It was cold-blooded, brutal, and it shocked the world. But on the one-year anniversary of British soldier Lee Rigby’s murder by Muslim savages in the streets of London, there is still no memorial…and apparently, no plans to build one. All of us at BNI honor and pay homage to this British hero and will keep his memory alive in our hearts and prayers. God Bless his family.
UK Telegraph What happened on Artillery Place in Woolwich on May 22 2013 was unique in British military history. Many British soldiers have died in battle. Many have been killed by terrorists. But only one has been deliberately knocked unconscious by a car and then, in the phrase of the trial judge, “butchered” in the London suburbs in the middle of the Wednesday lunch-hour, as the perpetrators gloried in their evil.
You would know nothing of that enormity from the scene there now. Two flags, English and British, are tied to the grey railings of a block of flats, hanging limply down, hard to spot from a distance. There is a small wreath. No flowers – the council clears them away. “RIP Lee. You will never be forgotten,” someone has written in small letters on a wall.
But Lee Rigby has been forgotten, according to the people campaigning for a permanent memorial in the place where he died – a campaign that has encountered a curious resistance from the local political establishment.
Murdered police officers get memorials; there are at least 13 in London alone. Flowers are still laid almost every day at the one to WPc Yvonne Fletcher, more than 20 years after she was killed by a shot fired from the Libyan embassy. Only two miles from Woolwich, Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by racists, has a memorial at the spot where he was stabbed.
n a letter to a friend, seen by The Daily Telegraph, Lee’s mother, Lyn, says a permanent memorial to her son in Woolwich “is something very important to me, and the rest of our family, as we all feel it would be a lasting tribute to Lee, who was taken from us in such terrible circumstances. A beautiful and loving memorial for Lee would provide some comfort to my family to know that he will never be forgotten.”
But Greenwich council – though it has been, on its chief executive’s own admission, “overwhelmed by interest in a local memorial” – does not support one. Last June the Labour council leader, Chris Roberts, told mourners whom he accused of using the murder for political purposes to go away. “We do not want you here,” he said.
Only the day after the killing, Cllr Roberts followed his own advice, taking his entire council cabinet on an awayday and missing a visit by the Prime Minister. The Labour MP for Woolwich, Nick Raynsford, says a memorial to Fusilier Rigby “would not in my view be helpful” because it “might attract undesirable interest from extremists”.
“It was quite right that Stephen Lawrence got a memorial, and there wasn’t ever an issue with that. So how can it not be right that Lee gets one?” says Lorna Taylor, from nearby Bexleyheath, who leads the Memorial for Lee Rigby campaign. “Everybody of every race and religion was appalled by what happened. This is not political, racial or religious, not from our side anyway. I keep thinking, why are you scared of honouring one of your own? Why are you so spineless?”
Ms Taylor’s son, Luke, another fusilier, served alongside Lee Rigby in Afghanistan, in Cyprus – and in Woolwich. “They used to walk down this street together every single day,” she says. “Lee just happened to be alone that day. This could easily have been my child, or anyone else’s child. I’ve never seen my boy cry before, but he was in tatters that day.”
Lorna Taylor knows Lyn Rigby and was present in March when she and other members of the dead soldier’s family went to lay flowers at a memorial plaque erected by Charlton Football Club at its ground three miles to the west, the only place anywhere in the area where a member of the public can do that these days. “It was heartbreaking to see her,” she says. “The [family] want something. They need something. I really think it would help.”
Did the authorities want to forget Lee Rigby, I asked? “It’s not that they want to,” she said. “They have forgotten him. It baffles me, and it really hurts me.”
However much Cllr Roberts may wish it otherwise, Fusilier Rigby’s murder was, of course, an explicitly and entirely political act. And the authorities’ somewhat mealy-mouthed reaction to the campaign for a memorial has perhaps been reflected in their general response, over the last year, to the politics of the killing.
Like more than 30 Islamist terrorists – about a fifth of all those ever convicted in Britain – the main perpetrator, Michael Adebolajo, had clear links with the Islamist radical group al-Muhajiroun and its central figures, Omar Bakri Mohammed and Anjem Choudary, who said after the killing that he was “very proud” of his murderous protégé.
