They were Tarmacing the pavements down the narrow street in north Coventry, much to the irritation of groups of bike-riding schoolchildren enjoying the start of a hot, glorious summer holiday.
“Playing out” is still a normal thing to do in this slightly downtrodden but friendly bit of the city, only a hundred yards or so from the still-shiny Ricoh Arena, the stadium at the heart of a bitter financial dispute involving the local side, Coventry City. It is that friendliness that has left neighbours shocked at the horrific events that took place under their noses.
“It’s a nice area,” said Craig Alexander, 37, who lives a few doors away from the terraced house where four-year-old Daniel Pelka was starved, abused and left to die in a tiny room with no door handle. “It’s very mixed. Lots of Romanians, Africans, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians – but most of them come out and speak to you,” he said.
Another neighbour, Steve McDonald, 26, who lives up the road, said: “We knew [the family] to look at. You’d see the two kids, dressed like tramps, and her dressed up to the nines.”
Naturally there is a sense of disbelief that the teachers at Daniel’s school – who saw him visibly malnourished and scavenging for food – didn’t intervene, but the neighbours now wonder, too, how they didn’t notice anything. Daniel’s mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, has been reported as being a drug addict and a prostitute, but her lifestyle didn’t attract attention. “If they’d have been selling drugs or something like that, people would have known about it, the police would have known about it, but they can do this and somehow we didn’t know,” said Mr Alexander. “But, people don’t look at other people’s kids now, do they? It’s not done. You sort of just walk past. If you’re the one that intervenes, if you’re the one that says something, and it turns out you were wrong, well that’s going to be very difficult for you.”
Mr McDonald described the boy’s stepfather, Mariusz Krezolek, 33, as “a bit of a stedhead” – slang for a man on steroids. Another neighbour called him “a brute”. “You wouldn’t want to mess with him,” he said. “But he didn’t mess with you either. They never had screaming rows, or parties.”
Another neighbour, Phil, moved into the street 16 years ago, “when it was benefits city”. It’s “far nicer” now, he says. “I spend half the week in Hampstead in north London for work and I can honestly say I feel more comfortable here.”
Sam McFarland was fighting to keep her cheerful four-year-old son Reuben, who went to nursery school with Daniel, out of the still-soft Tarmac. “They weren’t exactly friends, but he’d walk down the street with him in the mornings,” she said, although that was before the abuse had started, or at least the visible signs of it. No one on this little street can really believe what happened.