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15-year old Arsema Dawit stabbed to death in London

By Adam Fresco, Fiona Hamilton and Rajeev Syal
Times Online

Only four days ago Arsema Dawit was surrounded by those she loved most – her friends, her younger brother and sister and her mother – as she blew out 15 candles on her birthday cake. Yesterday those same friends streamed into the family’s neat three-bedroom flat in Waterloo, South London, struggling to explain why this sweet-natured choirgirl has become the latest victim of London’s knife crime.

Some chose to criticise the Metropolitan Police, which they say failed to take seriously a complaint that her alleged murderer had harassed and assaulted her in the weeks leading up to her death. But most were too overcome with grief to speak. Women covered their heads with white shawls out of respect for the family, some wailing as they entered the building. Arsema’s mother, Tsehay, surrounded by women, sat in one room of the flat with her son Robel, 13, and daughter Feruz, 12.

She was too distraught to speak to visitors, able only to acknowledge them with a nod. Berekati Asfeday, a family friend, said that Arsema’s mother was so upset that she “can’t talk, just cry, cry, cry, non-stop cry”.

The men sat in a separate room of the family home, which was was decorated with religious icons. “Everyone is so upset. It is a deep grief,” one male visitor said.

Those who had the strength to talk described a happy and deeply religious teenager who had fought against the odds since arriving in Britain from Eritrea more than four years ago.

The family had moved to at least three homes across South London before settling within sight of the Houses of Parliament. Friends said that the children’s father had not lived with the family for some time.

Arsema had learnt English and was busy preparing for her GCSEs at the nearby Harris Academy, with dreams of university and a career.

Simon Tesfaghiorgish, a family friend, said: “Arsema’s life was maths, history, reading and reading the Bible.”

She was determined not to forget her African heritage and was an enthusiastic member of the Eritrean community church, singing in its 20-strong choir. Most members of the congregation at St Michael’s Community Church in Camberwell were Eritreans fleeing the fighting against Ethiopian Woyanne soldiers in the East African region.

Father Yohannes Sibhatu, the parish priest, said: “She worshipped in this church and used to sing in the choir. She used to be very active, but in the last two years, for some reason, she was quite quiet.

“She was a nice girl, very likeable, and she may have had quite a few friends in the church. I am really shocked and really sorry for the family that this has happened. As a priest and as a member of the community – like everyone else – I am feeling very sad.”

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.”

12 day wait for police after complaint about stalker

Arsema had to wait 12 days for police to make contact after complaining that an alleged stalker had threatened to kill her.

Scotland Yard yesterday 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.

The case was given to Southwark CID but it was not until May 12 that a Safer Schools officer spoke to the victim at her school, Harris Academy. However, Arsema denied any knowledge of the incident. A week later police contacted her mother and the inquiry was continuing when Arsema was killed.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The victim was unaware of the incident and had no knowledge of it. Despite this we continued to investigate the circumstances of the incident and Arsema’s mother was subsequently contacted on May 19.

“The investigation was being progressed when Arsema was tragically killed.”

He added: “It has been established that Arsema and the suspect knew each other but the exact nature of their relationship is unclear at this stage.”

Detectives from the Territorial Policing Violent Crime Directorate have started an internal review and part of their investigation will focus on what officers were doing for the 12 days before they visited the schoolgirl.

A source told The Times: “They will want to know what officers did and when. If they were given a name of a suspect, what did they do to try to trace him?”

It may be that officers went to the suspect’s address but he was not there or they did nothing. Investigators will want to know if the fact that the alleged victim was not cooperating influenced their actions.

A police officer said: “If it was an older man involved in the complaint you would hope that it would have raised flags with officers – he could have been a predatory paedophile.

“If officers knew where he was I would have hoped that they had gone round to speak to him. If they have not I would say they have been negligent in their duty of care to the victim.”

Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, is investigating what happened in the weeks before Arsema was killed.

She said: “I am trying to establish the true nature of the relationship between Arsema and the man in custody. We are speaking to her family and friends to help to build a picture of events leading up to the murder.”

25 thoughts on “15-year old Arsema Dawit stabbed to death in London

  1. I am very saddened by what happened to this young girl and i send my condolence to her family and her friends and to the eritrean community all over the world. May God rest her soul in peace. And shame on you whoever commited this cold crime and to the shamefull response of the central London police.

  2. so sorry to hear this bad news
    she came to uk to be safe and died this way
    may god give the family strengh at this bad and sad time
    she is in heaven.

