By Patrick Boyle
It had started out as an ordinary, day. October 14th 2016, a chilly Friday with the first signs of winter beginning to show. My son Jamel Boyce, then 17, had stayed at his mum’s the night before, but at about 11am he popped by my music cafe in Brixton so we could have breakfast together.
Jamel was in a good mood, and we had a little laugh together as we ate. He was a shy boy, and his automatic response to everything would be an enormous grin – so much so that his nickname has always been Smiley.
He was a typical teen, studying for his Business Diploma at the local college, and hanging out with the same tight-knit group of friends he’d had since school. He worked hard at college, and always said he’d like to take over the cafe when he finished school. Because his mum had walked out on us when he was little, we’d always had a tightest bond.
That morning, I asked him to stay and spend the day with me at the cafe. There’s a little studio in the back for musicians to make recordings, and, although not a particularly keen musician, Jamel had a knack for lyrics.
Just two weeks previously we’d written and recorded an anti-knife crime song together with some friends. Although the crime wave in London had never directly affected Jamel, we’d both watched in horror as the city gradually went mad. It seemed like almost every day there was a new story of a stabbing.
‘Tranquility/harmony/unity/dignity/too much crime/too much bloodshed/too much knife attack,’ Jamel wrote.
But that morning Jamel said he had some college work to finish off, and headed off after breakfast. I kick myself for not persuading him to stay, because that was the last time I would hear his voice or see him smile.
The phone call came at 7.30pm. I listened numbly as a doctor told me Jamel had been attacked and was in a serious state, currently being helicoptered to a nearby A&E. I raced out of the door without thinking – all I knew was that I had to be with my boy.
It wasn’t good. Jamel had been stabbed twice, once in the leg, and again in his chest, puncturing his heart and lung. His heart had stopped and he’d died for several minutes, before doctors cut his chest open and massaged his heart to restart it.
They’d saved his life, but it was too late – it was likely Jamel would suffer serious brain damage from the lack of oxygen to his brain.
My mind raced. How could something like this happen to my shy, polite, loving son? He’d never been one to hang out with a bad crowd or get himself in trouble. He spent all his free time learning to take pictures with his new camera, messing around with his little brother Alex, five, and watching Manchester United matches.
The following days passed in a hellish blur. I was at his bedside constantly, and doctors said they weren’t sure he’d pull through. Piece by piece, the story of what had happened began to emerge.
Jamel had been attacked behind a supermarket in London’s Clapham when a disagreement broke out with a boy who’d been expelled from his college, a 17-year-old called Tyrese Osei-Kofi. I don’t know what they quarrelled about, and probably never will. But witnesses say Jamel was pushed against some railings, and the other boys surrounded him like a pack of animals. The attacker held him with an arm against his neck and shouted for a shiv (slang for knife), then Jamel hit the floor.
After a few days, a consultant called me into her office and told me bluntly that Jamel would never recover. Without oxygen to his brain for 14 minutes, he’d suffered massive brain damage and was blind, paralysed and unable to speak. Put simply, Jamel had lost 75% of his brain function and would apparently never walk, eat, or drink unaided again.
‘Sometimes it’s better in this situation if the person dies,’ she told me, with a cold detachment that still astonishes me. That was my boy in that bed.
It took two years for the trial to come to court, and it was the most horrendous experience of my life. For a month I sat and listened to lawyers defending the attacker. They based their argument on the fact he has a very low IQ and apparently isn’t even bright enough to tie his shoelaces himself. But he knew what he was doing.
Just five weeks previously he’d been arrested in the same location he stabbed Jamel with a 15-inch hunting knife slung around his waist. It was the kind of knife you would use to gut a whale, and yet he was released on bail and went on to stab my son.
In the end he was given just a 10-year custodial sentence, with the recommendation he serve just five. After taking into account the two years he spent with a tag on his ankle, he’ll probably be out in three years.
Meanwhile, my world has fallen apart. I couldn’t cope with what happened, and I lost my cafe. My 86-year-old father, who adored Jamel, broke down in the wake of what happened and took his own life.
Jamel now lives in a hospice, spending his days in a chair gazing at the TV. Jamel’s mum, who had left him as a child, visits regularly, but we argue over his care. Although the doctors claim there’s no chance of him improving, I’m desperate to bring him home. There’s no way he’ll get better in there, just parked in the corner with no stimulation. I want to bring him home and play him songs to jog memories, or take him into the garden to feel the sun on his skin.
I’m terrified for little Alex’s future. I can’t go through what happened with Jamel again, so I’ll home school him until he gets older. Alex loves his brother and has always looked up to him – it’s been hard explaining what’s happened.
I’ve lived in London my whole life, and when I was growing up someone getting stabbed was a major event, rare and far between. People used to fight, but nobody was getting killed. Now the streets are full of madness – there aren’t enough local police because they’ve all been diverted to terrorism and there have been so many Tory cuts.
The kids perpetrating the violence are often down and out, and have given up on life before it’s even begun. But they don’t care who gets injured or killed, and often it’s the youths who are actually trying to do something with their lives who take the hit.
I wish I could tell young people who carry knives that it’s not worth it – life can change in an instant, for 10 seconds of stupidity. It’s too late for my boy, but it’s not too late to stop other lives being ruined.
Donate to Jamel’s fundraising drive here : https://uk.gofundme.com/Jamelboyce.