Roughed up by justice

31st March 1995 at 01:00
It is more than a year since Kelly Turner's life was turned upside down. Looking at the quiet, composed, 16-year-old from Barking, east London, it's hard to believe that she has been the butt of death threats, that she has attracted verbal abuse in the streets, on buses and in shops, that she has been bullied at school and that two months ago she was attacked by a schoolmate in a classroom, sustaining concussion and extensive bruising to her arms and legs.

For the very reason that she is vilified by some, she is admired by others. Her story - which has featured on television and in the Press - has been the subject of other schools' assemblies and has led to Kelly being personally invited by Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, to address a teachers' conference.

She has also received hundreds of letters of support from schools and individuals around the country, cheques from pensioners, flowers and other presents from strangers who have read her story and have been moved by her bravery and integrity.

Kelly arouses such passions because she went to the police and identified her ex-boyfriend as one of a gang of 20 boys who severely beat 18-year-old Bangladeshi student, Mukhtar Ahmed in February l994. Mukhtar needed more than 100 stitches and his scalp came away from his skull.

Kelly did what she did because she knew that it was the only right thing to do. "I thought to myself what if that had happened to me and nobody said anything. I knew I couldn't live with myself if I stayed quiet." What she couldn't know was how it would affect her life afterwards. But when Nicky Fuller, her new 17-year-old boyfriend with whom she'd already fallen out, rang up boasting about having "done a Paki", she was at first disbelieving, then sickened. His call was followed by others from his friends.

Gill, Kelly's mother, thinks that the boys' numerous phone calls were "a cry for help. It was like they wanted someone to tell the police."

Two days after the attack, Kelly saw Nicky, who showed off his blood-stained trainers to her. "It was like he thought by being all macho he could win me back," she says. He was wrong. That night, after seeing pictures of Mukhtar's lacerated, swollen face on the television news, Kelly "cried and cried", agonising with her Mum over her dilemma. Says Gill, "I told her I'd stand by her decision. I knew in my heart that that's what I wanted her to do."

From then on, Kelly took notes whenever Nicky and his friends rang, writing down the details and the names that they mentioned, which they did with blind bravado. It took a day for her statement to be handled by the police, so detailed were her notes.

Hers was the only evidence to be presented at the remand hearing of Nicky Fuller which resulted in him being sent to a secure unit to await trial. No eyewitnesses had come forward in spite of appeals from the police. The remand lasted six months. A few days before the scheduled court hearing, at which Kelly had agreed to serve as chief prosecution witness, the phone calls started. "Every half hour we'd get calls," remembers Kelly."There'd be laughing, heavy breathing, they'd say 'Kelly's going to be dead, Kelly's a slag, I want to kill you, if Kelly goes to court she's dead'."

The day before Kelly was due to give evidence in court, Nicky pleaded guilty to violent disorder. Two other more serious charges of attempted murder and grievous bodily harm, were dropped. He was sentenced to 11 months in a young offenders' institution but the time he'd spent on remand effectively meant his sentence was already served and he walked free. Lesser charges against another boy were also dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Nicky Fuller may have been set free but Kelly Turner was not. He named her on Sky Television and her name appeared after the court hearing in The Sun. She became known, in the closed ranks of East End society, as a grass, a "Paki lover", a traitor to her race. Other girls started to bully her at school. When she reported these incidents to teachers, she says she faced one brick wall after another. One teacher complained that Kelly's action had put other children at risk if her assailants came after her at school.

All the pressures resulted in Kelly playing truant. After one assault, when she was taken into the school toilets and hit by girls who shrieked "wog's mate" and "slag" at her, she went home and poured boiling water over her foot until it blistered so she wouldn't have to go to school. The latest assault, carried out by a 16-year-old Afro-Caribbean boy who told her "you shouldn't stand up for a Paki" was the last straw, says Gill.The boy was suspended for a fortnight, during which time Kelly was "monitored" four times a day by reporting to the deputy head's room. "You're supposed to be safe in a school, " says the girl.

The TES has contacted the headteacher of Eastbury School, Mr M B Dargon and asked him to comment on Kelly's experiences at school, including the latest violent incident, but he refused. But he did say that the volume of publicity around Kelly's "brave actions" were "seriously affecting" her GCSE chances. "There's been too much going on."

Several teachers at the school have been contacted but they have not responded to any questions about Kelly Turner.

A spokesman for Barking and Dagenham local education authority said: "Eastbury School is renowned for its strong discipline. The school is very sympathetic and supportive of Kelly Turner and has set up a system where there is a designated teacher who she turns to when she needs to. Our major concern is that Kelly concentrates on her studies. We're not keen to re-ignite attention. "

Kelly is determined to get through her seven GCSEs in May and continues to attend school. On Christmas Day she became engaged to a friend of the family. She insists they "won't get married for ages" and is keen to fulfill her childhood ambition of becoming a policewoman. "I want to help as many people as I can so that they have some peace along the line. There's not a lot of it around at the minute."

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