Police use convicted murderer in reach out to schoolchildren in #lifeorknife campaign

Sadam Essakhil's childhood dream was to play football for Liverpool. But he fell in with the wrong crowd, and by the time he was 15 he had killed a man.

A still from a powerful new campaign film urging schoolchildren not to carry knives
A still from a powerful new campaign film urging schoolchildren not to carry knives

Essakhil was with friend Abdullah Atiqzoy, 18, walking to a shop on the outskirts of Birmingham in the early hours of 31 May 2015, when they came across two Polish men. 

A fight ensued.

In the space of about 30 seconds, Essakhil stabbed Lukasz Furmanek, 24, to death. He is now serving a life sentence and will not be eligible for parole until he is 35 years old.

Breaking new ground

In an unprecedented move, West Midlands Police have filmed Essakhil in prison for the latest stage of its ongoing #lifeorknife campaign.

The killer makes an impassioned plea for others not to follow in his footsteps during the eight-minute film, which was launched this week at a screening to pupils at Waverley School, Birmingham – where he was a pupil.

When he killed a man "that moment changed my whole life, for the worse" Essakhill said.

The film has struck a chord far beyond the confines of his old school, having had tens of thousands of views online already.

Captive audience

The film will be shown to thousands of schoolchildren across the West Midlands in the coming weeks. Police comms chiefs seeking to have it shown in every secondary school in the region in an attempt to reduce levels of knife crime.

Some 690 children aged under 17 – some as young as 10 – were attacked or threatened with a knife in the region last year, according to figures obtained by The Guardian earlier this year.

Essakhil recalled how "it would have been a fist fight at most" if he hadn’t been carrying a knife. "You never ever think you’re going to kill someone."

He claimed that he had carried a knife to protect himself, but commented: "you don’t need that knife" and asked what he was protecting himself from.

If he could go back in time, he said he would "actually be a good person, I’d stick to my education, do what my parents tell me to do".

Paying the price

Essakhil said: "I didn't take a knife out that night to use it. But I did and now I'm in jail for life."

He is haunted by what he did. "The person that died, that was his mum's only child and that child is not there anymore," Essakhill said. "Having to live with the feeling that I've taken a life - trust me, it's not nice."

And he has plenty of time to dwell on what he has done – especially in his cell at night, when memories "come to haunt you".

He described how his chances of a normal life have gone, and said: "I wouldn't want no one to go through what I'm going through." 

Changing attitudes

West Midlands Police said the decision to use a convicted murderer as part of a campaign to tackle knife crime had not been taken lightly, and had the support of the victim’s mother.

Aimed at children at least 12 years old, the film is a new tool being used to improve engagement with young people and change the culture of thinking that it’s acceptable to carry a knife. 

It sets out to show the real consequences of being armed with a knife, and illustrate the grim reality of serving a long prison sentence.

In addition to the school screenings, the film is being promoted across the force’s social-media channels and shared with local and national media in an attempt to raise awareness.

Police perspective

Dan Barton, the force’s assistant director of corporate comms, commented: "The Corporate Communications department has worked on new and innovative ways to engage with audiences on knife crime over a number of years, but when we managed to speak to the family of an offender serving a lengthy prison sentence for murder who was willing to work with the police, we knew it could be a great opportunity to produce our own video."

He said: "This project has been months in the making, with staff and the senior investigating officer on the original murder investigation working diligently to ensure this inspiring piece of communications came to fruition."

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