Crime Walk On The Wild Side: My neighbour, the killer

Rich and poor, black and white, live parallel lives in London's Kensal Green. Sometimes it works - and sometimes it doesn't. Tim Lott lives two streets from where Tom ap Rhys Pryce died, and only doors away from one of his murderers
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The Independent Online

Kensal Green is looking at its best. Blue sky, autumn leaves transform the grey pavements into mosaics of gold and brown. It is a good day, because our morning newspapers have informed us that Donnel Carty and Darren Brown, the murderers of local lawyer Tom ap Rhys Price, have been committed to prison for long sentences.

I leave my front door, wave to my neighbour, and make my way east towards No 19, which rumour has it was the address of Carty. We know he lived in our street, but no one is quite sure where.

I drop in to see a friend who lives opposite No 19. We get to talking about the case. She remembers the time a few years back when she was mugged by a young black man, maybe 15, when she was eight months pregnant, pushed to the floor for her handbag. She wonders now if it was Carty or Brown. She has never felt really safe here since.

I survey No 19, which is an ordinary house with one bell and a green recycling box outside. It doesn't feel right as the Carty house somehow. My friend knows who owns it. She gives me his number and I ring him. He confirms that no black family has ever lived there.

I am reminded now that one of my other neighbours suggested Carty lived somewhere in the high 70s, so I walk back west towards my house, where I have lived since 1999.

The houses are Edwardian terraces, a very typical London mix of private and public accommodation, owner occupation and rental properties. They can be distinguished and socially graded fairly straightforwardly. The windows - double-glazed or sash? The doors - aluminium or wood? Painted with Farrow & Ball or Dulux? Satellite dish on full view or hidden? Net curtains or wooden blinds?

I reach the 70s. There is one house that seems abandoned. No curtains or blinds. It fills the necessary gap in my imagination. I decide that this is where Carty lived. With almost pat irony, there is a recycling box outside the house next door with part of a headline showing: "Torn Out My Heart".

It is the remnant of a quote from the statement given last week by Tom ap Rhys Jones's fiancée, Adele Eastman. Everyone I know who read the speech was moved by it. The forgiveness of Tom ap Rhys Jones's parents for their son's killer seemed almost unbearably good. Decent.

I continue my walk, trying to work out who else lives where. As well as African-Caribbeans and the white middle class, who are increasingly in the majority, there are the white working class, Scottish and English and Irish, plus Italians and Indians - Sikhs, I think. There is a squat at the end of the road, and a mattress. There's always an abandoned mattress, however often the council takes them away.

Every morning the streams of commuters heading towards the West End along College Road to Kensal Green Tube betray the recent sociology of the wider area - under 40, professional, well-dressed, busy, prosperous. I stand at the junction of College Road and Burrows Road.

People on the whole look happy. I have never before been so content living anywhere. It is a community, not just a place of residence. Or it is, more accurately, a series of communities living side by side. Multiculturalism in practical action, you might call it. We don't all love our neighbours, but we put up with them. Up to a point.

If I made a million pounds, I would still choose to live here. And yet, here, I am positioned at a shocking apex of violence and murder, of endless manifestations of the Hidden Terror, of the Ugly Spirit that pockmarks London's inner city.

We prosperous newcomers are in denial. It makes our lives liveable. It makes our life pleasant. We are proficient at forgetting - forgetting and ignoring.

Half a mile to my left, eight-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield was shot dead along with her father, Byron Byfield, in September 2003. Behind their house, the petrol station is bordered by a glass screen that until recently was punctured with bullet holes.

In front of me, in April the same year, six men pulled out weapons from a party in Hazel Road facing the station, and gunned down Lee Subaran. One of the killers, Lloywen Carty, was, like Carty, a resident of Kensal Green.

A few yards to the south of Hazel Road, a man was shot in the playground last summer. Violence had become so commonplace I could barely remember the details.

Turning away from the station and walking towards Bathurst Road where Tom ap Rhys Price was murdered, I remember the area being cordoned off last year after a black man was stabbed to death. Black on black, I heard. Or did I assume that?

There are other incidents: drive-by shootings, two of them, I think. Another stabbing, somewhere. And that's not counting the murders on the other side of the Harrow Road, leaching into the pavements of Notting Hill.

To my right, on College Road, is the primary school, Princess Frederica, where my daughter attends along with many of our friends. They're all white. I don't know why that is, really. I don't think any of us are racist. We'd all consider that an insult. Most of us are the kind of people who, 20 years ago, might have been suggesting that racism and underprivilege were, at least partially, to blame for pointless street murders. I don't think many of us feel like that any more, though.

Whites are swamping the area. The African-Caribb- ean tide of the 1950s and 1960s is receding to just another pool of life. Is this one of the reasons why kids like Carty and Brown are so angry? Has something been stolen from them?

The tension here, the Ugly Spirit, is only occasionally visible. There are no gangs of hoodies or feral youths on stunt bikes. But I remember being picked up to appear on Newsnight Review last year in a BBC chauffeur-driven Mercedes. We came across some young black women in Rainham Road. They wouldn't move out of the road. They started yelling at us. "This is the Front Line, blood." It seemed they were outraged by the sight of a white man in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. They thumped on the bonnet. We drove away quickly, their catcalls sounding after us.

Did I care if they thought something was being stolen from them? No, I didn't care. It doesn't justify a life. It doesn't justify a thump on the bonnet. We're all getting something stolen from us, all the time. It's the nature of the modern world.

If there is a Terror it's invisible, it's secret - nocturnal, in places we don't walk. The same houses, the same terrors exist in Shepherd's Bush, Stoke Newington, Clapham, Battersea, and dozens of other shifting urban patchworks. They are all scarred by violence. And in truth, in our minds, it is mostly black violence. Though we don't like to admit we feel like that. We're Londoners. Metro-politan, sophisticated, tolerant.

