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‘I’m scared’: Britain to come face to face with teenage killers of Brianna Ghey

Murderers of 16-year-old transgender girl from Warrington will be sentenced and named on Friday

As the life drained from Brianna Ghey after her brutal stabbing in a Cheshire park, a local dog walker who found her blood-soaked and unresponsive whispered words of comfort as he waited for help. “Hang in there,” said Andrew Vize, as the faint wail of sirens drifted in. But it was too late.

The murder on a dreary February afternoon last year of Ghey, a 16-year-old transgender girl, shocked Britain. She died where she fell in a frenzied attack near an isolated bench on a tree-lined walkway in Culcheth Linear Park, 10km north of Warrington.

Anguish at her murder turned to horror the next day, when two 15-year-olds, a girl and a boy, were arrested for her killing. Five days before Christmas, they were found guilty after a four-week trial that laid bare in disturbing detail how two British children had plotted to kill another. The court heard they lured Ghey to the park to satisfy an “obsession” with death.

On Friday, they will be sentenced to life imprisonment at Manchester Crown Court, and their minimum terms will be announced. The identities of girl X and boy Y, as the killers have been known, will also be publicly revealed for the first time at the hearing. Their notoriety will be ensured for decades to come.


Girl X and boy Y were arrested last year on the 30th anniversary of the murder of toddler James Bulger, another crime that forced Britons to look deep into their nation’s soul. He was killed a 30-minute drive up the road from Warrington by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, two 10-year-olds.

Now, once again, the British public must look a pair of killer children in the eyes and wonder: why? For Ghey’s heartbroken parents, Esther Ghey and Peter Spooner, it is likely that no answer will ever make sense. Their daughter will never return. Their light will always have a shadow cast by grief.

“You couldn’t miss Brianna,” Emma Mills, head teacher at Birchwood Community High School in Warrington, told The Irish Times. The murdered girl was one of the school’s 1,000 students. Her parents were no longer together, and she lived nearby with her mother.

“Brianna had a rebellious streak and she tried to stand out as much as possible,” said Mills. “She just had a kind of aura about her, really. You just couldn’t help but notice her – the way she walked, the way she carried herself. She was very funny and quick-witted.”

Mills stared into the middle distance as she recalled how the “complex” transgender girl was “looked up to” by many students for how she dealt with life. Ghey was popular on TikTok, where she posted beauty videos and mimed to songs.

“She had a real creative side. Her skirt would always be rolled up in a different way. She didn’t want to wear it in the normal way. She always had to push things a bit. But she had genuine flair. Her make-up was always unbelievable, really good. Then you’d go mad at her because she’d have a thick face of it on with long eyelashes out here.”

Mills said Ghey could be “challenging”, yet she faced challenges of her own. Despite her confidence in her identity and her verve online, she was wracked with social anxiety and feared crowds. She rarely ventured on to school corridors. At the time of her death, she wasn’t in the main school population and took lessons mostly alone.

“She had struggles. She was diagnosed with autism and ADHD while she was with us. With Brianna, it was always one way or the other. I think a lot of that black-and-white, right-or-wrong attitude was connected to [autism]. She also had an eating disorder, and she did self harm at one point.”

Mills said Ghey’s challenges predated her gender transition. She had a rock solid sense of her own identity and the life she wanted to live. Then it was snatched from her in a senseless crime.

Ghey’s anxiety meant she pursued her social life mostly online. But she was friendly with girl X, who, according to court reports, came from the village of Culcheth. Boy Y lived in the old mining village of Leigh, a few kilometres further north. The court heard he was diagnosed with selective mutism, while girl X had traits of autism and ADHD.

She and boy Y were friends for several years. They frequently messaged each other privately. In the months before Ghey’s murder, girl X discussed her fascination with death and serial killers.

At the beginning of last year they weighed the possibility of killing several local young people before they settled on Ghey. Messages showed girl X admitting she was “obsessed” with the transgender girl, although there was no evidence that she hated Ghey for her gender identity.

Boy Y, who had never met Ghey before he killed her, was disparaging of her identity and wondered if “it” would scream like a man or a girl if stabbed. He bought a hunting knife for £13.50. Girl X said she also had a “sharp knife”.

Girl X tried and failed to poison Ghey with ibuprofen gel, while another plan to stab her in Culcheth Linear Park in January was abandoned when the doomed girl didn’t show. On Saturday, February 11th, their final, brutal plan commenced. Ghey agreed to meet up.

She left home at 12.45pm and walked to Birchwood railway station, where she waited about 30 minutes for a number 28 bus to take her to Culcheth. She texted her mother to say she was “scared” to be out. Her mother praised her courage.

