The tragic and needless death of a tormented 10 year old boy
Originally published 2nd October 2004
Updates listed at the foot of this item
Jevan Richardson was a normal, bright, happy and lively boy from a loving family background. A series of events from June 1999 to February 2001 culminated in Jevan taking his life on 13th February 2001 when he was only 10 years old. This devastated his family and friends. In a suicide note written 10 months before taking his life Jevan wrote, “I love my mum and my dad and my sister. I like my friends and I like my school, “I don’t like Mrs Winston and Miss Murphy she took my cards and won’t give them back. They are bullies. I can’t get anything right. I’m always wrong, I just want to die. I’m going to hang myself.”
Jevan was discovered by his father, hanged by a pair of tights in the bathroom of his home in Woolstone Road, Forest Hill. The family believes this tragedy was the direct result of two years of institutional racism by Jevan’s school, St. Mary Magdelen Roman Catholic School, Brockley Southeast London, and the police.
The Coroner, unable to confirm Jevan intended to take his own life, or that it was an accident, recorded an open verdict at the inquest in June 2001.
When Jevan’s mother Carol Edmund found the suicide note, she wanted to discuss the matter with the Head Teacher at the school. The response from the Head Teacher however was to call the police which resulted in Carol’s arrest and prosecution for alleged racially aggravated assault. In December 2000, on the day before Carol was due to appear in court, over 10 police officers arrested Jevan, his sister, cousin and father, Oliver. They were all kept overnight at Catford Police Station.
The police later admitted they had mistakenly connected the family with a local robbery. The arrests were extremely traumatic for Jevan. He saw the police kick down the door to their family home, witnessed his father being violently arrested and experienced CS gas. Immediately after this incident, Jevan was expelled from his school. The exclusion followed a row over the confiscation of his Pokemon card collection. Witnessing all these traumatic events, and being concerned about his mother’s impending trial (which subsequently collapsed due to lack of evidence) all resulted in Jevan taking his own life.
It is also argued that Jevan was expelled, not as a result of any incident in school, but because of a row between his mother and headmistress, Carmelita Winston. In November 2001, the High Court judge granted the family permission to seek a judicial review into the exclusion of Jevan on the grounds that his exclusion was unlawful.
Mr. Justice Moses said that it was possible that Jevan’s expulsion had contributed directly to his death. He rejected defence counsel Jo Richards’ argument the exclusion was not connected with the tragedy. Governors at the school were granted 49 days to gather evidence to support the expulsion of Jevan. Following Jevan’s death, the school announced that they would conduct an investigation, following complaints submitted by the family. The family called for the suspension of both the teachers mentioned in Jevan’s suicide note whilst investigations are conducted.
In its 2003 review, ‘Being 10’, the Bridge Childcare Development Service highlights the errors of the authorities in Lewisham, who failed to recognise Jevan Richardson’s declining mental health. His family says he was driven to take his own life after his unlawful exclusion from St Mary Magdalen School. They state Jevan was the victim of bullying by staff, something the school’s governors dispute. But The Bridge Childcare Development Service concludes, throughout its investigation, it was the rows between his school and parents, the exclusion and troubles within his home, which caused him most distress.
The ‘Being 10’ report gives a catalogue of incidents where Lewisham’s police, social services and the education authority failed to pass on relevant information to each other about Jevan’s circumstances. In the conclusion the report states: “Being 9 going on 10 is about trying to achieve, feeling sad about things of not much consequence and about having fun. “It also means you are frightened at murders and wonder about death, even if it is spoken about a lot. Children who look like they are coping sometimes are not”.
A raft of recommendations were made in the report to try to ensure similar tragedies are avoided. In 2002 the Police Complaints Authority (now replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission) accepted the proposal for an independent scrutiny panel to investigate the police’s actions in the case.
A former detective, Michael Forde, has attacked the police’s handling of Carol Edmund’s case. He accused his former bosses of increasing the possibility Jevan Richardson would harm himself. As well as being racist incidents officer at Lewisham police, Mr Forde was also the family liaison officer for Jevan’s family. His criticisms centered on the way police had responded to Jevan’s mother nine months before his death, when she was alleged to have abused the head teacher of her son’s school.
Mr Forde said: “I knew Jevan had written a suicide note and his stepfather had been murdered the previous year. Those things alone were enough to approach the mother’s case with caution and sensitivity, but my views were disregarded.” Mr Forde, who as a detective sergeant was awaiting transfer to a job in a child protection unit, says his departure was fast-tracked when he kept raising his concerns.
Dawn Edmund, Jevan’s aunt, said: “Jevan may well have been here today if the relevant authorities had sat round a table and taken Michael Forde’s approach.”Our family has been devastated by this tragedy. The school, the LEA and the police must answer for the loss of our loved one. To not do so would be a travesty of justice.”
The campaign is seeking justice for Jevan’s death and the trauma he and the family endured eighteen months prior. As yet no one has been held accountable for Jevan’s death.
One of the campaigns newsletters (pdf file)
Risk to boy, 10, ‘raised by Met insensitivity’
2 December 2003
Racism claim in Pokemon boy’s death
12 June 2001
Hanged boy’s family seeks justice
11 June 2001