Deep inside a dense official report on the death of Jaden Moodie, one small detail ripples outwards.
On 25th October 2018, Jaden was found more than 100 miles from his London home in a “cuckoo flat” (a base used by county lines drug dealers) in Bournemouth. That night at a local police station, the teenager waited as various branches of social services tug-of-warred over who should take responsibility for him. In the midst of it all he made just one request: to call the Samaritans.
There is a clarity to this aside that makes all other facts feel small. Jaden was a 14-year-old boy surrounded by adults and searching for solace in the quintessential last resort. He was terrified. The unknown content of that call keeps his mother, Jada Bailey, awake at night.
Three months after Jaden’s Bournemouth arrest, on 8th January 2019, he was cycling down the road in Leyton, East London, when he was rammed by a stolen Mercedes containing five people, knocked off his bike and stabbed repeatedly for seven seconds. He died at the scene from hypovolemic shock.
Jaden met Anthony Joshua once. He was in the top set for nearly all of his subjects at school. He had a well-preened flat-top and a lovable smile.
These are the nuggets that can be gleaned from an online fact-finding mission into his life, buried beneath paragraph after paragraph on replica weapons, incriminating Snapchats and the Beaumont Crew. Each news story leads with “gang-affiliated” conjecture, as if the fact negates the tragedy.
“Jaden was such a loyal friend,” says his mum when we talked on the phone in January. “He loved to help people.” She’s keen for the world to know her real son, but is still awaiting bereavement counselling promised by her local authority and she’s tired. You can hear it in her voice. “I can’t give you any more time now,” Bailey apologises. “I have to go. I have things to do and this all brings up so much for me.”
But 20 minutes later she is still sharing stories. Of Jaden’s endless questions and his plans to travel the world by the time he turned 16. Of how much time he spent dismantling bikes and putting them back together (“he died on something that he loved”) and how popular he was with his friends.
“He used to make me go to Primark and buy scarves and hats every winter. We would go and give them out to people who lived on the street. He was a remarkable young human being… a beautiful boy.”
A Serious Case Review by Jaden’s home borough of Waltham Forest, released last summer, was all but lost in the tides of the pandemic. But across 73 pages it heroically attempts to reverse the clock, searching for clues as to how Jaden’s life might have been saved.
Report author John Drew, a former chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, paints a picture of an attentive mother’s numerous cries for help and a host of well-intentioned but browbeaten services engaging in shocking miscommunications and missed opportunities.
At the time of Jaden’s death he had five different caseworkers; two youth services assessments awaiting completion, multiple plans to find him alternative education following his exclusion from school, and a Waltham Forest council promise in place to re-house him and his mum.
Amid the dizzying mess of bureaucracy, Drew finds one unequivocal failing. He points to the night of Jaden’s arrest in Bournemouth, describing the incident as a “reachable moment”. That is: a fleeting chance to make a connection with a young person considered “hard to reach”.
That night, Bournemouth Police tried and failed to get in contact with services in Waltham Forest, so two local police officers drove Jaden back to London once they’d finished their shift.
“Had it been possible for Jaden to have met with specialist child exploitation workers while still in custody… I believe such workers would have been able to exploit the reachable moment,” the report concludes.
Bailey remembers those two police officers as the only professionals who ever truly listened to her or her son. They arrived at 3am and stayed for a cup of tea.
“They didn’t have to, but they spent an hour with us,” she recalls. “They told me how Jaden had asked for a book to read at the station, how they couldn’t believe how intelligent he was… It’s only Bournemouth police that treated Jaden and myself with any real compassion, if I’m honest”.
Perhaps the officers instinctively understood that the reachable moments aren’t necessarily big neon-sign events. They exist in the quiet times, the late-night cups of tea.
Jaden was born at the Leicester Royal Infirmary in June 2004, the youngest of five. His parents separated when he was less than a year old, but both still played key roles in his life.
In 2010 his father was deported to Jamaica. Four years later, Jaden’s then-14-year-old sister Leah wrote a letter to the Home Office: “Now there’s no role model for my brother to look up to. He looks at other kids going to football matches and the park with their dads and looks at me and says: ‘That should be me and dad.’” Jaden’s father, Julian, did everything he could to stay present in his son’s life, with regular Skype calls and a summer spent in Jamaica, but it was tough to replicate day-to-day parenting from afar.
