Large crowds lit candles and laid flowers at a vigil to remember murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman on Tuesday evening on what would have been Nicole’s 29th birthday.
Family, friends, campaigners, politicians and well wishers gathered at Fryent Country Park in Wembley, north-west London, to honour the sisters and all women lost to male violence. The proceedings kicked off with Brent North MP Barry Gardiner singing Amazing Grace.
Bibaa and Nicole had been celebrating Bibaa’s birthday in the park last June when they were stabbed to death by Danyal Hussein, 19, who was convicted at a trial last month.
Mother Mina Smallman, a retired Church of England cleric, said she wanted the vigil to be a celebration of her daughters’ lives.
In a speech to the gathered crowds, Smallman said: “As a teacher and a priest I have given my life over to raising boys and girls that people looked down on and didn’t think that they could be anybody. Now I’m doing it for my girls and I’m doing it for every one of the girls here.
“I am so tired of old, grey, boring white men telling us how to live our lives. You know nothing changes because they still have the power, they still call the shots.
“We haven’t really gone through the glass ceiling, they’ve just put a concrete one up. Well, we’re bringing in the bulldozers. We’re calling it out.”
Smallman also criticised the media’s under-reporting of the girls’ disappearance in comparison to the coverage of missing white people.
The vigil, which was organised by Reclaim These Streets, was also attended by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and MPs Dawn Butler and David Lammy.
Khan said in a tweet the vigil had been “an emotional and powerful moment to remember” the sisters.
Meanwhile, Butler said on the social media platform: “I’m home and I’m emotional. I just want to cry at the injustice of it all. Say their names, Bibaa and Nicole. They were our sisters too.”
Jamie Klingler, one of the co-founders of Reclaim These Streets, said the event “exceeded expectations” with local police estimating 600 people attended.
“It was a beautiful tribute to their lives with powerful calls to action,” she said. “As a community we stood side by side and it was all done as Mina requested. She is a powerhouse of an educator, a preacher and an activist and we can all learn so much from her poise and determination to make this pointless violence mean something long term.”
Steve Selley, a family friend of Smallman, told the PA news agency of the support shown at the vigil: “This is exactly what it should have been like at the start. Exactly where we are today with this now should have been done last year and that’s what hurts.”
Leonie Selley, who knew the family, said: “It’s nice to see so many people here. For us, it feels nice that we can have a celebration now because as this happened during Covid, it didn’t get the attention it deserves. It has to be uplifting. They have to have this to push them through this. It has to be positive because otherwise it would be awful.”
After a prayer for the girls, music was played featuring the Eurythmics’ Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves and attendees left candles, bouquets and placards.
David Young-Phombeah, from north-west London, attended the vigil to show his support.
He said: “My sister lives right next to the park, five minutes from where this tragic event took place. For me it just really hit home.
“There were hundreds of people here every day last year during the heatwave. As I’m local, and I’m a proper Londoner, I felt very touched by it.”