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World News

Churches at forefront of community support in 'dark hour' of child violence

by Donna Birrell

The local community is still reeling from the death of nine-year old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, after she was shot as a gunman invaded her home. 

The auxiliary Rt Rev Tom Williams, Bishop of Liverpool, described it as a "dark hour" for the community.

But the tragedy comes amid growing concerns about an increase in violent attacks on young children. On Tuesday a 12-year-old boy was stabbed and injured in east London and children as young as 11 have been subject to attacks by teenagers in a Lancashire town - with video of the incidents being shared on social media. 

Last year 13-year-old Olly Stephens was murdered in a knife attack by two teenaged boys in Reading. He'd been lured to a park by a 13-year-old girl. 

David Howell was church warden of St Barnabas church nearby and helped respond to the tragedy.

He's been speaking to Premier about how the church goes about supporting the community after a violent and distressing crime: "I would say the ripples go out everywhere. This incident [in my community] was young children on young children, our churches surrounded by the schools that those children go to.

"As soon as we were aware there was a fatality, we opened the church the following morning at nine o' clock. We had a Book of Condolence which we eventually gave to the family, we had candles, ready for people to light and have a prayer.

"We also contacted other churches to help us manage the queues that were arriving at the church, and particularly young children with their mothers.

"Just to help them talk it through - that was instinctive. If a church wants to be the hub of the community, then it needs to open it's doors at these times."

David Howell says that it's vital to also support the emergency services "who are in a position which they don't want to be in, working hours that they don't want to work. As Christians, we need to treat everybody justly." 

St Barnabas Church stepped in with support in the immediate aftermath of Olly's death even before any welfare provision had been set up.

Good relations between the church and Thames Valley Police meant that they received a call telling them that 41 policemen were searching for evidence in a field at minus 15 degrees.

The church set about providing over 80 hot meals for them throughout the night. 

Street pastors also played a big role in supporting the community with people - especially young teenagers - wanting to talk through the shock.

David Howell is also a street pastor: "You've got to allow them to talk. Just by listening and caring, it opens the community up. We don't necessarily see the end effect of that. But we've had a lot of positive comments about how responsive the church was, from the family, from the community, from the police."

Two boys were convicted of Olly's murder at Reading Crown Court in the summer of 2021. One was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years, the other to a minimum of 13 years in young offenders' institutions.   

The girl who had lured Olly to the site was sentenced to five years after admitting manslaughter.

Two suspects in the Olivia Pratt-Korbel investigation have been released on bail, with police appealing for new information.



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