St Christopher’s Fellowship worker, Johann Lacey, represents the sort of expert who should have been provided to Jaden on the night of his arrest: a senior children’s worker specialising in “return home interviews”. I hear about him from other children’s services professionals. He is considered so successful in getting through to young people deemed “unreachable” that he has been granted a sort of firewall between kids and police, permitted to keep details from other services when he believes it to be in the best interests of the child.
“With Jaden’s ‘reachable moment’, you look at that one because it’s so in your face,” he tells me. “You assume that you could’ve made a decision in that moment that would’ve changed the course of his life. But you negate that every day before that incident and every day after, [because] there’s always opportunities. You just didn’t see them because you weren’t paying attention.”
Bailey talks a lot about the hole left in her son’s life by his father’s departure. But robust support from social services only came once Jaden was already a victim of county lines grooming. This is what children’s social care expert Nicola Boyce describes as a “deficit model”. She and Lacey are both proponents of a school of practice known as “social pedagogy”.
“You walk alongside somebody in their life and help them to figure out how they want to live and who they want to be in the world,” she explains. “You create an environment where, after a million hours of them talking about what might feel like bollocks, they come to you and say: ‘This weird thing happened today.’ You can’t be helpful to them unless you have a meaningful and authentic relationship with them.”
Michael Staveley is a mentor for HeadStart’s mental health service and a “gang specialist” for an organisation that tries to prevent young people from becoming involved in gang behaviour. Serious and earnest, he is a world away from Lacey in style, but their outlooks and endgames are the same. They focus on offering up alternatives.
“I always tell my young people – every child is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid,” Staveley says. “The media portrays young Black boys a certain way. They’re almost brainwashed to believe it. I teach them that they’re kings.” He takes every kid he meets and treats them as an individual. Some will respond to going to see Akala talk, others to boxing lessons. Lacey recently persuaded one young boy to turn skills learnt drug-dealing to Depop sneaker trading.
In 2015 Jada Bailey took the decision to homeschool her son after numerous temporary exclusions from a school in Nottingham where he was one of only three Black pupils. She feels that he was the victim of institutional racism. With Black Caribbean children five times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their white British counterparts, it’s unlikely she was entirely imagining things.
“If the only thing you have in your local community is a bunch of white police officers coming in and stop-and-searching you, if you don’t have anybody like that saying ‘I’m proud of you’, your mindset is already distorted as to what exists for you outside of that world,” says Lacey, who has first-hand experience of feeling like there’s no way out. He grew up in care homes and Pupil Referral Units, his friends were in gangs.
Lacey very nearly spent life in prison after finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I was arrested for something I hadn’t done,” he explains. “Social services were like: ‘You’re fucked, you’re done, we can’t save you now.’ I’m sat there aged 17, worried about the repercussions in the street, with everyone around me telling me they can’t help.”
Luckily for Lacey, the police caught the perpetrators. Later, he became friends with a then-unknown Amy Winehouse and had a briefly successful early 2000s career as John the White Rapper. “For me that’s why you need the consistency, the relationships,” he says. “You never know when that chance encounter might happen.”
I tell him a story Novelist once shared about the first time he left the country, aged 17, to play a festival. He cried watching a Croatian sunrise, thinking of his friends back home who would never get to see anything like it.
It reminds Lacey of the time he took two kids to Devon. “One of them is a six-foot-four, 16-year-old Black boy. He was walking around with his top off and everyone was staring at him. He didn’t care because I didn’t care – he was with people he trusted. The two kids just spent hours running up and down this beach,” he recalls. “Intervention doesn’t have to be a conversation around a problem. It can just be doing something nice together, so that the kid can see that something else exists.”
This kind of meaningful engagement with young people can only happen with government support, which comes as a result of a public that wills it. But Boyce, the social care expert, believes that we have an attitude problem in the UK towards our youth.
“Think about the difference if you’re out at 10.30 at night having a meal or a drink in Italy, or in Wetherspoons in Leyton,” she suggests. “What’s your view of the children running around in those two different spaces?”
Our tut-tutting disdain for youth in the UK leaves space for lazy pigeonholing. “It’s not like you get a membership badge once you’ve paid your subs,” says Boyce of the media’s binary portrayal of gang culture. “It could be as simple as a friend asking for a favour. Before you know it, somebody’s got a hold over you and you didn’t even realise it was happening.”
