Flowers for Agnes, but dope and guns for the boys

A weary community mourns 16-year-old Agnes Sina-Inakoju, the latest victim of a seemingly unstoppable gun culture

By Richard Osley
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:28

A shrine of flowers and candles was growing yesterday at the side of Hoxton Chicken and Pizza. There was already talk among those laying tributes in east London that it should be replaced with a mural of Agnes Sina-Inakoju, the 16-year-old shot in the neck here on Wednesday evening who died in hospital on Friday.

Small photos of her already line the wall. In one, she stands in the middle of a dozen boys and girls all in tracksuit uniform. Others show the same smile that beamed out of yesterday's newspapers, next to the news she had lost her fight for life. CCTV footage from inside the shop is understood to have sickened even hardened detectives on Scotland Yard's Operation Trident unit. Her killers were just teenagers themselves; their weapon of choice was a gun this time.

A printed note left at the scene by a woman who identified herself only as somebody who works in a "prison environment" and as a sister to "Buffy", who also died from gun crime, demanded that a run of murders in Hackney be brought to an end. The plea, passionately delivered and read by everyone who stopped, has been heard, and ignored, on these streets before. Just last month, Godwin Nil Lawson, 17, was stabbed to death in Amhurst Park. On Friday there was an exchange of wild gunfire, apparently between rival gangs, in Kingsland Road, one block on from Hoxton Street.

Ten minutes walk away is the De Beauvoir Estate where Agnes grew up. The door to her home was open to a stream of grieving relatives and well-wishers. They welcomed me inside: in a small back room of the council flat, eight women were consoling Agnes's mother, Safira.

She sat in the middle of the group in a green and yellow African dress, able to raise a half-smile but savage grief robbed her and everyone else in the room of words. There were just tears: one of Agnes's brothers said it was too early for more. "She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Abiodun, 30, said on Friday night.

The writer of the note at the shrine said she has seen jails full of Afro-Caribbean men and that mothers and fathers must act decisively when they hear whispers of guns and drugs. Police are reticent these days to use the catch-all word gang: it lends stature to loose groups of aimless, chaotic troublemakers. But everybody here uses the term freely; it's nothing new.

The groups enjoying notoriety this week are the Hoxton Boys and the Highbury Fields Boys. Their trade, from anecdotal chatter yesterday, is cannabis. No one wants to go into details of the groups' rivalry; perhaps through fear or maybe apathy.

It would be easy to lapse into middle class clichés about crime-ridden inner-city streets. Yet on a sun-bathed Saturday, the street where Agnes was shot was not without charm; a couple of enthusiastic street drinkers were a source of nuisance, not menace. On one side of the crossroads where Hoxton Street meets Falkirk Street a queue of adolescent mourners stood purse-lipped; on the other a mobile food stall ramped up the radio and hawked sweet and sour fish at the mouth of the street market. Life went on for the £5-a-skirt clothes stalls and the 20 food shops selling chips with everything.

And again came the weary mantra heard each time teen violence ends in tragedy: there is "nothing for the kids to do around here". The swings on the De Beauvoir estate were deserted, rejected. Neither the Britannia leisure centre nor Shoreditch library can match the appeal of hanging out with friends.

Eschewing the sunshine, two boys sat on a stairwell leading through the estate to Agnes's family home. For entertainment, they took turns at repeatedly pushing each other in the face.

Older passers-by were croaky and in tears. But while there was sadness at the shrine and "Love Is the Answer" scrawled in marker pen on the wall of the shop, there wasn't the outrage that you would, indeed should, expect at the shooting dead of a 16 year-old girl.

People slowed at the chicken shop yesterday, shook their heads and muttered "so sad" and moved on to continue their shopping and their lives. They were saddened, not sickened: it is a tragedy, but not the last.