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17 December 2018, 16:09 | Updated: 17 December 2018, 16:13
Three teenagers guilty of the murder of 18 year-old Azaan John (AJ) Kaleem (pictured) in Luton in March have been jailed for a total of 52 years, with a fourth also jailed for manslaughter, bringing the total sentence to 63 years.
At the Old Bailey today:
• An 18 year-old from Luton, who spearheaded the attack, to life imprisonment, serving a minimum of 18 years, for murder. He was also sentenced to a further two years' imprisonment, to run concurrently, for possession of a bladed article. He cannot be named due to on-going legal reasons
• Harrison Searle, 18, of Derwent Road, Luton, thought to have delivered the final blow, to 16 years’ imprisonment for murder
• An 18 year-old man from Luton, who also cannot be named due to legal reasons, to life imprisonment, serving a minimum of 18 years, for murder
• Reece Bliss-McGrath, 20, of Exton Avenue, Luton, who was found not guilty of murder but convicted of manslaughter, to 11 years’ half to be served in custody and half on licence
Azaan, affectionately known as AJ, died from the stab wounds he received after the group rounded on him while he was walking with his girlfriend and friend after they had left a funeral.
He did not retaliate throughout the 22-second attack, despite being stabbed multiple times and hit with what experts believe to be a knuckle duster.
The three guilty of murder had all denied the charges and also initially denied being at the scene at all, but later clarified their movements and involvement in the attack. However, none were willing to admit which of them had been wielding weapons.
The incident occurred on Thursday, 22 March, on Hartsfield Road at around 5.20pm.
Searle, and the two others, surrounded the victim after leaving a car driven by Bliss-McGrath, and undertook a relentless assault, which left Azaan, who had also been carrying a knife, bleeding profusely on the floor.
The incident occurred only minutes after Azaan had been confronted by another teenager on Crawley Green Road, a short distance away from the attack site. That boy also stood trial but was found not guilty of having involvement in the murder.
Azaan was given treatment by emergency services at the scene, but succumbed to his injuries in hospital two days later, due to fatal wounds to the chest.
Despite Azaan's family requesting his organs be made available for donation, the need for police to retain his body as evidence meant that none of his working organs could be released, despite his heart being described by doctors as ‘as strong as an ox’.
Detective Inspector Dani Bailey, who led the investigation, said:
"This was a truly distressing case which has left an innocent teen, just finding his feet in the world, dead.
The sentence should be a clear message to others that violence carries very severe consequences.
“We aren’t talking about ‘gang warfare’ or rivals fighting; this was simply a group of boys, unknown to their victim, who went out of their way to search for Azaan and murder him.
Azaan offered no aggression or retaliation whatsoever, and my heart goes out to his family, who had to endure weeks at court, conducting themselves with dignity throughout, despite some entirely disrespectful behaviour by those in the dock.
I can only hope that the sentences today bring them some closure.”
Roseann Taylor, Azaan’s mother, said:
“Azaan was a true character, full of fun and a friend to many. He leaves behind a massive empty space in our lives and, as an organ donor stripped of the chance to help others, it’s not just one life that has been taken.
I would urge any parent out there who thinks, like I did, that their child wouldn't carry a knife - be it to protect themselves or not - to please listen and engage more with their children. We are currently living in a society where our kids think this is a normal, acceptable thing to do, and we all have a part to play to stop this.
These boys have not only taken a life, but ruined their own and countless others', and still show no remorse for what they've done.
I can only hope they spend their coming years taking responsibility for their actions, while the outside world moves on, in an undoubtedly safer place, without them."