Indeed, at Jaden’s murder trial, the assumption was made that he was a member of the Beaumont Boys. But, as the Serious Case Review points out, this was based on very flimsy evidence: “The assertion has not been tested”.
Boyce suggests we adjust our way of thinking. “The answer is not to have a police officer come into school to give a talk in assembly about not joining a gang.” Instead, we need to “reformulate the problem, so that we’re not talking about feral youth, but asking: ‘What has happened in our society which means that adults haven’t created safe environments for kids to grow up in?’”
Two months before Jaden’s death he was excluded permanently from school. One of his teachers had been shown a Snapchat of him pulling an imitation firearm from his school rucksack. This triggered a flurry of attention from several factions within social services. Bailey received two separate visits within 72 hours.
“You could have a middle-class white teacher, born and raised in Cornwall, teaching in the middle of Harlesden,” says Lacey. “If they see that video it’s a shock to their system – it’s not what they’re used to.” He points to the success of the now-legendary Scottish Violence Reduction Unit model, introduced in 2005. It has seen school exclusions drop by 81% in Glasgow alone over the past decade. “There was a real determination there to keep children in education,” he explains.
Despite the fact that Jaden’s Snapchat was filmed outside of school premises, his school had to consider the safety of the other children. But the exclusion set a young boy who was already in crisis adrift.
The Serious Case Review points to the fact that Jaden would likely have been heavily indebted to the groomers who brought him to Bournemouth. The police confiscated 39 wraps of crack cocaine, £325 in cash and a burner phone that they found on him. There would likely have been repercussions for the youngster with the gang. This is flagged as an “obvious consequence” of his arrest, but one that was never acknowledged or reacted to by any of the professional adults who entered his life.
January 2021 was the two-year anniversary of Jaden’s death. Bailey and her sister Tesfa Green have set up the Jaden Moodie Movement. They are campaigning for a law change that would see a halt to school exclusions until a suitable alternative is put in place.
Following Jaden’s death, Bailey began spending time at a “safe space” called Gangs Unite in Blackhorse Lane in Walthamstow, East London. She comes alive as she describes the recording studio, games area and cooking zone.
“There’s an artist and an author and somebody who comes and cuts the boys’ hair for free,” she beams. “We also have me – I help the children with their mental health issues. I take time to listen to what they have to say.” She even recently recorded music with some of Jaden’s school friends.
I speak to Green the day before the anniversary of her nephew’s death and it’s clear the family’s grief still bubbles just below the surface. It’s hard to gain closure when it feels as though nothing has been done to learn from Jaden’s murder. At the 2019 trial, nineteen-year-old Ayoub Majdouline was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 21 years in prison. Five years prior, and following his own father’s murder, he had been classified by the National Crime Agency as a victim of “modern slavery” because of his own grooming by the Mali Boys for county lines. Police are still looking for the four other people who were in the car with Majdouline. He has refused to name them.
“The only thing that’s changed is that more youths have died,” Green says. She cites the recent stabbing of 13-year-old Oliver Stephens in Reading, explaining that each new youth killing brings trauma afresh to the family. “They’re just gonna keep getting younger and younger. Is that gonna be the norm? Do we just accept that our young people can’t even get to their 13th birthday? It’s really hard to witness it happening again and again and again.”
On 19th March this year, 18-year-old Hussain Chaudhry died in his mother’s arms on the street in Leyton due to blood loss caused by a stab wound to the neck. He had just started studying law at SOAS University. Another 18-year-old has been charged with his murder.
The government pledged to spend £500 million on youth services in April 2020. No money has been released to date, with The Independent describing it as having “gone missing”. Gangs Unite is currently on the cusp of closure as it grapples to find funding. Between 2016 and 2019, nearly 900 youth-worker jobs were cut and more than 160 youth centres closed as a result of the government’s austerity measures. The likes of Johann Lacey and Michael Staveley can only be around for the reachable moments if they’re provided the resources to do so.
There could have been all manner of different endings for Jaden. But, as the Serious Case Review concludes, at the time of his death, “some of this 14-year-old’s childhood dreams must have seemed very far from reality.”
Having fought hard for a suitable education alternative for her son, Jada Bailey had managed to bag a coveted spot at The Boxing Academy in Hackney.
“He died on the Tuesday,” she says. “He was supposed to start there that Thursday.”