News, Culture & Society

Jodie Chesney’s single father makes an impassioned plea to end Britain’s knife crime epidemic

Peter Chesney was out in London celebrating his 39th birthday when he took the call from an unknown man who identified himself as a police officer.

‘Something’s happening to your daughter, Jodie,’ he said. ‘We’re coming to get you.’

Trying to suppress a sense of rising panic, Peter told the officer his whereabouts and made his way with his brother, Dave, through the crowded bar and out onto the street.

A police van arrived in minutes, which made things worse. The pair got in and the vehicle sped away. As the van headed eastwards, Peter, bewildered and by now very, very scared, asked questions. What had happened? Where was she?

Memories: Jodie with dad Peter. Peter Chesney was out in London celebrating his 39th birthday when he took the call from an unknown man who identified himself as a police officer and told him something had happened to his daughter 

The details were sketchy. Jodie, 17, had been stabbed, Peter was told, and was at that moment being taken to hospital by ambulance for urgent treatment. The plan was to go straight to the hospital to link up with them.

Peter felt dread in his heart, but clung to hope. This was his daughter they were talking about. She wasn’t any trouble. She was a good girl — a ‘geek’ and Girl Scout, for heaven’s sake — surely it couldn’t be serious.

Then the police radio crackled into life. ‘Mr Chesney needs to be diverted to his home address,’ said the operator. ‘Jodie’s gone.’

How can anyone imagine the pain and shock Peter felt at hearing those two words?

Peter can’t really remember the details, but thinks he sank down on his knees in the van.

Guilty: Jodie’s killer 19-year-old Svenson Ong-a-Kwie

Guilty: Jodie’s killer 19-year-old Svenson Ong-a-Kwie

Back at his home in Dagenham, Essex, his family had also been told the news and were gathering in a state of profound shock.

There, they learned some of the details. Jodie had been stabbed in the back in a park in Harold Hill, East London, where she was sitting on a bench enjoying the evening with her boyfriend and a group of close friends.

None of it made sense. As her father says now: ‘Who would want to kill a little girl sitting in a park? And in the back? What cowardly little s*** would do something like that?

‘How could a beautiful, kind girl like my Jodie have been killed in such a way? She was a victim of this epidemic of knife crime among people who hold no value on life. They kill without any thought as to the consequences.

‘The utter senselessness of Jodie’s death makes it so hard for me to try to come to terms with. This has to stop.’

On Thursday, this week, his question was answered: Svenson Ong-a-Kwie, 19, and a 17-year-old accomplice who can’t be named were unanimously found guilty of murder by a jury at the Old Bailey at the conclusion of a harrowing trial lasting more than four weeks.

Jodie with her big sister Lucy. In 2012, Peter married wife Joanne, who became stepmother to Jodie and Lucy

Jodie with her big sister Lucy. In 2012, Peter married wife Joanne, who became stepmother to Jodie and Lucy

The court heard that Jodie was targeted in a case of mistaken identity. Ong-a-Kwie, the knifeman, had wanted to ‘bang out’ a rival in revenge for stabbing him weeks earlier. But in the darkness, he lunged at Jodie.

After stabbing Jodie, Ong-a-Kwie and the 17-year-old fled in a Vauxhall Corsa driven by Manuel Petrovic, 20. Petrovic and a 16-year-old passenger, who also cannot be named, were cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Today, in a tearful, emotionally charged interview, Peter lays bare the devastation that his daughter’s senseless murder has wrought on him and his family.

In the days after the murder, a picture of Jodie, smiling in her Scouts’ uniform at the door of No. 10 Downing Street, accompanied the news reports about a murder which shocked the nation.

A month after she was killed, Jodie's body was released so that her funeral could take place

A month after she was killed, Jodie’s body was released so that her funeral could take place

Her father says it is a photograph that is in perfect accord with Jodie’s personality — a sweet, kind girl, always ready to help others, whose life revolved around the Scouts.

