BY MICHELLE DEL REY
Crowds gathered one year on to remember a teenager who was murdered outside a chicken shop.
A candlelit vigil was held on November 1 to honour the life of Jai Sewell Hughes, 15, who was stabbed to death outside Morley’s chicken shop in Bellingham on November 1 last year, just 100 yards from his home.
Friends, family, youth workers and Lewisham’s Mayor, Damien Egan attended the service on November 1.
Jai’s family led the procession that started at Athelney and Elfrieda primary schools.
Tea lights marked the way of the two-hour march as mourners followed to the sound of a saxophone.
Local police blocked off the streets for the more than 100 people that came out on the cold and rainy night.
Jai’s aunt, Natasha Rochester, said: “This means everything to us. The fact he got strangers, people who live in the community, youth groups, kids from primary and secondary schools, it means everything to us.”
A moment of silence was held at Bellingham Green. Attendees congregated a second time at the site of the attack.
The chicken shop was closed. When it reopened, tea lights had been placed on the takeaway counter.
Jai’s aunt, Shantelle Rochester, said Bellingham hasn’t been the same since his death.
“It feels like the community is scared. This isn’t the community that we grew up in and that my son or my nephews grew up in,” she said.
“That’s the hardest thing to deal with. It’s still a huge shock a year later.
“Other parents must be scared if they know there’s postcode wars going on.
They don’t want them going from there to here and coming back on their own.”
Nyron Jean-Baptiste, 18, of Hawthorn Grove, Penge, has been jailed for life for the murder.
He was a member of the M20 gang, aka the Ghetto Boys, based in New Cross, Lewisham and Deptford.
Jai’s passing has left a void in the close-knit Jamaican family that gets together every Sunday.
Jai’s aunt, Nathasha Rochester, laughed out loud as she recalled her nephew’s obsession with junk food: “I’d be driving down Randlesdown Road and I’d see him on route to the house.
“He’d have a kebab in his hand and I’d be like, can I have a bite? He wouldn’t mind to give me a bite.”
“Now, when my kids ask me if they can go play football in the park I say hmm maybe not, and that’s just the truth – prevention.”
The family has launched an initiative called Jai’s World. The project aims to help young children get self defence and first aid training.
“Our family sat down and said, ‘what is the legacy we are going to leave for our nephew,’ Shantelle added.
“We need to start by empowering young people so they can continue to empower other young people.
“People need to understand, they can’t just come into your area and take your children.”
Her sister echoed her remarks, saying: “My thing is yes we can always stand unified but why not stand unified for something that’s good?
“Instead we are standing unified because a 15-year-old has lost his life.”
Mr Egan, who spoke at Bellingham Green, said: “Today’s memorial reminds us of the importance of community, and the importance of coming together.
“We must always fight for our young people. We must always fight to protect them. Fight to keep them safe.”