Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Life term for Piotr killer: reflections

Rylett Road
I remember the time I was told Piotr had died. It came in an intervention during an emergency meeting at Hammersmith Police station in the hours after the incident. We were members of the 'Gold Group', called to bring together members of the community serving on an advisory group, the police team investigating the case and others including Council officials and Piotr's employers.

A member of the team actively hunting the suspect was called from the room and returned moments later, to inform us in a matter-of-fact but quiet voice that the investigation had become one of murder, Piotr not having survived the wounds he sustained having attempted to stop someone's house being burgled.

The man who took his life was today sentenced to lose his own, spending a minimum of the next 27 years in prison. Roger Buckingham was a drug addict and regular criminal, and claimed during his trial he was acting to feed that habit, and that he'd never meant to kill Piotr.

Piotr's colleagues en route to memorial
The first half of that was probably true, but the second? Piotr was armed with a broom. A broom. Buckingham was armed with a large knife that he used repeatedly. It's not difficult to see where the jury went with that.

After the officer had informed the meeting of Piotr's death we had a brief conversation about his relatives. Serco, his employers, were superb in my eyes, determined to fly in whoever they needed to from Poland and assist as far as they could. But that conversation, along with the one we had about the need to close down the room for rumour as far as possible by getting the facts out without endangering the case took place in a numb atmosphere.

Aschurch/Askew Rd in hours after murder
What followed from the community was very far from being numb. A few days later I walked up Askew Road on the way to a memorial service at the Baptist Church, where I joined many of his colleagues replete in their binmen uniforms sitting side by side with members of the community they served. It was, as the chair of the local residents association Fiona Anderson said, the first time that many of them had ever spoken to each other and yet they saw each other all the time. Invisible barriers.

But she also relayed how she'd once spoken to Piotr who was working hard to clear the leaves during last Autumn. She'd sympathised with how many there were, because there was just him, his spade and his barrow. He looked up - no, no, he replied - this is the best time of the year, look at how beautiful it is!

That was how Piotr saw the world, which for him involved backbreaking work for not much money. But he saw beyond that, and drew inspiration from it. And one day he saw someone else trying to do wrong and it made him angry and determined enough to do his bit to protect what he saw as being right.

How many of the residents on that street, or anywhere else, would in our heart of hearts think of ourselves as being on his level. At a guess not many. Rest in Peace Piotr, and thank you for who and what you were.

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