Grace O'Malley-Kumar called 'our hero' by mother of Barnaby Webber who she died trying to save

Emma Webber spoke at the opening of the Knife Angel in Weston-super-Mare
Emma Webber spoke at the opening of the Knife Angel in Weston-super-Mare -Credit:John Wimperis

The mother of Barnaby Webber has called Grace O’Malley-Kumar "our hero", after she was killed trying unsuccessfully to save him. University of Nottingham students, Barnaby, 19, and his friend Grace, also 19, were killed in the Nottingham attacks last year as they walked home after a night out.

The stabbings were carried out by Valdo Calocane, then 31, who also killed Ian Coates, 65, on the same night, in the early hours of June 13, 2023. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) after the opening of the Knife Angel in Weston-super-Mare, 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."

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.

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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 after the sentence given to his killer was referred to the Court of Appeal for being 'unduly lenient' and the revelation that police officers shared graphic details about the attack in a WhatsApp group chat.

In January, the family had to watch as prosecutors accepted "monster" Valdo Calocane’s guilty plea of manslaughter by diminished responsibility. 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 on Wednesday (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 in between. 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.”

Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace OMalley-Kumar
Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace OMalley-Kumar -Credit:PA Media

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, stating that it had inflicted “more trauma than you can imagine”.

Graphic details of the victim's injuries were shared in the police group chat, reports the Daily Mirror. Part of Mrs Webber's letter reads: "When you say ‘a couple of students have been properly butchered’ did you stop to think about the absolute terror that they felt in the moment when they were ambushed and repeatedly stabbed by a man who had planned his attack and lay waiting in the shadows for them.

“When you say ‘innards out and everything’ did you think about the agony they felt and the final thoughts that went through their minds as this vicious individual inflicted wounds so serious that they had no chance of surviving. Did you relate the excited urgency in your message of spreading ‘big news’ and preparing for a busy shift that countless lives had been destroyed forever.”

This week, she told the LDRS: “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. I think the response we have received since we wrote that open letter goes to show how reprehensible and abhorrent their behaviour was. 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.

She told the LDRS: “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 forward — but what that looks like, I don’t know."

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This weekend, Grace's parents have been attending a special hockey tournament set up in her honour at the Nottingham Hockey Centre. Hundreds of people watch six teams compete in bright sunshine for the new Grace O'Malley-Kumar Cup.

Sanjoy Kumar, Grace's father, said: "Grace had the best year of her life here, she was delighted to be at the university studying medicine, which is what she wanted to do, and played for the first team hockey. She'd be leading the show here because she represented, wanted to make a difference, she would have loved this day.

"Grace stood for everything good, she contributed, she was patriotic, she served her country. If she could be any kind of role model for a young lady, then what a beautiful place it would be."

One of the aims of the day was to raise money for the Grace O'Malley-Kumar Foundation, set up to fund causes including supporting others with their sporting and academic journey and promoting community service.

The event also aimed to raise money for the Barnaby Webber Foundation and the foundation being set up in memory of Ian Coates. James Coates, Ian's son, and David Webber, Barnaby's father, were also among those attending the memorial tournament.

Mr Webber said: "This would be a day [Barnaby] would have loved. Grace was obviously an incredibly good hockey player, she would have loved it. The two people that I feel would have loved this day almost more than anything aren't here, and that's the bittersweet side for me."

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