The family of a 22-year-old who was stabbed to death were left ‘devastated’ when their campaign calling for harsher knife crime sentencing was erased overnight.
Leo Marcus was killed during a robbery in broad daylight, just 200 metres from his home, in a south-east London alleyway last year.
When Leo refused to give up his rucksack and bicycle, drug dealer Shackim Purnell-Taylor, 19, stabbed him multiple times with a 20cm kitchen knife. Leo suffered severe injuries, including a wound that pierced his heart, and died later that day in hospital.
Following his death, Leo’s dad Cliff and step-mum Sarah Kerr were shocked to learn there was no minimum sentence for carrying a knife and launched a petition to introduce one. It racked up 75,000 signatures – close to the 100,000 needed to be considered for Parliamentary debate.
But the family were heartbroken when the campaign was scrapped due to the General Election in December and have had to start from scratch with a new petition.
Leo’s older brother Anthony Marcus, 32, and sister-in-law Natalie, 30, said they have been desperately trying to get the signatures back up but fear many who have signed before, don’t realise they need to do so again.
Natalie said: ‘It was just gutting. The petition was there with us through every emotion. At his funeral we hit 10,000 signatures.
‘It gave a positive vibe to what has been a really horrible situation. Now it feels like that’s all been taken away’.
‘The most devastating thing was we wanted to raise awareness to stop other families ever feeling the pain we feel,’ she added.
‘There is a massive hole in our family now and our lives will never ever be the same.’
Leo was killed on July 10 in Woolwich, exactly three weeks before his 23rd birthday.
In January, Purnell-Taylor was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years for his murder. He received another eight years for robbery and possession of a knife.
Anthony and Natalie, who have two children aged three and one, recounted the trauma of watching the moment Leo was murdered on CCTV, while having to sit next to his killer’s family during the trial.
The couple said the hardest thing was seeing Leo lying on the floor severely wounded but alive after being attacked. He would die almost six hours later in surgery.
Anthony and Natalie, from Gravesend, are concerned that knife attacks are now ‘the norm’ and the public is becoming desensitised to the issue, with many quick to assume the victim was involved in a gang.
But this couldn’t have been further from the truth for Leo, who Natalie described as ‘such a cheeky, happy boy who had a smile that lit up the room’.
He was a qualified bricklayer and was studying at college, without a criminal record and no affiliation with a gang.
Leo didn’t have a weapon and was just trying to get his bag back.
Natalie added: ‘That’s what makes it so difficult. Leo wasn’t that type of person. He wasn’t in that type of lifestyle. He had a bright future ahead of him.
‘For us that’s the harsh reality. You hear about these things on the TV but you never think it’s going to happen to you until it does.’
The family said they were shocked when someone in the community asked them if police should attend Leo’s funeral.
‘I think they just make an assumption that when somebody dies in a knife crime attack and they’re young, and Leo was mixed race, he therefore must be in a gang,’ added Natalie.
‘That is really frustrating to be put in that box as that just wasn’t the case in our family’.
A closer look at knife crime statistics:
In October 2019, knife crime hit a record high and was up by 7 per cent on the previous 12 months.
Police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument rose to 44,771, revealed figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
For the family, the killer’s jail sentence ‘doesn’t feel like justice’ and said they have been let down by the system.
Purnell-Taylor had previous convictions for two counts of possession of a blade, robbery, assault, theft, supplying class A drugs and witness intimidation.
‘No sentence would have been enough because it doesn’t change what he did. It doesn’t bring Leo back,’ said Natalie. ‘The reality is that guy shouldn’t have been on the street.’
‘Had he been locked up Leo would’ve still been alive now,’ added Anthony.
‘We’re not saying this petition would stop people carrying knives but it will take some people off the street who have already done so and maybe stop someone losing a loved one like we have.’
The family want the minimum sentence to be equal to that for carrying a prohibited firearm, which is five years behind bars for over 18s. For 16 to 17-year-olds it is three years at a young offenders’ institution.
There is no minimum jail sentence for carrying a knife – only for repeat possession and offences that involve threatening with a weapon.
Natalie said it’s not ‘comforting that anyone can run around with a knife’ and that it has the same devastating effect as a gun, adding: ‘They both kill, they’re both weapons.
‘We’ve got young children, it makes us scared and nervous to let kids out because you just don’t know who they’re going to come into contact with.’
Many argue that those carrying knives do so for protection, but police have stated that a person is three times more likely to get stabbed when in possession of one, according to First Aid for Life.
‘Even if it is for protection you still have an intention – if you come into danger, you’re going to use that knife,’ added Natalie.
‘So, what should have been a fist fight in the street, turns into something completely different and life-threatening.’
Less than a year on, the family said they will ‘never get over’ Leo’s death but work hard to keep his memory alive every day by sharing stories about him.
Paying tribute to Leo, the couple said he loved playing basketball, working on bicycles and ‘loved his family and friends so much’ and was a great uncle to his niece and nephew.
‘It has been such a difficult, painful and heart-breaking experience,’ said Natalie.
‘If we can make a difference in Leo’s memory to prevent other families from going through what we have, it would just mean everything to us.’
Anthony added: ‘And his memory will live on – Leo’s Law’.