Image of Primrose Hill at night
Un-Breaking the News (UBN)

A Premature Death on New Year’s Eve

Country of Origin: Global Citizen

I was at Primrose Hill, in Camden, London at the time of 16-year-old Harry Pittman’s murder on New Year’s Eve last week. 

The landmark park’s mucky peak was slippery after the continual showers of December 31, with some little kids playfully suggesting that they should have brought their sleds with them. A charming duo of female friends who stood beside me brought grapes to honor the New Year, while sharing cheerful anecdotes about their annual New Year traditions with their families, and joking about escaping the dreary UK weather as it was still drizzling towards midnight. Rowdy teenagers laughed off their clumsiness and poked fun at each other after slipping in the sludgy mud. Thankfully, the sky did a good job of clearing itself for its faithful firework fans, gathered  to bid goodbye to 2023, blessing us with the promise of clear views of the dazzling illuminations that would soon light up the sky in front of us.

Everyone around me was thrilled, buoyed by a surge of exhilaration, anticipating the blasts of vibrant fireworks to herald a new beginning, mobile phones panned to capture the many vibrant explosions of color. But we couldn’t ignore the piercing glare of the blue lights flashing mercilessly behind us.

Shortly before midnight, we were ordered to make way for the police cars. Young children wailed in discomfort as none of us could yet establish what happened. There were hundreds if not thousands of us densely packed into a loud and cramped space. I thought that this is what  being caught in the stampede in Incheon in 2022 must have felt like as it was extremely claustrophobic. We were being forcefully squeezed to make room for the ambulance and police vehicles. 

An eerie start to 2024

A newcomer to the UK, I left the venue with mixed emotions. Watching a police scene unfolding not too far away in one of London’s most expensive areas, I experienced an overload of  emotions as I left the colorful fireworks display. It was exhilarating to witness the vibrant fireworks, but so unsettling to think of the horror of what had just occurred; that a schoolboy of just 16 had been stabbed to death in the midst of the jubilant crowd. Nearby, other onlookers creased their faces while tapping insistently on strangers’ shoulders. As the gravity of the situation sank in, they stared at each other and closed their mouths in disbelief. Some people mimed the motion of a slashing knife to the throat to communicate what happened, while several young women rang their loved ones begging to be collected from the park since they felt vulnerable walking home by themselves after the tragic end to the celebration.

Cutting short the cheer we all hold dear

It is truly heartrending, gut-wrenching even, to think about Pitman’s fate. I witnessed a flustered teenager getting handcuffed while appearing to apologize as profusely as he could. I could only register that he was involved in an altercation, but his remaining utterances were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. As we left, uniformed policemen were cordoning off the area clinically, with tapes and gloves, urging us to evacuate the lawns as soon as we could so they could begin the forensic investigation. Who knew that our festive celebration would end with such a morbid scene? Thankfully, nearby onlookers seemed understanding and cooperative for the most part.

Further discussions on inner city knife crime and crowd control measures are urgently needed. 

While I have noticed that it appears that teenagers and young people have borne the brunt of homicide incidents in London, I don’t believe that the scarcity of crowd control measures can explain what happened. Although the Mayor of London prides himself on promoting the city’s vibrance,  knife crime reports are not encouraging, and inner-city areas like  Camden are more than twice as likely to see knife crimes. Such a staggering statistic shows that more can be done to ramp up the security of a major metropolis like London, at least from my outsider’s perspective.

From joy to sadness in a heartbeat 

I can only imagine how stingingly painful this news would have been for Pitman’s mother who was waiting for him to come home for dinner after the celebrations, his food kept warm for him in the oven.

To say that I felt pained as I witnessed a forensic tent propped over the body bag is an understatement. The emotional duality of my feelings as I walked back to my hostel; my excitement about the New Year but one heavily weighed down by the bone-tingling callousness of what had happened is difficult to describe. It is so hard to grasp how such a heinous act could have taken place during what is supposed to be such a meaningful, and eagerly-anticipated milestone holiday. 

My heart goes out to Pitman’s family and friends.

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