The family: A strict and loving upbringing – but then the teenage Michael Adebolajo went off the rails
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Thursday 23 May 2013
Every Sunday Michael Adebolajo's mother Tana would don traditional West African dress and depart from her neat semi in London's Essex suburbs to attend church with her family.
It was a routine which underlined the devout Christian faith that Tana and her NHS nurse husband, Anthony, 56, had brought from their native Nigeria and instilled in their four children.
Friends of Michael Adebolajo, the cleaver-waving suspect in Wednesday's murder who is thought to have begun converting to Islam as a teenager, said that he had been given a strict but loving upbringing, underpinned by the religious values of his parents.
The peaceable existence of the family was brought to an abrupt and shocking halt as they found themselves being ushered away under the protection of police during the hours of darkness and two of their homes being searched.
Michael Adebojola's sister, Blessing, was escorted away by officers shortly after midnight on Wednesday from her top-floor flat in Harold Hill near Romford, close to her childhood home. A specialist search team then conducted an inspection of the property.
Some 140 miles away, officers arrived at the home of his father Anthony in a quiet commuter village outside Lincoln, who along with his wife is a lifelong NHS worker, to conduct a search of the premises.
The values they instilled appear to have unravelled with repugnant results despite the apparent efforts of the family to protect him from a threat of growing delinquency. The family moved away from the tumult of east London to Lincolnshire 12 years ago.
A schoolfriend of Michael Adebolajo, who gave her name as Nicky, said: "They were a lovely family. I think like any other family they had their arguments but Michael was quiet and funny. He once complained that he had to go to church for something or other and he wanted to play football. They were certainly religious. His mum made a big thing of getting dressed up to go to church on Sundays."
From their modest semi-detached house overlooking Eastern Avenue, the busy main artery out of east London, the Adebolajo children had led a comfortable, undisturbed existence. Michael, who was born in south London in 1984, attended Marshalls Park School, a sprawling comprehensive in Harold Hill, collecting a wide group of friends, many of them white.
Another school friend said: "Michael was pretty easy to get along with, we all got on well with each other, would go around each other's houses, play football, maybe drink some beer when we were older. It was just normal. There was nothing that remarkable about it."
At some point in Michael's teenage years, however, things seem to have started going awry for the family. There were suggestions that the teenager had fallen in with undesirables who were notorious for committing petty crime, robbing other teenagers of their mobile phones. There was no evidence that Michael had committed any offences. Others suggested his parents had become concerned about Michael's growing adherence to a more extreme form of Islam.
Certainly by the age of 16 he had stopped attending church, though his sister Blessing seems to have maintained the churchgoing tradition.
Kemi Ibrahim-Adeoti, 45, a former neighbour in Romford, said he had witnessed furious rows before the family moved, including an incident where Michael threw a brick at the windscreen of the family car. He said: "The parents just told me they were trying to straighten him up and he was just a typical teenager."
The family moved to the peaceable Lincolnshire village of Saxilby and bought a large, detached, new-build house in a cul-de-sac around 2000.
Today, there was shock in the village. Andy Parkinson, 41, an aerospace engineer, said: "We are absolutely gobsmacked. It's not so long back that we had a paedophile convicted in our village.
"He was sent to prison and that was just too close to home. Now this just a few doors down."
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