The Terror is somewhere, but Kensal Green today, as usual, feels safe. Do we just screen out the Terror, just as I must have screened out Donnel Carty? Just another young black thug, indistinguishable from dozens of others, with their attitude and their knives and guns, shooting and stabbing one another for petty reasons. Is that how I see them? Just more black thugs? Not people at all, but stereotypes? Perhaps.

I continue walking and pass two black hairdressing shops. These are the local businesses the black community run: five or six hairdressers, several mini-cab firms, one Caribbean takeaway and the All Nations supermarket. I walked into the All Nations for a loaf of bread last year, and they looked at me in utter perplexity. What was I doing in their shop? I left without the bread.

I walk further along College Road towards the site of the murder that has made Kensal Green infamous. Because a white man got killed. An estate agent has opened on the parade. An ordinary three-bedroom house is going for £539,000.

I turn down past the Victorian library, opened by Mark Twain in 1903. Ahead of me is the new gastropub. "Have a good one, blood." Two cheerful young black men greet one another. They seem pleasant. They are not part of the Terror, the Ugly Spirit that is somewhere, that sullies both black and white communities alike. Down towards the scene of Tom's murder, there is very little graffiti or litter. There are two posters. One announces the 12th Harlesden Brownies Christmas Fair. The other reads: "Remember Tom ap Rhys Price. Murdered on our doorstep. Are the murderers still laughing now? Hope not". Another underneath reads: "No Mercy for Darren Brown and Donnel Carty. Justice Now. Big Time". At the foot of the tree where they're pinned, a fading rose, with a brown ribbon tied round it.

The extraordinarily satisfying Manichean symbolism hits me: the simple narrative that attracted all the coverage. Hard-working Tom, good Tom, white Tom, middle-class Tom, fallen with his wedding plans scattered around him like wasted confetti. His good fiancée, his saintly parents, gracious in forgiveness. The reckless, remorseless black killers.

Why do we not care about all the other people who died here? All the black men who died? Because the narrative isn't right, the myth doesn't fit. One neighbour said to me: "That's just what they do, isn't it"?

So we look away. Unless one of us gets it. Unless an infant gets it. The rest - it's what they do. It's bad luck if you get in the way. Nothing personal, blood.

Why did they kill him? Not for a mobile phone and an Oyster card. It was because he was too big to beat up - 6ft to their 5ft 6in. So when he resisted, they couldn't do anything but kill him. It was outside their narrative, that is to say, the parameters of their imaginations. They had to kill him. For the myth of Face.

They give it the name respect. But that is a misnomer. It is Face, just Face. Another name for it is Pride, in the sense of the biblical sin, the massive inflation of the personal ego so that it can only see itself.

I go home and collect my bike, and cycle past Station Parade. There was a police raid by 150 armed coppers there a while ago. Everyone was pleased that "something was being done". Now, as then, it feels much safer. It's as if someone had to die. Now it's too hot for them.

"They've moved on," said one neighbour. Perhaps they're right. I can see no hint of the Hidden Terror, of the Ugly Spirit, only smiling faces. Perhaps something has been purged.

I cycle past the supermarket on my way to Notting Hill, where I work. And suddenly there it is, the Terror, the Ugly Spirit. That which we deny, this week's Carty, next week's Brown.

Black, woolly hat, sports clothes, young, a look of unbridled contempt and anger on his face , but also amusement, disdain, perpetual outrage at the world in general. Going nowhere in particular. He is bellowing at an elderly white woman who is driving slowly past him. I don't know why he is upset.

"I'll fucking waste you, you fucking bitch!' he screams at the top of his voice, and hops from foot to foot in rage. The woman gazes straight ahead, and keeps driving.

I cycle past quickly, worried I might catch his eye, thus raising the mysterious and dangerous complexities of Face. Then I go round the block so I can get a few more details of his clothes and appearance. But he has gone.

I try to forget about him. And I'll succeed. Memories are short in Kensal Green. We can't choose what we see, but we can choose which bits we remember. Remember Tom ap Rhys Price? We can't afford to. Because forgetting is at the heart of our myth. The myth of our tolerance, which is nothing more than oblivion and fear in fancy dress.

THE MURDERS OF NW10: THE KILLERS AND THE VICTIMS

SHAWN PERCH CHAMBERLAYNE ROAD

On Good Friday 2003, Shawn Perch, 30, was killed when two men on a motorbike shot him in the head and chest. Chamberlayne Road has seen more than its fair share of violence. In 2000 two men were sprayed with bullets yards from a primary school.

TOM AP RHYS PRYCE BATHURST GDNS

Tom ap Rhys Pryce was yards from his home in Bathurst Gardens, when, on 12 January, he was stabbed to death by Donnel Carty and Delano Brown. Bathurst Gardens is on the right side of the tracks, but is a narrow, dark road, and quiet at night.

LEE SUBARAN HAZEL ROAD

Lee Subaran, 27, was shot point-blank at an outdoor party following the Notting Hill Carnival in August 2004. His killerswere part of a gang that had a grudge against Lee because he had stood up for a girl whom they were bullying.

DONNEL CARTY BURROWS ROAD

Donnel Carty, 19, received a life sentence for his part in the killing of Tom ap Rhys Pryce. He was arrested weeks before the killing for the violent mugging of a 34-year-old woman, but she couldn't identify him so charges were dropped.

TONI-ANN BYFIELD HARROW ROAD

Toni-Ann Byfield was seven when she was shot at her father's bedsit by Joel Smith in September 2003. Smith had gone to rob her father, a convicted drug dealer. She saw her father shot before suffering the same fate.