15-year old Arsema Dawit stabbed to death in London – Adam Fresco, Crime Correspondent, and Times Online

June 4th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said today that it will investigate police handling of complaints from the family of Arsema Dawit.

The 15-year-old was stabbed up to 10 times in a frenzied attack in the lift of the block of flats where she lived with her family in south London. (more…)

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said today that it will investigate police handling of complaints from the family of Arsema Dawit.

The 15-year-old was stabbed up to 10 times in a frenzied attack in the lift of the block of flats where she lived with her family in south London.

Her family told police just weeks ago that Arsema had been assaulted by an obsessive man who had threatened to kill her. But they said that the police took 12 days to get back in touch with them, then officers told them there was nothing they could do about the man, who met Arsema at an Eritrean church where she was a member of the choir.

In a statement, the IPCC said it had asked the Metropolitan Police to refer the investigation to it.

“The family complained to the Metropolitan Police that Arsema, 15, was assaulted on 30 April, five weeks before her murder in Waterloo, London SE1,” the statement read.

“The IPCC awaits the referral, whereupon the Commission will assess how the investigation should be carried out.”

Scotland Yard has already ordered an internal investigation into the actions of officers in the weeks leading up to the stabbing of the schoolgirl as she returned home on Monday.

The inquiry will focus on whether officers could have saved Arsema, who was found stabbed to death in a lift at the flats where she lived near Waterloo station, Central London.

The Times has learnt that Arsema and her mother gave police the name of a suspect who had assaulted and threatened to kill her, although it is not known whether she gave them the correct one.

The teenager, who sang in the choir at her local Eritrean church and celebrated her 15th birthday on Saturday, described the suspect as being aged 29 or 30. A man was arrested shortly after the killing in “an agitated state”. Although he is 21, police are confident that he is the suspect from the original inquiry.

The schoolgirl had gone to Kennington police station with her mother on April 30. She told officers that a man had assaulted her and threatened to kill her at a nearby McDonald’s restaurant on April 16.

The matter should have been dealt with quickly because it involved a young person, categorised by the police as being vulnerable.

One schoolfriend said: “She loved her church, and she doted over her brother and sister. She was loved, and loved others. We cannot believe it.”

Tragically, it appears that the church was at the centre of the cycle of events that led to Arsema’s death. Friends said that an older male worshipper had begun to take an unhealthy interest in her and as a result she had missed three recent Sunday services.

Mr Tesfaghiorgish said: “He wanted to marry her – he wanted her. But the family were not interested.”

Arsema and her mother complained to the police about the man on April 30. But 12 days later, when police tried to interview Arsema, she apparently failed to substantiate the accusations.

Mr Tesfaghiorgish said that he could not believe that the police had failed to act sooner after complaints had been filed. “The mother and the girl told the police a number of times that he had been harassing her. The police said they couldn’t take any action,” he said. “We are going to complain about this.”

Wayne Fort, a neighbour, said that he had seen a man arguing with one of Arsema’s female relatives two months ago. He said that the woman had been warning him to stay away.

“There was a chap who seemed to be infatuated with her. He seemed to have met her at the church,” he said. “I could see from the efforts of the elders of the family they were trying to get rid of the man.”

On Monday afternoon Arsema, dressed in her school uniform, stepped into the lift of her block of flats. It is believed that her attacker had lain in wait until she returned home from school.

Another neighbour, Cosima Paniza, heard Arsema arguing with a man on the staircase. “I went to put my rubbish in the chute and I heard the man and the girl arguing. I couldn’t get the words of the girl because she was shouting so loud. It sounded like he was threatening her,” she said.

Mr Fort’s partner and daughter found the teenager’s body. He said that his daughter had called him, screaming: “Daddy, Daddy, quick, come! The girl’s in the lift, she’s on the floor, there’s lots of blood.”

A blade was still sticking out of her side. The attack was so violent that part of the handle had snapped off.

An hour later officers arrested a man on suspicion of murder on the pedestrianised Hungerford Bridge in London, about half a mile from the crime scene. He had been spotted previously by passers-by apparently washing blood from his hands in a public lavatory next to the County Hall hotel.

He was later seen on the bridge, clinging to its side and talking into a mobile phone. He was arrested by two plainclothes officers wearing stab vests.

Yesterday, as postmortem examination on the schoolgirl took place, her fellow pupils were told of her death at a series of special assemblies. Many were left in tears at the announcement that their classmate was the 16th teenager to be murdered in London this year.

One schoolfriend said: “She was a very bubbly person. Almost kind of an angel. She was smiling all the time. I’ve heard a lot of things from different people but I don’t think she had a boyfriend. I never saw her with anyone.”

Cathy Loxton, the principal at Arsema’s school, the Harris Academy in Bermondsey, said “Arsema was a popular, friendly and well-behaved girl who had much to contribute to our school community.”

Arsema’s future had been considered so bright that to help to fulfil her potential she was being helped by a school mentor. Tirzah Bright, 22, overcome with emotion, could only say: “She was a very hard worker – she worked very hard. She was a nice girl. She didn’t deserve this to happen to her.”

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