‘The police suffer from a crisis of moral leadership – it's a culture which attracts predators'

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Sisters Bibaa Henry (left) and Nicole Smallman – Family Handouts/PA Wire

This is the first morning in an 18-month ordeal that Mina Smallman can finally begin to grieve. Ever since her daughters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, were stabbed to death in a frenzied attack following a birthday picnic at Fryent Country Park in Wembley last June, she has endured a revolving cycle of torment: a botched missing person’s investigation in which her family were forced to search for the sisters’ bodies themselves, and a murder trial at the Old Bailey this summer in which their killer, 19-year-old Danyal Hussein, leered at the Ven. Smallman (the Church of England’s first female archdeacon from a black or ethnic minority) from the dock. She stared him down and winked back, refusing to be cowed.

But as Hussein began his life sentence in October, she then had to face up to those who were supposed to protect her and her family at the criminal trial – following an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation – of two Metropolitan Police officers who photographed Bibaa and Nicole’s bodies while supposedly guarding the crime scene.

In messages shared with fellow officers and members of the public, Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis described the sisters as “dead birds with stab wounds” while Lewis sent Jaffer a photograph of his face superimposed on an image of the victims. In separate group messages, Jaffer also twice used racial slurs about “P—s” to which his fellow officer replied “Exactly”.

Yesterday (Monday, December 6) both men were sentenced to two years, nine months in jail after pleading guilty to misconduct in public office. In her first full newspaper interview since either trial, Smallman says the ordeal has left her suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, her emotions oscillating wildly from numbness to denial to screaming out for her murdered children in her sleep.

“There is this desire I will be able to put that to bed and really take on the fact they have gone,” the 65-year-old says. “To finally not try and put on a brave face.”

That said, Smallman intends to continue campaigning in memory of her daughters and exposing the “endemic toxic culture” within the police who failed her family at every turn. She says she would like to meet the two now former officers – whom she refers to as “Despicable One and Despicable Two” – to seek restorative justice and has asked the police to make an approach.

“It’s important to me they understand sorry is not enough,” she says. “I want to know that they feel a sense of shame.”

After holding off for many months, she has also publicly called for the resignation of Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick. Following the publication of the IOPC report last month, Dame Cressida issued an apology to the family and offered to meet Smallman – an invitation she has declined.

“Her main role through all of this has been to protect the brand,” she says. “Where was her humanity?”

She believes such recalcitrance among senior officers has permeated through the ranks – and not just within the Metropolitan Police but across the country. Citing the recent cases of five officers from four forces facing misconduct proceedings after sharing offensive messages surrounding the investigation into Sarah Everard (who was murdered by a serving Met officer earlier this year), Smallman says the police are suffering a crisis of moral leadership.

“Part of the job is about upholding moral standards but from what we are seeing coming out, that isn’t going on,” she says. “There is racism, misogyny, sexism – awful crimes. I just think more is going to come out.”

As she points out: “Because the culture has been allowed to flourish, it has attracted predators.”

Mina Smallman – Rii Schroer

We are talking in the living room of her home in Ramsgate; Smallman with her cat, Basil, curled up on a blanket on her knees.

Smallman was born to a Nigerian father and British mother in Cricklewood, west London, but speaks in an Essex accent, which she picked up when she was raised by a foster family up to the age of five – something she says was common practice in the Fifties, particularly among mixed race couples – until her parents had the financial means to properly care for her. Her first husband, the father of Bibaa and her remaining daughter, Monique, was the ABA featherweight champion boxer, Herman Henry, but the pair split in her 20s. Smallman met her husband of 30 years, Chris, who is Nicole’s father, while working at the same school in Harrow, north west London, where she was a drama teacher. She later retired and entered the church, being ordained as a deacon in 2006. Her final post was as the Archdeacon of Southend from which she stepped down in 2016.