Peter split from Jodie’s mother, Clare, when Jodie was three and her elder sister, Lucy, five. After various court hearings, Peter was given full parental responsibility of the two girls and raised them at the family’s home in Dagenham, Essex, where Peter himself grew up. Jodie’s mother, says Peter, was in touch with her daughters sporadically.

He adds: ‘Jodie was very clingy as a child. My mum, Christine, Jodie’s grandma, became a mother figure. She used to call her every morning and every evening.’

Peter says that, as a child, his daughter suffered from a lack of self-confidence. ‘Growing up, she was painfully shy. But at primary school there was a teacher who really brought her out of her shell.’

In 2012, Peter married wife Joanne, who became stepmother to Jodie and Lucy.

‘She got involved with the Scouts and it became her life,’ says Peter. ‘She was always going off for the weekend doing stuff with them, mountain climbing and canoeing. The thing about Jodie is, she wasn’t an extrovert to whom this sort of thing came easily. She did it precisely because she was scared, to conquer her fears.

‘She loved being a Scout leader. She was a bit of a geek, she didn’t follow the crowd. There was one time when she went to Leeds Castle and she had to go on a rope bridge. She was frozen with fear, but she did it. She visited Downing Street, she went all over the place.’

In the days after the murder, a picture of Jodie, smiling in her Scouts' uniform at the door of No. 10 Downing Street, accompanied the news reports about a murder which shocked the nation

In the days after the murder, a picture of Jodie, smiling in her Scouts’ uniform at the door of No. 10 Downing Street, accompanied the news reports about a murder which shocked the nation 

Jodie was also enrolled with the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. ‘She got her Silver award and was three weeks away from her Gold when she died. But I’m told they’re going to award it posthumously.

‘She was blossoming into a confident young woman. And she was musical, too. She loved the piano. She would come home from college and play. She was self-taught. She was even playing Beethoven.

‘Jodie was studying A-levels in psychology, sociology and photography at Havering Sixth Form College.

‘She loved animals and talked about working for a vet’s surgery or at a pet sanctuary when she left college. I know I keep saying it, but that was Jodie, just a lovely, sensitive, sweet girl.’

Peter’s face lights up as he talks about his darling girl. ‘I was father and mother, good cop, bad cop. We got on great. Lucy was the extrovert of the two and sometimes Lucy and I would lock horns.

‘But that would make Jodie cry and I didn’t like seeing it.’

Around three months before she was killed, Jodie started dating 18-year-old Eddie Coyle, a shy sensitive person like herself. ‘They were similar in personality and I think they got on well because of that,’ says Peter.

Friday, March 1, should have been a day like any other — except it was Peter’s birthday. ‘My birthday is on February 29 so when it’s not a leap year I celebrate the day after.

‘The last time I saw Jodie I was in the kitchen and she came in and said, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and I said, ‘Thanks Babe’ and gave her a kiss and then I went off to work.

‘I’d got a new job as a salesman selling printing services to law firms. I was in great shape. I felt like I was taking over the world.’

Peter and some friends were enjoying drinks when the police officer called and they were picked up. ‘At first I didn’t take in the enormity of it. The human body protects you to a degree in those situations from some of the grief you later feel.

‘That’s how I heard my daughter had died — on a police radio. I’m not blaming them, though. They were just doing their job and I happened to hear it. At home I sank on my knees in grief, crying. We were all crying. It was terrible, just terrible.’

It was not until days later that Peter learned the full details of the events leading to Jodie’s death.

His daughter had gone to the park with her boyfriend and a group of friends to listen to music. There, she became the unwitting victim of a turf war between rival drug gangs described in court by the prosecution as ‘pathetic’.

At around 9.25pm, Ong-a-Kwie entered the park, approached the bench, swung the knife into Jodie’s back, then pulled it out. Seconds later, Jodie, aware that something terrible had happened to her, began screaming — her screams rang out through the park for over a minute.

In the ensuing panic, passers-by put Jodie into the recovery position and tried to help her before police and paramedics arrived. Based on the severity of her injuries, a decision was taken to drive her to the Whitechapel Hospital in East London. On the journey, however, she was bleeding profusely and her condition began to deteriorate alarmingly.

