Book Extract:
Black Roses by Simon Armitage

Ten years ago today Sophie Lancaster was brutally attacked for being different. Two weeks later she died. The Yorkshire poet remembers her

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In the early hours of Saturday 11th August 2007, Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby were walking home through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Lancashire, when they were attacked by a group of local teenagers. Robert survived, but in trying to protect him Sophie received serious injuries to her head and body, and died two weeks later, having never regained consciousness. When it came to court, the appalling details of the case attracted the attention of the national media, the trial judge describing the assault as an act of “feral thuggery,” one which “degraded humanity itself.” Five young men were given prison sentences for their part in the crime, two of them for life. Although not treated as such at the time, all the evidence suggested that this had been a hate crime, and that the couple were set upon for no reason other than their unconventional appearance.

Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster was a radio drama-documentary, written for BBC Radio 4 and first broadcast in March 2011. The programme consisted of an interview with Sophie’s mother, Sylvia Lancaster, interwoven with ten poetic monologues written in Sophie’s character. I never met Sophie Lancaster but in everyone’s recollections, and especially those of her mother, she was a sensitive, inquiring, peaceable, innocent and defenceless young woman, and through these poems I wanted to give her back her voice. The part of Sophie was played by Rachel Austin, and the programme was produced and directed in Manchester by Susan Roberts.

I didn’t do sport.
I didn’t do meat.
Don’t ask me to wear that dress:
I shan’t.
Why ask me to toe the line,
I can’t.
I was slight or small
but never petite,
and nobody’s fool:
no Barbie doll;
no girlie girl.
I was lean and sharp,
not an ounce of fat
on my thoughts or limbs.
In my difficult teens
I was strange, odd,
– aren’t we all –
there was something different down at the core.
Boy bands and pop tarts left me cold;
let’s say
that I marched to the beat
of a different drum,
sang another tune,
wandered at will
through the market stalls
humming protest songs …
I wore studded dog leads
around my wrists,
and was pleased as punch
in the pit, at the gig,
to be singled out
by a shooting star
of saliva from Marilyn Manson’s lips.
But for all that stuff
in many ways an old-fashioned soul,
quite at home
in my own front room,
on my own settee.
I read, I wrote,
I painted, I drew.
Where it came from
no one knew,
but it flowed. It flew.

Black Roses is reissued by Pomona (£5). A third of the profits go to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation

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