April 2014: Author launches Sophie book at school

A HARD-hitting speech by the mother of murdered Sophie Lancaster accompanied the launch of a novel based on her story.

The book, entitled ‘Hate’, is written by well-known novelist Alan Gibbons who joined Sophie’s mother Sylvia for the launch at Haslingden High School, where Sophie had attended as a student.

Around 150 Year 10 students attended the event in the Sixth Form Theatre to hear Sylvia recount what happened in August 2007 when, together with her boyfriend Robert Maltby, her daughter was set upon in Stubbylee Park, Bacup, by teenagers. The couple were kicked and stamped about the body and head.

The only reason given for the attack was because Sophie and Rob dressed differently to their attackers. Sophie died 13 days later.

Sylvia asked the students: “It is 2014, should I have to be standing up here talking to you about discrimination, prejudice and hatred? No I should not. We are people and we can make a difference. It’s about standing together. It’s about having that power.”

Alan’s book describes how a fictitious older sister of Sophie encounters a boy at school who was present when her sister was murdered but, as Alan puts it, he was a ‘bad Samaritan’ and did nothing to stop the attack.

He said: “A novel can’t change the world, but it can inspire people to want to change the world.”

Following the talk, one of the students asked Sylvia: “What does it feel like to change the world?”

Sylvia replied: “Someone said to me your daughter was a gift to the world. I can see that we are making a difference.”

Another asked if she could forgive her daughter’s attackers to which she replied: “I don’t forgive them, not now, not ever. If I say, ‘I forgive you,’ it is like saying that it is ok. If you stab someone or shoot someone it is from a distance. If you kick and stamp on someone it is down and dirty.”

Headteacher Mark Jackson said: “That was one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard.”

Student Sam Chisnell, 14, knew all about Sophie’s murder because he lived in Bacup at the time.

He said: “I could relate to the story as it was close to home. I used to go to that park. Sylvia’s talk had a big impact on me and I am going to join the Facebook group and follow on Twitter. I am going to get involved.”

James Weedon, 14, added: “It was very touching and it made you think about how you react to different people. It has made me realise that you need to get to know the person before you make a judgement.”