The killing of Anthony: The boy who died because of the colour of his skin

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The Independent Online

Gee Walker has many painful reminders of the teenage son she still mourns, though few are more acute than the pile of dishes she sees in her small kitchen each Tuesday evening.

Tuesday was Anthony Walker's night to wash up and he threw himself into the chore with characteristic zest and good humour. "He was one of the few who would commit himself to the job," his mother said. "Nobody can face it on Tuesday nights now."

Mrs Walker spoke of her "broken heart" yesterday after she watched a teenager with a history of racist behaviour convicted of the murder which has taken her son from her. The murder, caused by a single blow to the head with a 2ft ice axe, has drawn comparisons with the death in 1993 of Stephen Lawrence and was committed, the jury in Liverpool was told, "for no reason other than the colour of his skin". After an eight-day trial, the jury convicted 17-year-old Michael Barton of murdering Mr Walker on 29 July by supplying the axe and provoking a confrontation in which a torrent of racial insults including "niggers" and "coons" were hurled at him and his cousin, Marcus Binns. Barton's cousin Paul Taylor, 20, had already admitted wielding the axe as Mr Walker, aged 18, his white girlfriend Louise Thompson and Mr Binns walked through a park in Huyton, Merseyside, in an attempt to escape the confrontation.

Mrs Walker, 49, murmured a prayer as the verdict was delivered and glanced at Barton, the brother of the Premiership footballer Joey Barton, as he buried his head in his hands and wept. Outside the court, with tears in her eyes, she said that she forgave her son's killers: "At the point of death, Jesus said, 'I forgive them for they know not what they do. I have got to forgive them."

"How can you mend a broken heart?" Mrs Walker asked. "You can't imagine children you watched playing in the school playground [killing your own son]. They played together, they stood in the same dinner queue.

"I believe that all kids are innocent and something went wrong along the way, and what it is I don't know. Someone planted a seed of hate in their minds." She insisted that it was the role of parents to prevent that happening. "Mothers and fathers blame teachers these days," she said. "But it is parents who should teach the respect and train their children."

Both killers face up to 30 years in jail when they are sentenced today after Mr Justice Leveson's ruling yesterday that Taylor's crime, like Barton's was racially motivated.

Residents on the St John's estate in Huyton where Barton and Taylor live say Mr Walker was not the first victim of their racial abuse. "They gave out verbals to any mixed-race lads who happened to be around," a resident said at the time of the murder.

Huyton promised something better than this for Mrs Walker and her electrician husband Steve, immigrants from the small Jamaican town of St Thomas, near Kingston, as they weighed up where to raise their children in the late 1980s. They had lived in Liverpool's multicultural Toxteth district for a while but Huyton seemed better than that "bandit country".

As members of the first black family in Huyton, the five Walker children suffered plenty of name-calling, first at Sylvester Primary School (where a redoubtable headmaster did his best to protect them) then at Knowsley Hey High, where Anthony encountered Taylor.

There were places in the neighbourhood that Mrs Walker did not want her son, as a young black boy, to go. "I would say don't go there ­ not out of fear, but I would prefer you didn't," she said. "He respected that. "

But Anthony Delano Walker prospered, despite the discrimination. Drawing spiritual nourishment from his family's place at the evangelical Grace Family Church in Toxteth, he grew into an energetic, basketball-mad teenager whose neighbours always knew from the sound of a bouncing ball outside their windows that he was wandering past on his way to school.

He was no mean player ­ a net guard who, despite his short stature, played for Liverpool's City Hoops team and formed a local side to keep children off the street. When he finally secured the England trial he had so cherished, he decided to put the church first. "[The trial] was on a Sunday," said Mrs Walker, a special-needs teacher and gospel singer at the church. "He said: 'I can't go as I have to go to church, they really need me there."

Her son also worked hard, securing seven GCSEs with good grades and gaining AS levels in media, drama, IT and law (though he died before learning the results). He had firm ideas about becoming a lawyer, even if it meant having to leave for the US to succeed in the profession. "If I have to leave England and go to America I will do that and become a lawyer," he told his mother. He also wanted to be a judge, he told her, because he had " seen black judges in America".

The ease of Mr Walker's integration into monocultural Huyton, with its 1.4 per cent minority population, was borne out by his choice of friends. He dated Jenna Green, a white girl, for a year before his relationship with Ms Thompson. He launched a website with another white friend, Jamie Sullivan.

Those who knew Anthony Walker best say it was typical of him to have shrugged off an assault by a youth wielding a cricket bat who called him a "nigger", weeks before the attack which left him dead. The incident, which happened as he walked with friends in Stockbridge Village, near Huyton, was serious enough for his mother to take him to hospital but Mr Walker did not want to involve the police. He recognised his attacker as a local youth with a mental impairment and was "happy to let the matter rest", according to detectives.

Yet even his amiable demeanour could not contend with Paul Taylor and Michael Barton, or "Chomper" and "Ozzy" as they liked to be known.

Taylor, a seasoned criminal, had been sentenced to four months in a youth offenders' institution for battery, and 21 months for burglary. He enhanced his dangerous reputation by brandishing a hunting knife in the local Huyton Park pub and boasting "someone's going to get this tonight". Weeks later, he was thrown out of the same pub for wielding a canister of CS gas.

Barton left school at 14, failed at roofing and fork-lift truck driving and reached the rank of lance corporal in the Territorial Army but failed his entrance exam to the regular Army. Eventually Barton opted for Taylor's vocation of "going out robbing".

At 8.45pm on 29 July, after a day spent snorting cocaine and failing to steal a quad bike in a garage raid, Taylor was seen scratching his name on a board at the Huyton Park pub. His nickname was later found next to a swastika motif on the sign.