  3. This is so sad. Why didn’t the family do some thing when the animal slapped her and stalked her? The police is not the only one to be blamed here. The family and the community, including the church, every one failed this innocent little girl. The mad dog who committed this horrible crime must be hanged in a public square so that other potential child killers will be warned.

  4. May the gates of heaven open and let her soul rest in peace and justice be served on this crime.

    she complained several times to the so called police and one would expect this police to take it seriously and act up on her complaints.

    But instead they disregard it. i bet if she had been a white girl complaining about a black man or any other race harrasing her, they would have hunted him down within a matter of hours in not minutes.

  5. i’m very shocked to read the killing of this lovely, good looking girl. ow my God. May GOD rest her soul in peace.and i express my condolesence to her family.

  6. Sadly this is a grim reality in London and many UK towns and for those not affected it is just a number game. Already 15 youngsters are knifed to death in London before this incident only in this year. Just like gun culture in US, here prevails a knife culture. What compounds the mater is the inept attitude of the justice system and the complete incompetence and lack of interest of the police. The police are very busy in collecting fine for illegal parking, dropping a litter, speed limits or similar trivial issues. Such issues are sources of revenue and are dealt very quickly. The first attempt to investigate this case started after 12 days. What were the police doing all that time? The answer for might explain the whole truth about police.

  7. If there is law, there is always injustice.
    That is what was happening ro the Scotland Yard. They better change it to Scotalnd yard Soccer club is they failed to keep innocent and charming civilians from scarry murderes.

    Whether she will be in heaven or not, its a horse of another colour. I wish I could be there on the lift so that I would have saved her from that dormant murderer.


  8. I am an Eritrean who feels down and gone to pieces with the murder of this cute girl. it is a very tragic to see as young as ARSEMA with a full life ahead of her been short cut by a lunatic. most BRITISH news papers,media out lets and ERITREAN AND ETHIOPIAN web sites were upset and very sympathetic towards her family and the ERITREAN community in London. except the TIME ON LINE(CATHERINE PHILIP) and the the AIGAFORUM, who have done their best to politicize ARSEMA’S tragic death. it is absurd to see the bloody AIGAFORUM the dedebs from dedebit play dirt and try to redirect the cause to their dirty political propaganda. and i hope ELIAS KIFLIE do i quick look at AIGA B 4 they remove their dirty tricks and say something about those cowards. MAY ARSEMA RESTS IN PEACE AND MAY GOD GIVE THE STRENGTH TO HER FAMILY, SPECIALLY HER MUM, DAD, BROTHERS, SISTERS AND THE WHOLE ERITREAN COMMUNITY IN LONDON.

  9. I am an Eritrean too and this has really saddened me and my whole family, especially since she was murdered by a fellow Eritrean.
    I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the mother seeing her daughter that way.
    May she rest in peace, she is with the God she loved so much.

  10. Condolances to her family. there is no hope in this world. our only hope comes from God. Lets repent and come to the savoir of the World Jesus. We will get to heaven following Christ.

  11. It is one of the sadest incident to happen to our community. It touchs so many of us in the diaspora and around the world. May God forgive the young man who commited this horrific murder. May God also be with the family and friends of Arsema Dawit to give them comfort and strenght. R.I.P Arsema Dawit

  12. First of all i would to send my love and condolenses to you and your family.I really feel sorry for the family. Specially the mother.
    ARSEMA is a beutiful girl how any one would wan`t to take her life when she had so much to live for
    sleep well little one you will make a lovely angel ,R.I.P XXXX

  13. what kind of news we heard,we are very sorry about this happend the person have curly ,he have to be hunged !!!!let “GOD” take her soul to heaven,we pray for this.

  14. I am very saddened by whats happened to this young girl and i send my condolence to her family and her friends and to the eritrean community all over the world.
    >>>>May God rest her soul in peace<<<<.

  15. shocking news.May God keep us all from this evil thing.I hope this will not mark to the nice, respectfull culture we have (Habesha never have even dreamt about such unwise crimes).MAY HER SOUL REST IN PEACE as i say this i pray for her!!!!

  16. አመላክ ከጎናችሁ ሆኖ አይዙአችሁ ይበላችሁ እንጂ ይህ የማይሥአ ነው. አምላክ መርቶ እና ወሰዳት በንትህናዋ ስለዚህ ተስናኑ አምላክ ሁለም መንገድ አለውና. ፍርዱንም ለሱ ተውት የሱ በከል ከማንም ይንልታል ይህን ላረገውን እና ነገሩን ሳያከብዱ ላዩት.

    ኤዶም ዘውዱ ከፕይካም ሳውዝ ሎንዶን

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