Calling my attackers from Woolston (2007)

Britain is often a true haven of intolerance, yet it sees itself as the opposite, just like it touts itself as a human rights champion to the rest of the world but does little – if anything – to uphold them within Britain. Many law professors agree on that.

Human rights are not some silly wishy-washy concept for the soft-hearted. They are laid down in laws. That means that if you violate someone else’s human rights, it can land you in court. You too have the right to make a living, have a family, engage in hobbies, celebrate Christmas, go to school, own things that you bought, go for a jog in the sunshine and so on. This is all part of your human rights.

What follows is also a human rights story, a story of the violation of my right to work and to sit on a bench in the sunshine.

On a day in 2007, I was sitting on a low wall at the River Itchen in Woolston, Southampton, because the weather was nice and I didn’t want to be indoors. I was reading and annotating a report about the forensics practice in the Netherlands when it happened. I was working on the Dutch version of Forensics for Dummies at the time.

The weather was beautiful and I had decided to go outside. I did not feel like trudging all the way to the Costa Coffee at the West Quay shopping mall where I often sat outside and worked while basking in the sunshine too. There was nothing at all in terms of cafes in my immediate surroundings so I perched on a low wall that was part of large planter close to the local shore.


Three lads started hassling me and I told them off, but their focus on me worried me and I decided to relocate.

Funnily enough, this all happened at the location where, as far as I know, many years ago, the Spitfires used to be built that helped liberate my country in the Second World War.

A little while later at a different location, where I was sitting on a bench along a road and was immersed in the report, the three lads suddenly showed up again with two more buddies, pelted stones at me and emptied buckets of water and sand over me. Two of the stones hit my head.


When I was a teenager, I incurred a severe concussion during a traffic accident, so I knew that I didn’t have that as I had not lost consciousness, remained fully aware and no bones were broken. I didn’t seek medical help because I am usually pretty good at looking after myself, medically speaking. I probably had a mild concussion; I did not do any work for a few days.

Next, a Brit in the Netherlands informed me that two Brits had just lost their lives as a result of two similar attacks. I counted myself lucky. I was also utterly baffled. I mean… W H A T  T H E  F U C K ? ! !

The most astonishing aspect was how completely acceptable this attack seemed to be to most adults in the neighbourhood in which I was living at the time.

They seemed to think it was my fault. For having sat on a bench??? For having been at work?

The National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, with which I used to be liaised, is not that far from where the attack occurred. It’s on the other side of the River Itchen.

I would like to talk with those five people who were lads in their teens then.

I also want to talk with the woman walking my way who I warned that I had just gotten attacked and who I warned that she might get attacked too and who treated me with utter contempt, and also perhaps as if she thought she knew me.

I would like to talk with anyone else in Woolston who felt I deserved the attack. After all I had been guilty of sitting on a bench. I had been at work. Me bad.

I felt lucky that I didn’t have my laptop with me at the time as it would have been ruined.

Within this context, I have to keep pointing the finger at Hampshire Police who should have taken action in spite of the fact that I undoubtedly did not want any attention drawn to me. I also know that I later said that I had the impression that one of the kids – whose skin was not lily-white – had been dragged into it. He was one of the two who joined later and he’d never hassled me before. He was the only one I recognized and as I had talked with the people who presumably were his parents, or neighbours, I probably knew where he lived. I didn’t recognize the others. I did not want to see this lad’s life ruined because I had the feeling that he didn’t deserve it. I gave you his address and advised you to talk with the family for the kid’s sake. I never heard back from you and I never got the impression that any kind of serious discussion took place. (Mention possible money-laundering or that you’ve been approached with an offer of europium that appears to have been stolen in Russia and, bloody hell, you police officers display a markedly different attitude then.) I do know that locals knew about the attack as one woman in a shop, not someone I knew, asked me with some concern whether I was okay and it can only have been about the attack. Her I remember with gratitude (though I would not recognize her if I ran into her).

These lads, however, felt so empowered by the people around me that a day or so later, they came and sat down on the small wall that was part of the building in which I was living. 

I didn’t know that two Brits had just died in two similar attacks elsewhere in the UK. You did, Hampshire Police. You cannot not have known about them. A Brit who lives in the Netherlands told me about them. I contacted one of the surviving spouses, (Ernest Norton’s widow) via a prosecutor at the Old Bailey; she wrote to me. We corresponded for a while. That helped.

This photo is from 2018. It went viral. The woman on the bench was Janice Morris. (Read more: here.) In 2007, I was that woman sitting on a bench and getting attacked by five lads. I was about the same age back then as Janice Morris was when she was attacked. With the benefit of hindsight and eleven more years in England, I think that it is fair to assume that we were also both single and that it was that “otherness”, that deviation from the old-fashioned ideal life goal of marriage with 2.4 kids for English women, that got us attacked. Or was it something else? I’d like to know because I was utterly totally completely flabbergasted when it happened. Furious, too. And scared.

We were lucky, Janice and I. 

Ernest Norton was not so lucky. But he was not female and not single, so why did he get attacked? Perhaps merely because of his age.

One thought on “Calling my attackers from Woolston (2007)

  1. What worries me most about the situation in the UK is that you are also labelled not well in the head, pitiful and potentially dangerous if you protest against what is being done to you, just like Donald Trump is now calling peaceful protesters “terrorists”.

    In the UK, just about everyone takes everything lying down. Not me. So I am “potentially dangerous”. Because I yell “WHAT THE FUCK??!!! This is not right. Understatement.”


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