There was nothing in the background of Yussuf Mustapha to suggest he would become Britain’s youngest gun killer.
The immigrant son of devoutly religious parents, whose older sister is an accountant in Birmingham and brother a sound engineer, the 14-year-old was regarded by his teachers as a keen student and an avid sportsman.
He had no known connection to gang activity, or indeed any other blemish on his record.
However, on Monday, he sat in the dock at Birmingham Crown Court with his head in his hands, jailed for life for a murder of the most extreme savagery.
In January, Yussuf Mustapha was one of a gang of five boys, aged between 14 and 17, who launched a frenzied attack on Keon Lincoln, 15, outside his home on a tree-lined street in Handsworth, north of Birmingham.
The gang chased down Keon then hacked at him with hunting knives and machetes, stabbing him eight times in 30 seconds. While he was lying on the ground, Mustapha – who had already fired once at his victim and missed – delivered the fatal wound by shooting him in the stomach with a revolver, which has never been recovered.
As the gang fled in a stolen Ford S-Max car, Sharmaine Lincoln, Keon’s mother, rushed outside to find her son dying on the pavement.
In court on Monday, she described the killers as “heartless, evil monsters”, adding: “The gun shots will forever ring in my ears, knowing that one of them ended my son’s life.”
Speaking to The Telegraph after the sentencing, which followed a five-week trial in which Yussuf Mustapha had denied his involvement in the murder, the killer’s father said he had moved his family to Britain in 2014 in hope of a new life.
“I came to Britain because I wanted my children to have the best education,” said Abdulai Mustapha, who works as an Uber driver in Birmingham, while his wife is a cleaner. “I wanted my family to have a good life. Now I regret that.”
Yussuf Mustapha was born in Milan, where his parents, who are both devout Muslims, had previously moved from Ghana.
After settling in Birmingham, he attended Brookfields Primary School before moving to the nearby Jewellery Quarter Academy, which was given a rating of “requires improvement” in its latest Ofsted report.
Keon was also a pupil at the school, although its assistant head teacher had told the court that the school was not aware of any problems between them.
Yussuf Mustapha had been doing well academically, and played for the school football and athletics teams.
By contrast, prior to his murder, Keon had reportedly been sent to the City of Birmingham School, a pupil referral unit, due to his disruptive behaviour in class.
One of the concerns raised about the Jewellery Quarter Academy by Ofsted inspectors in 2018 was the number of exclusions.
Abdulai Mustapha has admitted he has no idea why his son took part in the attack. Despite overwhelming DNA and CCTV evidence which linked the gang to the murder, police have also struggled to determine a motive.
At the time of the murder, Yussuf Mustapha and his family lived near Hockley Circus in Birmingham, a graffiti-strewn underpass running under a busy roundabout.
Violent gangs plague the area and schoolyard disputes can rapidly escalate. A fortnight ago, a 13-year-old was shot in the back walking through the underpass. Police said that the teenager suffered “life-changing injuries” in the incident.
Children are being increasingly caught up in postcode wars fuelled by drug dealing gangs. It is this toxic culture of bravado and rivalry which may have led to the killing.
Detectives have suggested that Yussuf Mustapha may have been trying to impress the older boys out of “bravado”.
The Jewellery Quarter Academy is one of several schools to take part in a new one-year chaperone programme launched last month and overseen by the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit. Youth workers are stationed after lessons to reduce street violence at what is widely regarded as the most dangerous time of the day.
Leon Moses, 41, a manager of Mad Birmingham, which works with young people in the city, is one of the partners in the chaperone project.
In May, one of the youngsters he worked with – Dea-John Reid, aged 14 – was killed in a knife attack.
He blamed the rising violence on social media, peer pressure and an increasing animosity and segregation between young people from different postcodes.
“I think it’s because young people are scared and falling into peer pressure. There is a lot of stigma around different areas,” he said.
Keon was one of four teenagers murdered in a five-month period in Birmingham this year, and violence has worsened during lockdown. According to police figures, in Handsworth, crime had increased by 87 per cent in the 12 months before his death.
Leading up to his murder, Keon’s school had been closed for two-and-a-half weeks due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, that morning Yussuf Mustapha briefly logged on to online lessons at 8.30am before leaving home to meet up with the group with which he would commit the murder.
In particular, two main gangs – AR, which stands for Armed Response, and the Get Money Gang – have been waging a postcode war in which it is believed the youngsters may have become swept up. Members regularly post “drill” music videos on social media goading rivals and boasting of settling feuds with extreme violence.
Two of the killers, a 16-year-old who cannot be named, and Michael Ugochuckwo, 18, were both involved in county lines dealing drugs and are thought to have connections to the Get Money Gang.
Although Keon is not thought to have been involved with a gang, the streets of the area where he lived are in the territory of Armed Response.
When Yussuf Mustapha was arrested, he admitted to police that he knew Keon socially, but insisted there had been no “fallout” between the pair. However, even the most tenuous link to a rival gang may have been enough.
In total, four teenagers were sentenced to life on Monday for their part in the attack. Kieron Donaldson, 19, was also sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter for supplying the knives used in the killing.
According to Tanayah Sam, who works with young gang members in Birmingham, such sentences are failing to act as a deterrent: “Nowadays, the kids say I will do my 20 years in prison and still come out and have a life.”
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