Barnaby Webber's mother says 'Grace is our hero' as family fights for justice

Undated family handout photo issued by Nottinghamshire Police of Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace OMalley-Kumar.
Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace O'Malley-Kumar were killed by Valdo Calocane in Nottingham in June last year -Credit:PA Media

The mother of Barnaby Webber has called Grace O’Malley-Kumar, who was killed trying to save him, “our hero” — and said she never imagined having to fight for justice against a “flawed” criminal justice system.

The “Taunton boy,” 19, was killed in the Nottingham stabbings last year along with his friend Grace, also 19, as they walked home after a night out by Valdo Calocane, then 31, who also killed Ian Coates, 65, that night.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the opening of the Knife Angel in Weston-super-Mare on Wednesday (May 1), his mother Emma Webber said: “There aren’t words to describe how it’s changed our lives forever. It's been described to us as a catastrophic life event, which it is.”

READ MORE: Grieving mother's plea for action as Knife Angel arrives in Weston-super-Mare

There have been recent calls — backed by the Prime Minister — for Grace to be awarded the UK’s highest civilian honour for courage, the George Cross, for trying to save Barnaby.

Mrs Webber said: “Grace is our hero and what an amazing girl. Barney didn’t have a chance; he was ambushed. He had no chance to do anything but Grace did. I just think that shows the mettle of the girl. It only just breaks my heart even more when we know that.”

After the tragedy of losing Barnaby, the family has faced further grief at the “unduly lenient” sentence given to his killer and the revelation that police officers shared graphic details about the attack in a WhatsApp group chat.

Mrs Webber said: “I would never have imagined that I would be in the situation now where I am having to fight for justice and answers, and against poor policing and poor decision making and leadership and the criminal justice system being so flawed. Because I foolishly had faith in that.”

The mother of Barnaby Webber, Emma Webber, reads a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court. -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post
The mother of Barnaby Webber, Emma Webber, reads a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court. -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

In January, the family had to watch as prosecutors accepted “monster” Valdo Calocane’s guilty plea of manslaughter by diminished responsibility, instead of murder. Judge Mr Justice Turner said the killer, who has paranoid schizophrenia, would “very probably” be detained in a high security hospital for the rest of his life.

The sentence is set to be reviewed next week (May 8) after the Attorney General warned it was “unduly lenient.” But Mrs Webber said: “I think it's a case of managing our expectations and also the wider public’s expectations.

“It’s purely looking to see if the judge made a grievous error in the actual sentencing. They are not re-examining evidence or the elements of the investigation that are now being investigated by the IOPC [the Independent Office for Police Conduct].”

She said: “The laws in this country are archaic, in as much as you are either a murder or its manslaughter. There is no inbetween. There is no grey. [...] You would have second degree murder, as an example, in America. So it takes into account properly the seriousness of the crime — the fact that it is murder — but also taking into account that somebody will likely have a mental illness or there are extenuating circumstances.”

She added: “In this situation, we have never denied Calocane is unwell. However, the way it was presented in court — purely on doctor’s reports with no detailed examination of the actual attack and his state of mind immediately afterward and actually for months in police custody and prison — that's where our real deep concerns lie.”

Mrs Webber called for lawmakers to look again at introducing second degree murder, something recommended by the Law Commision in 2006 but never implemented.

There was further anguish for the families after it emerged that some police officers had been sharing graphic details about the attack in a WhatsApp group and sent messages Mrs Webber described as “callous, degrading, and desensitised.” Last week, Mrs Webber penned an open letter to the officers in The Times, stating that it had inflicted "more trauma than you can imagine".

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The way it was managed by the leadership of Nottinghamshire police is a disgrace in my opinion.”

She said: “I wanted to address it and I had asked to do it privately and anonymously. I didn’t want to name and shame them and have them sat in a room in front of me. It’s not that, its about addressing it so they knew how I felt as a mum and how Charlie felt as a brother, and similar for the other two families.

“And the chief constable chose to not allow me to do that privately but I felt it needed addressing so the only other option I had was to do it publicly.

“And I think the response we have received since we wrote that open letter goes to show how reprehensible and abhorrent their behaviour was.”

She said: “There's human decency, isn’t there? And there's a right and there's a wrong.”

The Knife Angel, now standing in the Italian Gardens in Weston-super-Mare until May 30 on its tour of the UK is a statue created from 100,000 knives and blades confiscated by the UK’s 43 police forces, designed by artist Alfie Bradley at the British Ironwork Centre as a monument against violence and aggression. Last month it was in Taunton, and Mrs Webber spoke at its opening in both towns on the need to do more to fight knife crime.

Ribbons tied to the fencing around the Knife Angel in memory of knife crime victims
Ribbons tied to the fencing around the Knife Angel in memory of knife crime victims -Credit:John Wimperis

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There’s no one solution; its very complex. The carrying of knives particularly with young people in our society has over the recent years been normalised and that needs to be addressed. And [...] proper education showing the devastation, and things like the Knife Angel, that will make a difference to some people.

“No, it's not enough and you can’t rely on that, but that’s one way of doing it.”

She also wants to see a change in the law “so if you are carrying a knife you are carrying a lethal weapon.”

Calling for change in the policing of knife crime and fighting for justice for Barnaby was not something the family from Somerset ever expected to have to do. Mrs Webber said: “It is an unholy fight that we are all choosing to take on and we are doing it for our loved one. But as a family there comes a point where we have to find a way to grieve and to move forwards — but what that looks like, I don’t know.”