

One of his great passions was football. He was a striker for the local Bentham Tigers team for four years, then he became a midfielder for St Mary’s before joining the Arsenal youth set-up.

A promising football career was cut short, however, after he had to undergo an operation.

Artist Ruth Beck’s painting of Mr Eastlake at his stall in Essex Road

A career selling flowers came calling instead. He started working at the stall in Essex Road aged just 14 as a Saturday job while also helping his dad who had a spot in the Nine Elms flower market.

Tony became an ever-present figure for hundreds if not thousands of Islington residents as he sat next to his Essex Road stall with a newspaper in all weather conditions for decades – always with a smile and ready for a chat.

The green box in which he stored his belongings has been covered in written tributes since his death on Saturday evening.

Tony Eastlake (left) with brother Nicky during his childhood

At the vigil on Monday, more than a hundred people turned out to honour the 55-year-old as applause rang out down the street and the crowd sang his name.

Mr Eastlake’s daughter Paige told those who had gathered: “He was not only my dad, he was my twin, he was my best friend, and this is what’s going to get me through this – all of you here today.

“I’m speechless, so thank you all.”

Family friend Jody Graber, who helped organise the vigil, said: “There’s been a massive trauma in our community and it’s not right but that’s not for now. Now is for Tony Eastlake, the loveliest man to sell you a bunch of flowers.”

Throughout the week there has been an endless stream of well-wishers laying flowers at the stall.

Keen footballer Mr Eastlake (front row, with knee bandage) lines up with the Prince of Wales pub football team

Stacey Rowsell, who knew Mr Eastlake for 25 years, wrote: “For years you gave us flowers.

“Now it’s time for us to bring them to you. Sleep peacefully, Tony, a truly lovely man.”

An online crowdfunding page has been set up to provide financial support to the family as they plan his funeral.

Artist Ruth Beck, who grew up in Highbury, has donated a painting she made of Mr Eastlake at his flower stall to help the funding effort.

She said: “I can’t think of Essex Road without his flower stall outside the station. Like all Islington people I have passed his stall thousands of times, especially on the way home from school, seeing it from the bus as it waited at the lights.”

James Peppiatt appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court yesterday charged with murder. He was remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey at a later date.

Ms Hughes-Eastlake said: “Tony brought joy, happiness and love to us all and everyone. He was always smiling and upbeat and a very popular, well-liked person. He was a ray of sunshine.”

She added: “We are all very grateful for the outpouring of love for him.”

• To donate to the crowdfunding effort, go to: www.gofundme.com/f/tony-eastlake-funeral

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