Anti-knife campaign family call for automatic jail sentences 30 years after John Dennison's murder
PUBLISHED: 15:01 21 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:14 21 September 2016
The family of a father who pioneered the country's first campaign to make knives illegal to carry are calling for automatic jail sentences on the 30th anniversary of his son's murder.
Bill Dennison worked with the Home Office and police giving talks in schools and clubs urging youths to stop carrying knives after his teenage son John was stabbed at a bus-stop 30 years ago this week.
It was a year of tragedy for families in Wapping, in London’s East End, when John and two of his pals from Cable Street died within months of each other.
First to die was Richard Cottington from cancer in April, 1986.
Next was John on a night out in Waltham Abbey with his friends, who was stabbed on September 26 that year.
Richard’s brother Jimmy was also stabbed in the same incident when they were picked on in the street by a neighbourhood gang—but survived and at 50 still lives in the East End today.
Third pal to die was Michael Delaney under the wheels of a newspaper truck during the notorious ‘Fortress Wapping’ News International industrial dispute four months later in January, 1987.
The families hold a reunion next month to keep the memories alive of the three lads from Cable Street, with relatives and friends arriving from all over the country and abroad.
Bill Dennison, now 71, still lives in Cable Street with his living legacy of having changed the law about carrying knives.
But his family say it’s not enough and are calling for Parliament to pass tougher sentences with automatic prison for anyone caught with a knife.
“It’s very sad that society hasn’t moved on,” Bill’s daughter Jane McKay, 49, tells tomorrow’s East London Advertiser.
“My dad’s early campaign doesn’t stop today’s killings. Carrying a knife should be an automatic prison sentence, but little seems to have changed in 30 years.”
Even today there are two unresolved fatal stabbings in the East End.
Russell Brown, 26, died on September 11 after being knifed on the Nelson Gardens Estate in Bethnal Green. Two men have since appeared at Thames magistrates court in connection with his death and are due at the Old Bailey on Monday.
Luthur Edwards, 31, died following his stabbing on the steps of Bethnal Green’s York Hall on July 29 after watching a boxing match. Seven men have since been arrested for questioning.
These are just two examples that continue to worry the Dennison family three decades on from Bill’s pioneering campaign.
“The man who murdered my brother in 1986 got Life,” Bill’s daughter tells you. “He’s out now and has his life back, but I haven’t got my brother back.”
The mother-of-two who works at the nearby Sisters of Mercy convent added: “I believe in ‘a life for a life’ when I see the damage my brother’s murder has done to the family, even after 30 years.”
Her father lobbied the Home Office and began a lecture tour talking to teenagers—unique in those days. But it took its toll and he collapsed exhausted after three years and in delayed shock from losing John at 19.
John’s pal Jimmy who still carries the stabbing scar on his chest from that night in 1986 continues the campaign for tougher sentencing for knife crime.
The retired baker by trade insists: “Those carrying knives should be in prison straight away, rather than wait for a second conviction. There’s no reason to carry knives—they’re cowards saying it’s to ‘defend’ themselves, which is a lie.”
But that night’s murder of his boyhood pal wasn’t the end of it for him or the families of Wapping. Jimmy had since been stabbed for the second time in his life and was also nearly killed in a road accident on holiday in Greece which caused him to have to retire early.
The rest of the pals who grew up in Wapping in the 1970s and 80s were in the local Star pub on New Year’s Eve after the double tragedy of 1986 when Jimmy Cottington recalls Michael Delaney’s ironic words that “things could only get better next year”.
But a week-and-a-half into the New Year, Michael died under the wheels of the newspaper truck a mile from Murdoch’s ‘Fortress Wapping’ on a freezing, icy January night.
“I was with Michael the night before and there was an ‘aura’ around him,” Jimmy recalls. “It was something strange—a spiritual aura that stood out from everyone. I went home and then it happened—he slipped under the lorry and got dragged along the road.
“I remember his words after John’s murder saying things could only get better—but they didn’t.”
Next month’s reunion of the three families and friends at the Artful Dodger pub near Tower Hill comes with the pledge after 30 years that they won’t ever forget the three lads from Cable Street.