They haven’t, of course. But they have the air of people who are very used to being interviewed. Our chat is scheduled between a radio interview before dashing off to the BBC, and Barry’s phone rings throughout with clarifications and requests from Daybreak, BBC London… the list goes on.
We met a couple of days before the fifth anniversary of Jimmy’s death. His murder attracted huge press coverage at the time ? not just because teenage murders in London were at an all-time high, but because of the extraordinary way Barry and Margaret handled themselves in front of the world’s press.
Five years on, the demand for them as speakers is still immense. They’ve also released a book ? Jimmy, a legacy of peace, written by Margaret, which includes biographical details of Barry and Margaret, memories their own courtship, marriage and raising their children, before turning to the events of 2008.
Here’s the story of how two bereaved parents have managed to turn the very worst thing you could imagine happening into not just a force for good, but a testimony of God’s grace.
The brutal details of Jimmy’s murder have been well documented. It was a sunny Saturday morning and Jimmy was in the Three Cooks bakery in Lee, South London, with his brother Harry, who wanted to buy a sausage roll. A guy named Jake Fahri aggressively pushed past them, and attacked them in a rage when Jimmy suggested he calm down and learn some manners. The brothers managed to chuck him out of the bakery, holding the door while calling the police, but he fought his way back in, lifted a Pyrex dish of sausages and smashed it over Jimmy’s head. Glass pierced Jimmy’s neck, cutting into the jugular vein and the carotid artery. He died in a cupboard in the bakery (where he’d staggered, afraid that Fahri would return), in the arms of his brother.
The day had started innocuously enough. It was the morning after Jimmy’s sixteenth birthday. ‘Jimmy got up in the morning ? I was half expecting him to stay in bed until lunchtime, as he’d been out the night before, but he was up,’ says Margaret. ‘He wanted to buy a lottery ticket, and we were giggling on the sofa about the lottery.’
Then she received a phone call, rushed round the corner to the bakery and fainted when she saw Jimmy. She says from that moment her faith helped her. ‘I knew her pain, I felt [the virgin] Mary’s pain as I saw Jimmy in the cupboard.’
Barry was already at work at his shoe repair shop. Jimmy was usually his Saturday boy, but had been given the day off because of his birthday. He’d received a call from Margaret telling him to get to the bakery.
‘I drove the five miles, all the time just praying “please God, let him be alright”,’ he recalls. ‘I can remember running towards the shop, lights, ambulances, [brother] Tommy covered in blood, Harry sitting with his back to the wall. One of the paramedics came out of the shop and while taking his gloves off just said: “He’s dead”. It was uncanny, everything suddenly went so quiet. I also remember it going very cold, but that just could have been me. I just thought, what am I supposed to do now?’
After a blur of calling family and speaking to police, they faced the press. Even in the early days, people were asking who was doing their PR, and they said ‘no one’. God, they say, was directing their every move.
‘God told me very clearly that Jimmy was safe in heaven,’ says Margaret. ‘If someone had told me the day before he died that he was going to be murdered, I would have killed whoever did it.’ But somehow, divinely, the message they spoke to the press was one of peace.
‘People knew it was Jake Fahri,’ she says. ‘We were aware of that. I had such a sense of empathy for his mum and dad. I hadn’t planned anything, but I just spoke about the parents. I spoke about letting go of anger. It was anger that killed our son.’ And it was this message which caught the media’s attention, and ultimately resulted in a new vision for the rest of their lives.
God told me very clearly that Jimmy was safe in heaven
‘I’m absolutely sure we weren’t meant to have Jimmy for longer than we had him. God was ready for him.’ Margaret writes in the book. Perhaps this helped them focus on what to do next. ‘I got this feeling after Jimmy had died that we had to do something,’ Margaret says. She had promised Jimmy two things on the day he died ? that she would dedicate her life to working for peace, and that she would keep his name alive.
They have committed to doing this through encouraging communities to work for peace.
‘What’s our personal responsibility?’ says Barry. ‘It’s a call to each and every one of us. We’re so isolated. We shut our doors. There’s a thirst for everyone to have a much more peaceful and civilised society.’ ‘It might seem dizzily optimistic,’ says Margaret, ‘but I really do believe we can influence where we live.’
Out of this vision has grown the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, and Release the Peace, a joint initiative between Margaret and Grace Idowu, whose 14-year-old son was fatally stabbed in the same year as Jimmy. The two mothers give talks about forgiveness, and encourage young people to do acts for peace. Barry and Margaret tell their story in schools, churches, and prisons. Their work has attracted the attention of celebrities, politicians, and even Prince Charles.
Are they proud of what they’ve achieved? ‘I feel it’s what’s God is calling me to do,’ says Margaret. ‘I wouldn’t say I feel proud. It’s the path that God wants me on.’
‘Jimmy was one of many young people that were murdered in 2008,’ says Barry. ‘If people were able to look back and see that year as the year things started to change, I’d be happy with that.’