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Rossendale Independent


New book tells story of the ‘case that shocked the Valley’

NEVER get personally involved in the story. That, they say, is the first rule of being a newspaper reporter. If so, it’s one that Rossendale journalist Catherine Smyth spec- tacularly ignored.

When she heard of the savage murder of gentle Goth girl Sophie Lancaster in a Bacup park she reacted first and foremost as a human being and only secondarily as a reporter. Within less than a month she was planning a peace march (later can- celled) through her adopted home town and in no time at all she was making the Sophie ribbons which later became iconic.

And when she later took redun- dancy from her job as news editor on the Rossendale Free Press she decided to chronicle the “case that shocked the Valley” in a “cathartic” new book, “Weirdo, mosher, freak”. The title refers to the awful fact that Sophie and her boyfriend

Robert Maltby were set upon by a gang of “feral youths” for no better reason than that they happened to dress differently.

Robert survived, albeit with appalling injuries. Twenty-year-old Sophie, who bravely went to his help as he cowered beneath a vicious array of kicks and punches, died a fortnight later.

Making the heart-rending deci- sion to switch off her hospital life support machine was her mum Sylvia, who later became impressed with Catherine’s sympathetic approach to the story in her news- paper.

Indeed, Sylvia, a woman who had never previously appeared in a newspaper in her life, emerges as its heroine as she gives press brief- ings, appears on TV stations, trav- els abroad for the first time and lob- bies MPs to make attacks on people who dare to be different a hate crime on a par with racism and homophobia.

The SOPHIE campaign, the ini- tial letters standing for Stamping Out Hatred, Prejudice and Intoler- ance Everywhere, struck a nation- wide and, indeed, through the inter- net, worldwide chord.

Author Catherine deals graphi- cally with the horror of the attack and subsequent courtroom drama when two juveniles were convicted of Sophie’s murder and, along with three others, the attack on Robert. Particularly harrowing is a chap- ter in which a 14-year-old girl, wit- nessing the terrible events unfold- ing, frantically and bravely calls for an ambulance from her mobile phone, at no little danger to herself. Adding an element of controversy to her book, Catherine convincingly surmises, despite official denials, that, owing to a control room error, the first ambulance was actually sent in the wrong direction, to Edgeside Park in Waterfoot rather than Stubbylee Park in Bacup, thereby losing vital minutes which

could have saved Sophie’s life. Yet another strand to the multi- layered story is Catherine’s analysis of Bacup’s tough reputation where certain estates are virtually no-go areas and racist attitudes are almost the norm.

Her deeply personal account also gives an insight into life in a local newspaper office as she goes about her dual role as reporter and cam- paign helper.

Unfortunately the book peters out in the last 40 or so pages as it becomes a succession of fund-rais- ing events for the SOPHIE cam- paign. One cannot see many non- Rossendalians being gripped by detailed accounts of concerts, para- chute jumps and bowling tourna- ments.

Also, there is little or no attempt to explain why Sophie’s attackers behaved like they did. This may not be Catherine’s fault since their par- ents, heavily criticised for their indifference by investigating police

A tasty celebration of local food at Stubbylee

A DELICIOUS afternoon of food and fun was served up in generous portions as Bacup cel- ebrated local growers and pro- ducers.

Stubbylee Community Green- houses was the venue for the Local Food Celebration on Saturday August 14, which attracted people from all over Rossendale and fur- ther afield including Bradford and Coventry.

Organised by a partnership of Bacup Consortium Trust, Incredi- ble Edible Rossendale, Bacup- based charity REAL, Groundwork Pennine Lancashire and Rossendale Food Forum, the event was a fantastic success.

Entertainers harpist Fiona Katie Roberts, guitarist and singer Mark Almond and group K2 melodically played while people toured the greenhouses, watched

the Stubbylee Special chutney being cooked, sampled local cheeses and breads and learned how herbs help health.

Incredible Edible Rossendale’s chairman Souta Creagh, who also co-ordinates the cultivating health project out of former council green- houses, said: “It went really well and I was really surprised by the number of people who came. We have had people who have never been to Stubbylee Park come and say they never realised this was here.”

It is hoped the event will become an annual one. And the Incredible Edible Rossendale project, where people are encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables and learn how to cook with them, could spawn a sister scheme in Bradford as Carol Hudson called in to see how it worked.

CELEBRATING food: Carol Hudson watches as Souta Creagh and her daughter Bridie, nine, create Stubbylee Special. (Food 1)

Dawn Haworth, from Hasling- den, said: “I am a Bacup girl. It is easy to lose contact and easy to for- get what a lovely place we live in.

“I think the work they are doing here is fabulous, to me this is what community initiatives are all about, people helping each other and working together. It feels just like it did when I was a child, community spirit is coming back.”

Development officer for REAL Pat Smith added: “I am delighted with the results. There was a beau- tiful atmosphere and people came together to celebrate food. It was everything we wanted and was just what the park should be used for.” To find out more about Incredible Edible Rossendale email or call Pat Smith at REAL on 01706 871730.

Bacup Consortium Trust manage the greenhouses in Stubbylee and the food celebration was part of Pennine Lancashire’s Festival of Food and Culture.

officers, would reportedly only speak for cash.

But some analysis of their back- ground, upbringing and character would have brought the balance necessary to make this a great book rather than merely a good one. *Weirdo, mosher, freak” is pub- lished by Pomona Books and has already sold well over 200 copies in Rossendale. It is available from and various local outlets, priced £7.99. It will have a national launch in late Sep- tember.


Get round the hills again

THE immensely popular Rossendale Round the Hills walk will take place on Sunday 5th September and this year the 18-mile circular starts from Fearns Community Sports College in Stacksteads. First walkers set off at 8:30am and

new for 2010 is an alternative to the individual walker. If you don’t want to tackle all 18

miles, why not consider a team of three plus a driver/collector? You could each walk 6 miles. All sponsored walkers welcome for this charity walk in aid of Lancashire and Cumbria Life Education Centres. There is no entrance fee but dona- tions are accepted. Pre entry is not required. Contact Adrian Watts (adri- for more information

NOW OPEN 7 DAYS! BEDS Shop and Museum - Rossendale

Tel: 01706 221500

Greenbridge Works off Fallbarn Road, Rawtenstall,

Rossendale BB4 7NK










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