Anger and accusations of racism as 10 young men from Manchester jailed for conspiracy-related offences
The convictions are related to events that happened in the aftermath of the murder of Alexander John Soyoye on Bonfire Night 2020.
The jailing of 10 young men from Manchester for conspiracy-related offences has been greeted with fury and accusations of racism in the city.
Sentences totalling 131 years were handed down to the men at Preston Crown Court on Friday (1 July).
The convictions stem from events which took place in the wake of the murder of Alexander John Soyoye on Bonfire Night 2020, with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) saying they uncovered and then acted against gang activity.
However, Kids of Colour, an organisation based in Manchester, adamantly denies the young men were part of any gang and says negative racial stereotypes of black people are the reason they are now behind bars.
What are the sentences that have been given and what are they for?
At Preston Crown Court on Friday (1 July) the sentences that were handed down were:
Harry Oni, 19, of Mythorn Walk in Manchester, 21-year-old Jeffery Ojo of Newick Walk in Manchester and Gideon Kalumda, 20, of William Lister Close in Manchester, all received 21 years in prison for conspiracy to murder.
Brooklyn Jitobah, 18, of Bluestone Road in Manchester, was jailed for 20 years for conspiracy to murder.
For conspiracy to commit section 18 assault, 19-year-old Simon Thorne of Rhine Drive in Manchester, 19-year-old Martin Thomas of Broadoak Road in Manchester, Ademola Adedeji, 19, of Beehive Road in Bolton, Raymond Savi, 19, of Droylsden Road in Manchester, 19-year-old Omolade Okoya of Whitecar Avenue in Manchester and Azim Okunola, 19, of Silvercroft Street in Manchester, all received eight years in prison.
What do police say happened?
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said the court was told that the defendants were planning to carry out revenge attacks for the killing of Alexander John Soyoye, who was murdered on Bonfire Night in 2020 when he was stabbed and beaten to death.
The court heard a number of people were identified as targets and weapons were purchased.
Police began to act when Oni was arrested for violent disorder in connection with the incidents on the evening of Alexander John Soyoye’s death.
During analysis of his mobile phone, officers broke the encryption of a messaging service, revealing messages between the defendants regarding attacks which had been carried out and others in planning, the police said.
Detective Superintendent Nat Dalby, of GMP’s Rochdale district, said: “The investigation team found hundreds of thousands of communications proving that these ten men had entered in to an agreement to kill or seriously injure a number of individuals.
“Their plans, some of which had been executed and others which remained in planning, posed a serious threat of harm to their targets as well as a very real risk to members of the public.”
What do Kids of Colour say happened and what have they said about the sentencing?
Kids of Colour has reacted with fury to the guilty verdicts and the sentencing, saying racist attitudes towards young black men have played a major part in their treatment.
The organisation, which works across Greater Manchester with people aged 24 and under and explores issues of race, identity and culture, says the young men were not a gang and the messages were merely the way they were exploring and sharing their grief over Alexander John Soyoye’s killing.
Kids of Colour said the conspiracy offences the defendants were found guilty of are similar to the controversial joint enterprise doctrine in law which campaigners have said has led to multiple injustices where people have been wrongly assumed to be part of a group committing criminal activity.
A statement released by Kids of Colour following the sentencing said: “These boys are not a ‘gang’. The context we collectively have of these boys’ lives is far more valid than the tiny fragments presented in court. The agreed facts will never be agreed by the community that knows who these boys are.
“Charges like conspiracy, guilt by association trials, or the use of joint enterprise, are used against our communities to divide us, and then to oppress us: particularly black and brown communities.
“While we do not condone the harm caused by a minority in this case, they are not responsible for the way the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts chose to punish.
“We have no doubt those who harmed would change this outcome if they could, and we remind you, so much responsibility was taken in court.
“As a project, we know the final four defendants in this case, those who sent messages. We are of course devastated by this response to their grief. But our power and our resistance is choosing care and love for all ten, when some may expect us to place blame with a minority, and leave them behind.
“We choose to see all ten of the boys’ humanity, all of the good said about them, all of the good we have heard about them, and all the good we know about them.
“Of course, there should be accountability for those who have harmed, but imagine how beautiful community accountability could be if we come together to build it, instead of allowing the state to build cages to punish children and young people.
“It is an active choice by the state to fund police and prisons over the things that could reduce harm in our communities, such as: mental health support, grief support, resourced education systems (that do not exclude), youth work, jobs, mentors, detached community teams, trauma support, conflict resolution workers. It is an active choice by the state to ignore poverty, racial inequality and systemic violence.
“What has happened is racism. We ask you to join us in the fight for these boys, and many other young people.”
Kids of Colour spoke on social media about those who were put in the dock. The organisation’s director Roxy Legane said Ademola Adedeji was head boy at his school, had a book published by Manchester culture hub Contact and had ambitions of becoming a lawyer.
Roxy also spoke of how Azim Okunola had a love of computer science and had a place at university paused by the case, while Omolade Okoya was a keen American football player.
Kids of Colour and joint enterprise campaign group JENGbA also organised a large protest in Manchester city centre in May following the guilty verdicts against the 10 defendants.
GMP declined to comment about Kids of Colour’s accusations when approached by ManchesterWorld.