Adebolajo was a familiar figure at al-Muhajiroun demonstrations, and those organised by their fronts after the group itself was banned. Woolwich, indeed, is one of the cradles of al-Muhajiroun; Choudary lived in Welling, three miles away, and worshipped for many years at the main Woolwich mosque, in Plumstead Road, where Bakri Mohammed also preached two or three times a week. By Choudary’s own account, he and Bakri Mohammed actually met there. Another key former al-Muhajiroun figure, Usman Ali, ran a prayer group in Woolwich that was attended by Adebolajo.
Yet Choudary, despite his role in creating dozens of terrorists, remains free. “The authorities have tried everything [to investigate] him,” said one source involved in counter-extremism. “Not just terrorism – tax fraud, benefit fraud, you name it.” There are, of course, extremely tough laws against the glorification or encouragement of terror, which could perhaps apply to Choudary. But in official circles, the source said, “the view is that he steers just within the law. The Crown Prosecution Service position is that it is too risky to try a prosecution unless they can definitely convict him.”
Usman Ali, by contrast, has been arrested in connection with an investigation that looked into cash being channelled to terrorists in Syria. As many as 600 young Britons are now believed to have made the trip to Syria, leading to serious fears of “blowback” when they return, radicalised and trained, from their Middle East adventures. There are also a number of cases, one of them going through the courts now, of very young children being radicalised by their own parents, much as a paedophile would groom his victim.
Partly in response to this, and to the failings identified in Adebolajo’s case, there has been an overhaul of the Government’s Channel programme, which aims to work with and deradicalise young people before they do any harm. As has been widely reported, Adebolajo was known to the security services long before Woolwich, having been arrested en route to Somalia, the then fashionable destination-of-choice for young gap-year jihadis. He not only refused to inform, but also refused to join Channel. He was not assessed as a priority and was allowed to “slip through the gaps”, one person said.
In future, at least in theory, this will not be allowed. Those who refuse to join Channel will be specifically targeted under the anti-terrorism case-management process. A “disruptions team” has been set up to make their lives difficult, including looking for any “normal” criminality, such as burglary or drugs, which can be used against them. Whether it really makes sense to send these youths into the prison system, a serious hotspot for extremist recruitment, is an interesting question.
On broader issues of anti-extremism, the record since Woolwich has also been mixed. Universities, where Adebolajo attended lectures by radicals, often still refuse to act against the extremist lecturers and literature, gender segregation and open bigotry that infest many of their student Islamic societies.
In a letter from prison, Adebolajo’s accomplice, Michael Adebowale, said that lectures by the extremist cleric Khalid Yasin converted him to Islam and taught him the “purpose of life”. Adebowale watched online. But Yasin has also been an honoured speaker and guest at the East London Mosque, London’s largest, which continues to host regular extremist speakers while protesting its undying commitment to community cohesion. The East London Mosque also continues to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money, despite a government report describing “serious concerns” about its “links to extremists”.
In a statement, Greenwich council said it had been told by the Army that Lee Rigby’s family “are not seeking an additional memorial in Woolwich”, something his mother’s letter appears to contradict. There is a stone plinth at the gates of the artillery barracks round the corner from where Fusilier Rigby died, though it is fenced off and the public cannot lay flowers. That, say the authorities, is all Woolwich needs. Others disagree; next week, on May 22, Lorna Taylor and her group will be holding an all-day vigil for their memorial on the actual site. “We have the design, we have the stonemason ready to start,” she says. “All we need is a call.”
But though some of the picture may be discouraging, the broader verdict for Britain one year on is not. The fact is that Lee Rigby’s killers failed. They failed to become martyrs, as they had hoped. Thanks to the restraint of the police who arrested them as they waved a gun around, they lived to face an eternity in jail, not an eternity in heaven.
They failed to provoke a backlash, as they had hoped; the Government also acted with restraint. They failed to stir community tension, as they had hoped. Woolwich is no more or less racially divided now than it was then. And they failed to enlist Muslims to their cause, as they had hoped. As Adebowale bemoaned in his letter, contemplating the long, boring years ahead of him, “I have had little support… many Muslims sadly ill-judged me. Allah help them.”
The lack of broader effects from the outrage, its lack of wider victims, makes it more essential than ever that the real victim, Fusilier Lee Rigby, is properly remembered.