The drive to Culcheth would have taken 20 minutes. It is a leafy, affluent community where Manchester mayor Andy Burnham hails from.

“A murder happening there is shocking, full stop” said Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP for Warrington North, who has been involved in helping the area and Ghey’s family to deal with the killing. “A murder of a child: extremely shocking. But where young people are murdered with a knife – that typically happens in cities or towns. Culcheth is a leafy Cheshire village.”

Ghey got off the bus near Culcheth’s new library at 1.53pm. There, she was met by girl X and boy Y, who had already been to the local Sainsbury’s to buy soft drinks. The boy was wearing a black coat with his hood pulled up, the girl a red jacket. Ghey was dressed conspicuously in a fluffy white hooded jacket and a short tartan skirt. People who saw them said they stood out as they walked along, staring at their phones.

Girl X pretended she could source cocaine from a fictional dealer called Nathan, for whom she had set up a fake Snapchat account. She messaged “Nathan”, who replied, and she showed the exchanges to Ghey as they walked to the park. It runs along a disused old railway line and it is popular with dog walkers.

At 2.30pm, Ghey texted another friend her suspicions that girl X was only pretending to have a dealer. Soon afterwards, it appears she was looking for girl X in the park, and messaged her at 3.06pm: “Girl, where are you?” The prosecution said she was attacked at this time.

Ghey was stabbed 28 times, half in her chest and back, half around her head, neck and face. She had defensive injuries on her hands. Both lungs were punctured. Up to 13 wounds penetrated her chest cavity. Her injuries, a pathologist said, were “unsurvivable”. She died quickly.

Minutes after the attack, dog walkers Kathryn Vize and her husband Andrew happened upon the scene and witnessed boy Y stooping towards the body as girl X stood beside him. The two killers fled through a gap in the fence into a nearby field, but not before Kathryn Vize got a good look at them from “seven feet” away. She made lingering eye contact with girl X.

The dog walkers thought at first that Ghey, who had fallen awkwardly on to nearby wooden steps, was a “blow-up doll”. Then they saw the blood. At 3.13pm Kathryn Vize called police, while Andrew Vize whispered to Ghey, “Don’t worry.”

The transcript of the 999 call is harrowing. Kathryn Vize sobs and heaves for breath as the emergency dispatcher asks if Ghey is breathing. She tells the call handler: “I don’t think she is. I can’t see her face. It’s covered in blood... She’s twitched, but I don’t know. She’s in such a mess... She looks dead, the way her body is lying and everything.”

PC Andrew Chadwick was first on the scene at 3.25pm. He ran the 650m from the car park to the scene of the attack, where he tried to resuscitate Ghey. Nothing could be done. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 4.02pm.

Meanwhile, girl X walked home, as boy Y, who had been dropped to Culcheth earlier by his mother, got the bus back. Ghey’s phone was later found down a drain. The two suspects were spotted by multiple people in Ghey’s company.

They messaged each other pretending to know nothing about the murder. Girl X also texted Ghey’s phone. At 11.11pm, the girl asked the boy: “Do you have anxiety about getting caught?” He replied: “Probably.” She responded: “You’re not going to get caught, don’t worry.”

As rumours swirled locally that she was involved, girl X admitted to her mother she had been in Ghey’s company, but pretended the dead girl had left to meet a man. Her mother phoned police. The two suspects were arrested simultaneously at 7.30pm the day after the murder. “I can explain,” the boy told officers.

The police found Ghey’s blood on his clothes, shoes and on the knife in his bedroom. They found a written plan to kill Ghey in the girl’s house. Their phones told the rest of the story. At trial, each pleaded not guilty and blamed the other for the killing. The jury did not believe either of them, and found them both guilty.

Esther Ghey called them “cowards”. Yet, amid her grief, she called for compassion towards the parents of the young killers.

Both murderers have since turned 16, while Brianna would have been 17 in November. Last week, the bench where she died still had pink, deflated balloons attached, old flowers and birthday candles signifying the age she never reached.

Esther Ghey, with help from others including Mills and Nichols, has launched a campaign, Peace in Mind, to train schoolteachers in mindfulness to help young people combat mental health problems. Nichols will raise the campaign in the House of Commons. She said Ghey’s murder is the worst thing to happen to Warrington since the 1993 IRA bomb.

Britain is transfixed by the case. Mills, meanwhile, wondered what the putative TikTok star Ghey would have made of all the spotlight.

“Her one goal in life was that she just wanted to be famous. Me and Esther have talked about the really cruel irony in this – she’d have absolutely loved all the attention.”

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