These were the men that Mr Walker encountered that night when, after deciding to forgo a party to babysit a nephew and free his mother for a church visit, he walked his girlfriend to a bus stop opposite Huyton Park pub, accompanied by Mr Binns.

When Barton's racial taunts started, Mr Walker was anxious to defuse the situation. "We're only waiting for the bus and then we're going," he said. But a bus did not stop and they heard the threat "walk, nigger, walk".

They decided to walk to another bus stop, via McGoldrick Park, where Taylor pounced from the bushes in the darkness. He dealt Mr Walker a single blow from behind with the axe, which police believe was among the proceeds of an earlier robbery. Mr Walker was semi prostrate when he was hit. Barton and Taylor then fled to Amsterdam.

Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Currie, who led the murder inquiry, believes the killers' encounter with Mr Binns, a stranger they believed did not "belong" in Huyton, may have been a key motivating factor. "The confrontation would have been with Marcus whom they would not have known," he said. "They would probably seen it as a snub. People tend not to move away [from Huyton] and it is quite clear the families [of Taylor and Barton] are quite entrenched."

Experts believe the murder is symptomatic of Liverpool's history of troubled race relations. Despite having one of Britain's oldest black communities ­ integration in the city is still way behind that of London, Manchester and Leeds, according to Liverpool's first black headteacher, Gloria Hyatt, who now acts as a neighbourhood educational renewal adviser for the Deputy Prime Minister's office. "We have 5,500 teachers and fewer than 40 are black and only six can be described as 'Liverpool black'," she said.

It is a lesson that many black and other ethnic minority people tend to learn at a distressingly young age. On the wall above the desk of Superintendent Rowley Moore, who co-ordinates Liverpool's response to race-hate crimes, is the moving statement of 10-year-old mixed-race child, Jamaine Thomas, who was the victim of systematic bullying at his primary school in the city's Croxteth district. "In my eyes I just have a very good tan," his words read. "My blood is red like yours, when you kick me it hurts, when I am upset I cry, so really I am like everyone else."

The power of the boy's testimony has not been lost on the force which, after Mr Walker's murder and the London suicide bombings, decided to overhaul the way it dealt with race-hate crimes. "Jamaine's Story" as the testimony is now known across the force, has been the focus of discussions at two multi-agency conferences on race crime organised by Merseyside Police in the past four months to examine how another tragedy like Anthony Walker's might be prevented.

A key part of the new strategy on race crime is to get more officers into schools to help counteract the racism that many children are being introduced to in the home.

"Too many young people have role models in the home who propagate homophobia, racial abuse and Islamophobia. We want to offer alternative role models," said Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Lawson, who led the "gold" command team on the Walker case, and is co-ordinating the new strategy.

The Merseyside force's pursuit and conviction of Mr Walker's killers inside four months proves how much it has learnt from the failings of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the Stephen Lawrence murder, for which no one has been convicted.

The command team, convened within seven hours of the murder, included a representative of Liverpool's Jamaican community ­ a respected local community leader, Ron Persade ­ who accompanied Mr Lawson and his officers to the Walkers' home. This helped to establish the strong bond between the force and the Walker family, which detectives consider vital to yesterday's conviction.

Mr Lawson insists that the actions of Taylor and Barton were a "symptom" of general racial intolerance. "Something is deeply wrong if anyone thinks that kind of behaviour is acceptable," he said. "We want to tackle the causes as well as the crimes."

As if further evidence of the problem were needed, Mr Lawson's force disclosed last night that one-word racist graffiti was daubed at the murder scene following the guilty verdict. It was quickly removed.

In the meantime, Gee Walker is left with her grief. She described how, at mealtimes, she will still put a potato in the pan for her son. "Then I put an extra meal aside which no one will touch," she said. "No one dares to say who it belongs to because we all know."

Murder and racial motivation

CHRISTOPHER YATES Barking, November 2004

Three Asian men who boasted about killing a white man were sentenced to 15 years for the murder of the 30-year-old graduate following a drunken night out. Judge Martin Stephens QC ruled the murder was not racist.

BAPISHANKAR KATHIRGAMANATHAN Ashford, April 2004

Two white men beat the 24-year-old Sri Lankan man to death in a " vicious and unprovoked" racist attack in broad daylight. Witnesses described how he was "kicked like a football".

JOHNNY DELANEY Ellesmere Port, June 2003

The 15-year-old Irish traveller was beaten to death. The police and his father insisted the attack was racist although the trial judge ruled it was not.

ROSS PARKER Peterborough, September 2001

Three Asian men were convicted of killing the 17-year-old white youth as he walked home with his girlfriend. He was beaten and stabbed to death.

SHIBLU RAHMAN east London, April 2001

The married father of two was attacked and killed outside his home in an unprovoked attack. The youngest of his attackers was aged 15.

ZAHID MUBAREK Feltham, March 2000

Robert Stewart, a known racist, battered the Asian teenager to death with a table leg only hours before his scheduled release from the young offenders' institution. Stewart was later diagnosed as a psychopath and jailed for life.

MICHAEL MENSON London, January 1997

The son of a Ghanaian diplomat was taunted and doused in flammable liquid by the gang who set him alight. Mr Menson, 30, a musician, had a history of mental illness and police claimed it was suicide.

STEPHEN LAWRENCE Eltham, south-east London, April 1993

The family of the young A-level student campaigned strongly to bring their son's racist killers to justice after a bungled police inquiry. A private prosecution against the chief suspects collapsed. The inquiry into the police investigation had a far-reaching impact on British society.