Harrowing EastEnders special featuring knife crime victims’ parents revealed

EastEnders scenes featuring the painful testimonies of parents who have lost children to knife crime are among the most heart-rending in the show’s history.

In a first for the soap, accounts from real people are interspersed with the fictional drama during the funeral of Shakil Kazemi, who was stabbed to death in the soap last month.

Actress Bonnie Langford, who plays Shakil’s devastated mother Carmel, said the storyline had been the toughest she’d ever tackled.

And hearing the powerful and shocking accounts from those who had been bereaved in this way for real, had been invaluable in helping her and the other actors to get it right.

“The interesting thing is that for a lot of these people it happened a long time ago, not just yesterday, this is an issue that’s always just bubbling under the surface of their lives, it’s something so massive that if it’s happened to someone they don’t want it to fade away, it’s always there,” she said.

“We were very privileged to meet this group of people who have brought their stories to the show. It’s very brave, it’s just the most wonderful thing to do.”

In Friday’s episode, viewers will hear parent after parent speak tearfully of the pain they suffered at the time – and ever since.

Yvonne Lawson explains: “The moment you decide to carry a knife you are taking a whole family into that grave with you. Godwin was just one person but my whole family’s life died with Godwin on that night.”

Caroline Shearer says: “I don’t actually remember me before Jay. I don’t remember that life. I struggle to remember memories and I try so hard but then I can’t. But that night stays with me, even now. This stays with you, this is something you take with you to the grave. What happened is what takes over your life. We can spot each other miles off, our special group, because it’s so expensive to join. Nobody wants to join our group.”

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Trish Bergan says: “The doctor came and held my hands and I said ‘don’t say anything, I know. Eugene is no more. He’s gone isn’t he?’ She said ‘yes, I’m sorry’. I knew that when she held my hands. I knew what she was going to say to me.

“He was stabbed in his neck. He had no chance of survival.”

George Kinsella, father of former EastEnders actress Brooke, said he will never comprehend why his son Ben was murdered a decade ago. “He was stabbed 11 times in about eight seconds. I’ll never understand why.

“They’ve wasted my son’s life, they’ve wasted their lives, they’ve wasted their families lives. We’ve all go to live with this now.”

Lorraine Jones says: “The whole thing was just like a dream, I still feel I’m dreaming. I saw Dwayne on the life support machine and he was so swollen and full of blood. I remember the only places I could kiss him were on his forehead and on his feet.”

Many of the parents’ stories, interspersed with scenes of mourners gathering for Shakil’s funeral, end with them recalling the last words they heard their sons say before they were killed, such as "I love you mum" and "see you later".

EastEnders boss John Yorke said: “From the very beginning we were determined to treat the difficult subject of knife crime in a responsible, non-sensationalist way.

“It’s a tricky subject to do and easy to get wrong. We talked to all the people recommended by Brooke Kinsella and her dad and their stories were so powerful by themselves, we thought everyone just needed to hear them. The families have been so brave and we thank them for sharing their time with us.”

Langford, whose Albert Square character can’t face having to say a final goodbye to her son at his funeral, says she was moved to tears many times. “I was reading the script crying myself. It’s such a responsibility to have this story in your hands but at the same time it’s brilliant to think, ‘Right, I’ve got to go places here that I wouldn’t think to go to’.”

She added: “We can’t preach, this is not a campaign to change the world, we’re saying that this is the world we live in and can we do something about it? The only way we can do it is by asking people to think, listen and feel. The feeling is what will make people do something and maybe change.

“Why are kids killing kids? I don’t know. You can talk and talk for days but it’s not going to be solved overnight or by a TV show, but something has to change somewhere and it will, we have to have hope that it will.”

Her screen son Davood Ghadami , who plays Shakil’s grieving brother Kush, says the aim is to make knife crime more real by taking it into people’s living rooms. “We wanted to start a conversation. We hear a lot of statistics, we know it’s always in the news but not everyone watches the news. Everyone’s quite happy to be ignorant about certain things. I think generally people know it’s going on, especially in London and other cities and towns, it’s happening far too much.

“When families sit down and watch EastEnders together hopefully it might make them discuss the problems they have seen. We’re not just showing them statistics, we’re seeing the ripple effects, the knock on effects of when someone’s life is taken brutally, how that affects family, friends, the community – everyone.”

*EastEnders airs at 9.15pm on BBC One

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