If you're from or have been around Britain in the past month, you already know as much about the Sophie Lancaster murder or the Bacup goth stomping case or whatever they're calling it this week as you could have ever wanted. For the rest of the world though, the short version is last August, Robert Maltby and his girlfriend Sophie were walking through a park in the tiny village of Bacup when they were jumped by a gang of teens. The kids punched them to the ground, then kicked in their faces so badly that the EMTs on the scene couldn't tell which gender they were. The attack left both Robert and Sophie in deep comas, and two weeks later Sophie died from her injuries.
Because the media feels the need to simplify every story to the point that a five-year-old should feel his or her intelligence insulted, it was decided that the couple got jumped because they were slightly goth-looking. And so the whole thing turned into a weird "Do goth kids deserve rights?" debate instead of the sincere moment of "Holy shit, when did our nation's youth turn into the real version of Clockwork Orange only way dumber and scarier?"-type reflection it should have been. In his only interview aside from one done for the BBC shortly after the attacks, we talked to Robert about the real nature of the attack, as well as his thoughts on the high-profile trial which just ended with two of the assailants being sentenced to life...
VICE: The tabloids said that you and Sophie were attacked for being Goths. Is that what happened?
Robert Maltby: I was more interested in the whole goth thing when I was about fifteen and wore black lipstick. I’d get shit then. I think I could cope with it a bit better when I was a big fat goth as I felt there was a reason for it. When I was attacked I wasn’t really dressed that goth.
What were you wearing?
Blue jeans and a green hoodie. Sophie wasn’t dressed outrageously either. She had a lot of piercings: over twenty in her ears, as well as a few facial, nipple, and belly button piercings.
So you don’t think they attacked you because of how you were dressed?
I believe what was originally said was "Let’s get the moshers!” They just needed some kind of excuse to the beat shit out of us. I think it’s more about the kind of person that attacked us. There were several attacks that summer and if you look at the kids who were responsible you could cut them all out with a cookie cutter. A guy was looking out of his window in Warrington and saw some kids kicking his car. When he went out to stop them he was beaten to death. That happened the day before we were attacked.
What do you remember about the attack?
I remember going to the petrol station to get a packet of cigarettes. There were a couple of people on the street who seemed OK and we started talking to them. They invited us to the park, but when we got there I thought, "Oh god, I don’t like these people at all." I just wanted to leave. Then I remember being hit on the back of the head and Sophie yelling something. From then on my memory completely cuts out. It begins again when I awoke from my coma. Apparently Sophie was cradling my head and someone kicked her in the back and then started kicking her in the face. It’s just sickening.
What happened when you regained consciousness?
I was bouncing off the walls. All I wanted to do was go and see Sophie. I wasn’t there when she passed away, which is one of the things that I’ve been beating myself up about. I was released from hospital the day she died, but because I was still recovering from quite a major head injury it didn’t hit me until I saw Sophie’s coffin at the funeral.
How have you been affected since that day?
I’m not really sociable. I’ve been drinking on my own. If I’m not drunk I want to smash things. I have a huge amount of anger and I don’t know what to do with it. The only place left to go is absolutely nuts after this. When I look out of my bedroom window now I can see the park where someone killed my girlfriend and tried to kill me.
How do you feel now the trial has ended?
Well, I thought it was going to give the whole thing a sense of closure, but to be honest I don’t feel any better for it.
I thought that with the guilty people punished I’d get a sense of it all being over. But I think my reason for not feeling any better is that a rumor started to spread that I had committed suicide. It’s everywhere now. They had to print a story in the local paper just saying that I was still alive.
How did you feel about the verdict?
I was really happy. I didn’t think that they were going to get anywhere near the sentences they got. The police weren’t expecting them to get the amount of time they are going to serve.
Did you have to attend any of the court hearings?
No. I never ended up going.
Did you not have to attend as a witness?
No. I was pretty useless to the Prosecution as I don’t remember anything. I was going to go to the sentencing, but I heard that a bunch of Goths were going to congregate outside the courthouse. I didn’t like that at all.
Did they all go in the end?
Yes. I think about 50 Goths ended up there.
So are the boys that committed the crime still anonymous to you?
I have seen all of their pictures now. Four of them I didn’t recognise, but the fifth I think I remember seeing on the night. I don’t like seeing his face.
Didn’t you go to school with one of the boys?
One of them did go to the same school as me. I didn’t know him, but he’s the one I am the most angry about. He managed to get away without being charged with murder. In my opinion he’s guilty.
How did the families of the children react when they got life?
The town has been divided. One half thinks that they got what they deserved, but the other half think that they should have got off because they're kids. I reckon the half that think that they should have got off are their relatives. The only thing that those families are really upset about is the fact that their kids got caught.
How did you find the media reaction?
The worst thing was the media companies who tried to protect me from the press and sort everything out for me. They’re the ones who kept bothering me when the press accepted that I wasn't going to speak to them.
How have you been able to avoid the media attention?
Because I did that one BBC interview and made it clear I did not want to talk to the press, they’ve pretty much left me alone.
Are you still getting recognised or has that died down?
No. I’ve been lucky. I dyed my hair black again and had a haircut, so I don’t really look the same.
Are you worried someone will try to come after you as a reprisal for the sentence?
No, but I think the only reason they haven’t come back to me is that I didn’t grass anyone up or even appear at the trial. The kids who went down were victims of their own stupidity.
What’s next for you?
I’ve applied for university. I’m a bit apprehensive but I reckon once I get there I’ll be much happier for it. There will only be a very small percentage of people there who will know what happened to me. At the moment I want to get into some kind of art that I can work on from home and don’t have to communicate with the outside world to do. But eventually I would like that to change. It’s not a good way to live your life.