The strange case of Shukri Abdi

Plus: Our recommendations for things to do this week, and some lovely local photos

Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s Mill briefing. We hope the excitement of the local elections wasn’t too much for you. In case you missed it, our weekend newsletter had a full breakdown of the all the results in the council and mayoral polls, and how each council looks as a result.

We apologise to those of you who received a rude subject line in your inbox — we’d like to assure you that the word was ‘bumper’…

A quick correction from our weekend piece: We said in the intro section that Labour had added seats in a few places including Manchester — that was incorrect. They did gain one seat from the Lib Dems but they also lost one to the Greens. Thanks to the reader on Twitter who pointed this out. If you ever see an error in our coverage, however small, please let us know.

This week’s weather

The big story: The death of Shukri Abdi

Top line: During last year’s street demonstrations in Manchester that followed the police killing of George Floyd, there were placards and chants demanding justice for Shukri Abdi. The case of the 12-year-old Bury schoolgirl, who drowned in the Irwell in 2019, became a focal point for those calling for racial justice and her story was highlighted by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, including Star Wars actor John Boyega.

The background: Abdi’s body was recovered from the water by police after she had gone to the river with four other children after school. It was unclear how she had got into trouble, and her mother — a Somali refugee who came to Bury in 2017 — didn’t seem to trust the quick-fire explanation offered by Greater Manchester Police that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding her daughter’s death. The very fact that the police had drawn that conclusion after just eight hours shook confidence in its investigation.

One of the marches marking the one year anniversary of Abdi’s death, which took place in Manchester, London, Brighton and elsewhere. Photo: Twitter @njoffline.

The latest: Now, the news website Tortoise, which publishes investigations and long-form journalism, has published a fascinating podcast detailing its reporting on the case. It has also published an online version of the story, which explains what happened next:

…as soon as the news broke in the local community, a narrative started to take hold: that Shukri had been bullied to go to the river with racist classmates who pushed her in; that she had been bitten and coerced. And that when the police did finally arrive, they covered it up — refusing to properly investigate what happened. 

The inquest into Abdi’s death last year didn’t support those claims, recording a conclusion of accidental death. The coroner criticised the other child — referred to as Child One — who was swimming with Abdi, but concluded: “There is absolutely no evidence before the court that Child One had any intention to kill Shukri.”

New reporting from Tortoise tells the story of how the Abdi case was taken over by campaigners, who began to control access to the schoolgirl’s family and became hostile to journalists whose reporting didn’t reflect the version of what happened that was dominant on social media. Abdi’s death had become a major talking point in the heated national debate about institutional racism, and activists had turned what happened in Bury into a public campaign. Tortoise writes: “Some of Shukri’s friends from school said that they experienced bullying from people with close connections to the campaign.”

Bottom line: The story seems to illustrate how careful we need to be with news stories that attract the attention of activists — it’s easy for the truth to get lost in the struggle, something we’ve seen with far-right campaigners many times too. The journalist who reported on the story for more than a year for Tortoise concludes:

Along the way, I learned that there is a line between activism and journalism. When aspects of this case began to diverge from the narrative that had taken hold, I felt the ire of a campaign that seemed unwilling to engage with dissenting views or voices. In the end, my investigation revealed a grieving family spoken for by activists who appeared to have taken charge; and of vulnerable children accused of murder with little evidence. 

Listen to the podcast here. If you like this kind of journalism, we recommend joining Tortoise as a member — they do lots of Mill-style long reads, in-depth podcasts and much else besides (plus, a couple of their editors are paid-up Millers, so they must be a good bunch).

Other local news in brief

  • A new report by researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield questions whether Manchester City Council is getting value for money when disposing of its land assets to private developers. “In some cases, prime city centre land appears to have been leased to developers for hundreds of years for free, or a nominal amount of £1,” the report says. Read more.

  • Bolton Wanderers’ promotion back to League One will give a boost to the town, the council leader says. Bolton were 19th in the league in February, but a remarkable revival has seen them secure third place, giving their fans some good news after a torrid few years in which the club has gone into administration, suffered missed fixtures and had points docked.

  • Andy Burnham won’t run for the Labour leadership in the next three years, he told reporters this morning. He has promised to accelerate the timetable for bringing buses back under local control, aiming “to have a London-style transport system over bus and tram by May 2024.” He has also pledged to complete 100km of cycling and walking routes by the end of the year.

This week’s cartoon by Mill member and longtime Private Eye sketcher Tony Husband.

Covid-19 update

  • Cases: The Greater Manchester case rate is now rising again, up 16.7% over a week to 41.1. That movement is primarily being driven by lots of new cases being detected in Bolton, where a round of surge testing is under way and the case rate is up above 100 again. The rate across England is 21.4, down 7.8%. See our dashboard below.

  • Hospitals: There are now only 20 Covid patients in critical beds in Greater Manchester, down by 6 from the previous week and from 170 at the peak in February, and the number of non-critical patients with the disease is 117, up slightly from 100 last week. Covid admissions are still very low: 19 over the week, slightly up from 9 the week before. These numbers were updated in the middle of last week, so they will be slightly out of date.

  • Vaccinations: 87% of over-70s have now had a second dose of the vaccine in Greater Manchester, but that falls to 30% for people aged 50-69. 27% of people over the age of 16 have had both doses. For the full vaccine data, see this graphic from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Home of the week

This church in Worsley Village is on the market for £375,000. It’s got beautiful brickwork, but the inside will need some updating.

