In September 2005, Rochelle left her home in Catford, South London to call her boyfriend from a nearby phone box after her mobile ran out of credit. When she failed to return home, the police were alerted. Several days later, the teenager’s dismembered body was found in several bin liners at Milford Towers, South London.
Rochelle’s abductor and murderer was 48-year-old unemployed butcher, John McGrady. He was arrested following a failed suicide attempt in which he slashed his wrists and left a note to his girlfriend confessing to his heinous crime.
McGrady was caught on CCTV purchasing the hacksaw that he later used to severe Rochelle’s head and limbs from her body. Scratch marks on his arms indicated that Rochelle attempted to fight off her attacker before she was eventually killed. The young girl’s body was so badly mutilated that a postmortem was unable to establish whether she had been sexually assaulted.
Failure to protect
Rochelle’s mother, Jennifer Bennett yelled “I hope you rot in hell” as McGrady was taken from the dock at the Old Bailey in London. Jennifer and Rochelle’s father, 44 year-old, Denroy Holness vehemently criticised the system that ultimately failed to prevent a repeat sex attacker murdering their daughter;
"We question why we do not have the right to know about these dangerous people living among us, until they have committed such dreadful acts…We hope these events send out a clear message to the country that sex offenders and murderers must in future be properly sentenced, treated and supervised on release, otherwise there will be many more victims. We pray that while serving his sentence, McGrady receives treatment so that he may truly take full responsibility for his actions and bring himself to explain why and how he did this to Rochelle”
They added; “There was no explanation, no apology. He has steadfastly refused to co-operate with the prosecuting authorities. He has prolonged our suffering and made our lives a living hell. The sentence is a reflection of the heinous crime he committed and the danger he still poses to other young women. We trust that in this case life does mean life and we would ask that neither the Court of Appeal nor the current or any future Home Secretary deviate from this.”
McGrady had a 22 year history of violent and sexual offences. In 1988, he was imprisoned for six years for raping two women and in 1993 he was sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to abduct a young woman at knifepoint. Nine years earlier, in 1984, he was acquitted of rape three times. Despite wearing a balaclava and using a knife on one occasion, he claimed that the women consented to sex. Detectives were said to be concerned that McGrady may have attacked other women following his release from prison in 1997 and his arrest last year and urged them to step forward.
The sex offenders register, which requires people who are convicted, or found not guilty by reason of insanity, of sexual offences to register their name and address with the police, was introduced just after McGrady’s release in 1997. The Home Office also confirmed that he was not under supervision. Detective Inspector Tim Grattan-Kane reflected on this state of affairs stating that "He [McGrady] should not have been on the streets, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. There was nothing that would have given the judge the sentencing powers to keep him off the streets for ever… He was so evil that no restriction such as a curfew or tagging would have stopped him. You would literally need a policeman at his side at all times to stop him.”
McGrady remained “cowardly silent” during the proceedings and was criticised for not confessing to the details of what actually happened to Rochelle. Denroy Holness said: "He will never know the devastation he's caused. Rochelle's mother is distraught to the point she may lose her mind." DI Grattan Kane said “Although he pleaded guilty, he has never told us what happened, especially how Rochelle came to go to his flat… I have promised her parents I will keep on trying to get that information."
In Court, Judge Stephen Kramer said to McGrady that he “must have been motivated by a sexual desire and when you are drinking you are, and continue to be, a dangerous predator to women, especially young women. The sentence will ensure you will never have the opportunity to prey on young women again. You cruelly took the life of that young girl and left her family and her mother bereft."
The ‘inhumane’ media
Rochelle’s mother criticised the way in which the media ignored what had happened to her daughter. She said “my daughter is somebody too and deserved just as much recognition and publicity”. The family also slammed the way in which two tabloid newspapers sought to sensationalise what happened to Rochelle and their reporting of blatant misinformation; "We have been deeply shocked by the timing of the cruel, sensationalist reporting by some of the tabloid press. We hope that those responsible for causing us so much unnecessary pain will today feel the shame that has so far been absent, for their behaviour has been as inhumane as John McGrady's."
The family have lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission against The Sun and the Daily Star under Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code relating to accuracy. The Sun claimed Rochelle has been ‘cut up with an electric saw while still alive, blood splattered on the ceilings and walls of the kitchen… the 15-year-old was strapped to a table and dismembered while her heart was still beating." The Daily Star asserted that the ‘murdered schoolgirl Rochelle Holness was cut up with an electric saw while she was still alive — it was feared that she was dismembered while her heart was still beating.”
The stories appeared in the newspaper before the results of any postmortem had been delivered to the family and subsequently caused a rift with the police who the family thought should have told them this information before it appeared in the media. In fact, the tabloids had reported complete falsities. Rochelle had been dead for 15 hours before she was dismembered and there was no evidence of blood being splattered over the flat.
“Ray of sunshine”
Rochelle Holness was studying for her GCSE’s and lived with her mother and two younger brothers. She was a sociable young girl who her mother describes as an “angel” who was “full of life, my ray of sunshine”. Condolences from her Aunt Paulette said “I miss her so much… I cry most of the time. I visit Rochelle as much as I can by going [to the] cemetery”. Another message of condolence told of Rochelle’s genial manner “Rochelle was a good friend of one of my daughters. Like my daughter Rochelle was a beautiful, cheeky and vibrant teenager. My memory of Rochelle is when she held my screaming new born baby in the street, within seconds baby was smiling with Rochelle.”
We at Ligali would again like to express our heartfelt sympathies to Rochelle’s family and friends who are no doubting missing the presence of this young and innocent life. We hope that her spirit is at peace and that those who are knew her somewhat comforted by the fact that she touched so many lives in such a positive way.
In Honour of Rochelle HolnessMedia ignores march for Rochelle Holness
Rochelle's family outside the court following the verdict
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