At a service station in Gants Hill, a dramatic effort was made to save Jodie’s life. ‘A doctor was called and she was taken out of the ambulance and operated on then and there,’ says Peter. ‘I don’t know exactly what they did but the problem was the blood loss, they couldn’t stem the blood flow.’

A few days later, Peter, his mother and daughter Lucy went to see Jodie in the mortuary.

‘She just looked normal, as though she was asleep. But that was no comfort. I think I was still in disbelief a bit at that point, seeing my daughter, lying there, dead. Afterwards, we all went to a pub for a stiff drink, but I went back and sat on the steps of the mortuary and cried.’

‘I know no one deserves it, but Jodie was a sweet, kind girl who didn’t have a bad bone in her body,’ says her father.

Even Jodie’s treasured dog, Woody, a Yorkshire terrier who she doted on, joined in the mourning.

‘For weeks after her death he would sit on my bed and watch for Jodie out of the window,’ says Peter. ‘It was heartbreaking.’

A month after she was killed, Jodie’s body was released so that her funeral could take place.

‘My brother Dave is a Church of England vicar so we held the service at his church at Custom House in East London,’ says Peter.

‘He insisted on taking the service. He nearly lost his composure at first but he made himself go through with it. More than 300 people came.’

The outpouring of sympathy and support from friends and strangers was extraordinary. ‘We had literally hundreds of cards and messages which we put in Jodie’s room,’ says Peter. ‘Her room is exactly the same as it was the day she left home for the last time, apart from there being more photos of Jodie now and flowers.’

And Jodie’s ashes are here, too, surrounded by all these messages and symbols of love.

‘A girl at her college was awarded bursary money and spent it on a bench with a plaque on it in Jodie’s name which is in the college now.

‘And someone else made a bench engraved with the message Jodie, Forever In Our Hearts, which we’ve put in the garden here.’

On what would have been Jodie’s 18th birthday on June 18 this year, Peter couldn’t face being in the house and took his wife and Lucy away for a few days to Bulgaria.

But he says there is no let-up from the anguish. ‘What haunts me is the pain she was in,’ he says. ‘She screamed for a solid minute.

‘I miss her so much. She’s the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of when I go to sleep.’

Lucy, says the girls’ father, has been completely devastated by her sister’s death.

‘They were so close. Lucy is a changed person. She was very outgoing, and had a job in a bar in the City,’ says Peter. ‘But now she won’t go out alone. She’s scared, terrified. I have to be here now for Lucy, to get her through this.’

Peter’s marriage, too, has not been able to survive the anguish and repercussions of Jodie’s death, and he and Joanne split up three months ago.

Peter attended the trial at the Old Bailey intermittently — it was simply too painful most of the time to hear the evidence.

Thursday’s verdict was a huge relief. ‘The verdict came in quicker than we anticipated and we got a call saying we had to be in court — now. When I heard the guilty verdict I couldn’t stop myself letting out a yes! It was justice for Jodie.’

How does he feel about the man who stabbed Jodie? ‘It’s difficult. I’ve been in touch with parents who’ve lost children in similar situations, and there is one couple who told me they’ve now forgiven their son’s killer.

‘I said, ‘How can you do that?’ and they replied that they did it for themselves, that the hate was eating them up.

‘Well, right now, I hate Jodie’s killer. I don’t want him to drink beer, to see the sun rise, to love, because Jodie isn’t going to have any of that. I want him to suffer, to rot in a dark place.

‘But I also don’t want to be consumed by hate. I’ve lost half of me, I’m half the person I was. I want to try to get some of me back.’

Commendably, he has set up a charity, the Jodie Chesney Foundation, which aims to raise awareness about knife crime — and to try to reach young people early on before they start carrying knives.

‘I want to go into school, talk to kids, inspire a new generation to stop this.

‘I’m just an ordinary guy, someone’s dad, but it happened to me.

‘But shall I tell you what really motivates me to get out of bed and do this? I’m doing it for Jodie, because this is exactly what she would have done.’


Comments are closed.