Our favourite reads

The Guardian: We enjoyed this interactive, annotated version of the Manchester Guardian’s first every edition, 200 years ago. We were particularly tickled by the story about a “literary spat” which details how Mr Elliston of Drury Lane Theatre deliberately “butchered” a performance of Lord Byron’s The Doge of Venice after being banned from putting it on. According to the paper he “dragged it, in a mangled and mutilated form.”

The New Yorker: “Deep into the thoughtless hypnotism of TikTok one afternoon, I came upon an anonymous urban scene from inside a residential tower in Manchester, England.” So begins this New Yorker piece on ‘the vibes revival’, which explores our desire for ‘audiovisual eloquence’ in the digital age of TikTok. “The man I saw paddling in his Manchester-skyscraper lap pool is not trying to explain or sell anything — he is simply vibing,” writes Kyle Chayka.

The MEN: There was a nice piece this weekend profiling four young Greater Manchester councillors. The role can be something of a thankless task, and it is generally taken on by slightly older residents who have lived in the area for a while. John Blundell, Labour councillor for Smallbridge and Firgrove, says in the piece: “I had a guy scream down the phone at me ‘you deserve all you get’" – this was a because a bin hadn’t been collected.

Outside: Maria Coffey writes about losing her boyfriend Joe Tasker in 1982 as he attempted to climb Mount Everest’s, then-unscaled Northern Ridge in this 2003 Outside piece, which was taken from her book ‘Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow.’ At the time of Joe’s disappearance, Coffey lived in Manchester. “They wouldn't tell me Joe was dead—not at first. ‘Disappeared’ is what they said. Lost without a trace on a knife edge of ice and snow at 27,000 feet.”

We love this site (thanks to the Reddit user who found it) which allows you to explore historic maps of Greater Manchester and overlay them on top of modern ones. The one above is the “diseases map” of 1905 — red dots are for scarlet fever and yellow ones are diphtheria.

Things to do

Blossom Watch | City of Trees is asking you to share your best blossom pictures, using the hashtag #GMBlossomWatch on Twitter. Even if you’re not fussed about social media, we think it’s a nice excuse to get out for a walk and take photos of the blossoms around Greater Manchester.

Walking | Freshwalks, a group who are passionate about the great outdoors and “the wonderful North”, will be doing the Pots & Pans walk from Uppermill on Wednesday, starting from Greenfield train station. Make sure you bring appropriate walking gear, water, and packed lunch. Book tickets here.

Film | HOME is showing ‘China’s Van Goghs’ directed by father-daughter team of directors Haibo and Kiki Tianqi Yu. The film follows one of the painters, Xiaoyong Zhao from the village of Dafen in the city of Shenzhen. “Having never seen van Gogh’s original paintings, Zhao’s biggest dream is to travel to Amsterdam to see the works of his legendary associate.” Watch here.

Market | If you’re at a loose end in the city centre on Saturday, head over to Ancoats pop-up market on 23 Radium Street. They’ve teamed up with MUD (Manchester Urban Diggers) to supply the neighbourhood with fresh locally-grown fruit and veg, as well as specialty coffee and rum liquors.

Dining A-Z | Manchester Confidential has put together a comprehensive list of over 100 places to eat and drink outside in Greater Manchester. We’re hoping the weather can hold off until May 17, which is when indoor dining can resume again. In the meantime, whether you want to brunch or are looking to treat yourself over the weekend, you won’t be short of ideas here.

Book of the week: I Belong Here

Anita Sethi is a Mancunian, born and bred. A year after being racially abused on a train, Sethi decided to walk through the Pennines to reclaim her sense of belonging. In I Belong Here, she writes with lyrical candour, drawing strength from the beauty of the Peak District and taking readers on a vital, healing journey.

One day in mid-summer, I finally make a move. I get the Hope valley line from Manchester. I see flashes of purple rosebay willowherb through the window. I step off the train in Edale, the gateway to the Pennines, and feel the noise of the city fall away. As the train engines fade, silence envelops me, but for birdsong. I breathe in fresh air.

Extract from ‘I Belong Here’ by Anita Sethi’. The book is available to buy here.

Letters to the editor

I’ve known Angela Rayner since she first went for MP, in Manchester Withington. The idea that she is a “bit thick” (as some Labour party insiders are apparently saying) is appalling. She is clever and a great speaker. Just because she hadn’t gone to university, has a northern accent and doesn’t dress like the middle classes of Islington has made me very angry. Politically she very astute, managing to remain outside the conflicts of the Corbyn era. That’s exactly what’s wrong with the Labour Party leadership right now — middle class intellectual snobs. I’m glad many in the Party are angry. A lesson for Starmer! Yours, in anger, Moira, Didsbury

I’m enjoying and learning from your coverage but my favourite piece so far, living in Tameside, was your coverage of the Dukinfield post mistress who was wrongly accused. I have always been aware of the bare-bone facts of the case but in your coverage I got to know a little bit about the life of the lady and the details of the terrible effect it had on her. The fact that the miscarriage has taken so long to put right was also something that disturbed me. Long may The Mill continue. Bernard, Tameside

This is a deplorable story, and it was so much worse than error on the part of the Post Office. It was mendacious to tell each postmaster that they were they only ones having a problem with the system when they at the Post Office clearly knew otherwise. I am so sorry for the harm, stress and terrible disgrace these innocent people have suffered. As well as massive recompense, which can never right this wrong, I hope the people responsible are brought to account publicly and they make personal apologies. Corporate apologies just don't cut it. Carrie, Withington

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