She and Chris moved to Ramsgate three years ago, to what they hoped would be their retirement home. It was in this peaceful spot, overlooking the chalky blue waters of the English Channel, where she received a phone call last June telling her that her daughters had gone missing after the Friday night picnic celebrating Bibaa’s 46th birthday.

It was held outside with numbers kept deliberately small to comply with lockdown regulations – otherwise Smallman says she would have been there.

Instead Bibaa, a social worker, and Nicole, a 27-year-old aspiring photographer and graduate from Westminster University, spent the evening taking pictures of themselves which they sent to friends and family – including Smallman. One of the last photographs showed the pair wrapped in fairy lights and dancing while their killer must have lurked in the darkness nearby.

Flowers at an entrance to Fryent Country Park – Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

After they failed to come home on the morning of Saturday June 7, the pair were reported missing to the police. From that moment the IOPC investigation recorded a litany of failures. A call handler referred to one of the missing women as a “suspect” and appeared dismissive when a friend of one of the sisters phoned asking for help. Then an inspector closed the logs down after a communications supervisor “inaccurately” recorded information from a family member regarding Bibaa’s believed whereabouts.

According to the IOPC investigation, racial bias was not a factor in the police mishandling of the case. However, Smallman insists that it was. “They knew right from the beginning they were not white women,” she says, bluntly.

Instead, it fell to the family to arrange their own search party. On Sunday morning Smallman stayed in Ramsgate manning the phones while Nicole’s boyfriend of eight years, Adam Stone, and a friend of Bibaa’s went to the park where the picnic had taken place, and Chris drove to London to meet them.

It was 34-year-old Stone who discovered a knife nearby and the two sisters entwined in the undergrowth where Hussein had dragged their bodies. When he phoned Smallman to tell her, she remembers “howling this primal scream”.

She says Stone, whom she describes as like a son, has also been diagnosed with PTSD, forced to move back in with his parents and is suffering severe anxiety. She recalls seeing him at their funeral at Golders Green Crematorium. “I hugged him and he was just pure skin and bone,” she says. He has only just started to return to work.

Smallman's middle daughter, Monique, lives in Holland where she works as a personal trainer, but was close to both of her sisters. The first time she came to visit after their deaths, the house felt empty. “It was so awkward and I know we both felt it,” she says. “It was so unusual for it just to be us.”

The last photographs that their pair took, which they sent to Mina, showed them dancing and having fun – Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

Smallman cannot even remember last Christmas, she was so traumatised; this year she, Chris and Monique will stay in a nearby hotel to avoid being at home in Ramsgate, where the three sisters would otherwise have congregated, playing Pictionary, charades and dozing in front of films.

To see in the New Year they will travel up to Fife – where her mother’s side of the family come from – where she plans to scatter the ashes of both daughters on her great grandmother’s grave.

Even as she takes these first steps in grief, Smallman knows she will, in all likelihood, never receive proper closure. “Every murder that has happened since – especially women – it just triggers everything and probably will for the rest of our lives,” she says.

She has been contacted by the parents of Sarah Everard’s boyfriend, who are fellow Christians, but hasn’t yet spoken to her mother, Susan, who like Smallman wrote a devastating victim impact statement which was read out in court. Even if they haven’t yet met, she feels they share an unwelcome bond. “We are a select group that no-one wants to be part of,” she says. “I know the pain she is feeling. It is like no other.”

Curiously, it was the most painful thing she was forced to hear in court – the details of the injuries inflicted upon her daughters – that provided some solace. Nicole, in particular, who her family remember as a sensitive and mellow young woman, suffered cuts to her legs as she ferociously fought her attacker off. “The irony is it was little Nicky, the little flower girl, who fought like a tigress,” Smallman says.

Despite how their lives were taken away, Smallman refuses to remember her daughters as victims.

“I want to remember them as nobody’s push over, doing the right thing,” she says. “My girls would speak up. They would put their neck on the line for someone else. As their mother I’m proud of that.”

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