Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster

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BBC Radio 4, 11 March 2011
On 24 August 2007, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster was battered to death in Stubbeylee Park, Bacup, Lancashire. She suffered fatal injuries while trying to protect her boyfriend Rob from an unprovoked assault by a group of youths. Rob survived, but Sophie went into a coma and never recovered.
The Killing of Sophie Lancaster was a celebration of her short life, as well as a retelling of her violent death. The narrative comprised a series of poems written by Simon Armitage and read by Rachel Austin, interspersed with an extended interview with Sophie's mother Sylvia Lancaster. We learned how Sophie was an intelligent, bookish child who wanted to be different; dressing in a unique way in black, with black make-up, her face and ears pierced, her fishnet tights ripped. She grew up in a family environment dominated by politics; her mother had left school at fifteen, but had eventually managed to secure a place at Manchester University. Sophie grew up among intellectuals debating the issues of the day. She was also aggressively vegetarian; her mother recalled their weekly visits to Bury market, when Sophie would rail against the meat on offer next to the vegetable stalls.
Yet Sophie was never a rebellious child; she passed her 'A' Levels and met Rob Maltby, an art student who shared her idiosyncratic interests. The two of them set up home together, and were living a comfortable and modest life when the attack happened. From all accounts it was an unprovoked attack; Sophie and Rob were lured into the park and assaulted simply because of the way they looked.
Sylvia Lancaster showed considerable fortitude in retelling what was obviously a harrowing tale. Mother and daughter were obviously close to one another; it seemed such a waste that this should have happened to a girl who had only recently discovered her own identity. Read by Rachel Austin as Sophie, Simon Armitage's poems dramatized the girl's reactions to the world around her; how she viewed herself as 'different,' yet remained close to her mother; how and why she chose to dress as she did; and (most harrowingly) how she felt inside both during and after the attack. She wanted to communicate her feelings to her mother, yet could not do so. Her life ebbed away, until that fateful moment when the hospital staff chose to switch off the life support machine.
This production left me feeling uplifted yet angry; uplifted at Sophie's zest for life - as communicated through Armitage's lively verse, and angry at the way in which it was so abruptly curtailed. I could only feel for Sylvia as she contemplated the future without such a vivacious person. The producer was Susan Roberts.