Express & Star

Campaigner whose son was murdered speaks to Lichfield students about impact of knife crime

A campaigner whose son was murdered in a knife attack has spoken to students at a Lichfield school about the devastating impact of knife crime.

Alison Cope, whose son, Joshua Ribera, was murdered in a knife attack, speaks to Nether Stowe students.

Alison Cope visited Nether Stowe School on Thursday, June 8 to give a hard-hitting and moving presentation based on her own tragic experiences of violence.

Year Nine students listened as Alison explained how social media use can aggravate seemingly low-key disagreements, and how police are now using new powers to access phones.

She also highlighted how more and more young people are carrying knives – often due to a misguided belief in the need to protect themselves – with often tragic consequences.

But she then left the Nether Stowe students shocked when she revealed the tragic story of her own son, Joshua Ribera.

Joshua, who was a rising Birmingham grime artist better known as Depzman, was murdered in 2013.

Stabbed outside a venue in Selly Oak, the 18-year-old managed to stagger into a doorway before being taken to hospital. Although the knife pierced his heart, Josh held on for several hours, desperately battling to stay alive.

The students heard how Josh couldn’t overcome the damage done by a moment of mindless violence.

Alison’s deeply personal story brought home the reality of knife crime to the students listening in the audience.

Since his death, Alison has delivered her message to over 1.2 million young people around the UK, presenting in schools, Pupil Referral Units, youth and community centres, Youth Offenders Institutions, and prisons.

Anti-knife campaigner Alison Cope with Nether Stowe students.

In addition, Alison has also launched the Joshua Ribera Achievement Awards, recognising young people who are not in mainstream education.

At the end of the presentation, students saw a remarkable video, which used cutting-edge ‘deep fake’ AI technology to create a new grime tune by Joshua, bringing him back to life to rap about the dangers of knife crime.

Alison said: “It was great to speak to the students at Nether Stowe, and to share my story, and to tell them Josh’s story. It’s so important that we get across these messages to young people, so that they understand the consequences of making the wrong choices.

“For example, lots of young men think they need to carry knives for self-protection, thinking that everyone else has one. It’s a myth that means there are more and more knives on the streets.

“They also need to understand that posturing on their phones can very quickly escalate into something out of their control, and understand that just by being at the scene of an incident, and maybe filming it on their phone, they could be legally held accountable for it through joint enterprise.

“I know that the presentation is hard-hitting, but it’s important that we tell the truth about the impact of the decisions that they make.

“The way I tell my story and Josh’s story makes them think about their own family, and how it would impact on them and their loved ones.

“By making it personal in that way, it provides a reality check. Afterwards, students always want to talk to me about the presentation and how it has affected them – which shows that it is getting the message through.”

Alison’s visit to Nether Stowe was organised by the school’s strategic lead for attendance Emma Evans and was supported by Staffordshire Country Council.

Miss Evans said: “Today was fantastic – we would like Alison to come back to us in the future to do work across the year groups at Nether Stowe.

“Alison’s message is incredibly powerful, because she is able to stand up in front of the students and say ‘I’ve lived this, and this is my journey – this really happened to me.

“Young people are much more ‘switched on’ these days than they have ever been but are also much more vulnerable because of the three years they’ve had out of education due to the pandemic, which has in some ways led them to be more reliant on social media.

“So, these sorts of events are important because young people need to be shown that some of the messages they get from social media simply aren’t facts.”

Nether Stowe's headteacher Glyn Langstone-Jones said: “I would like to thank Alison for coming in and giving such a powerful presentation, which clearly got its messages across.

“Conversations about things like knife crime are often difficult – it’s not a nice subject matter to address – but it’s vital to hear honest and straight-forward stories about youngsters like Joshua, which places the issue in a context that resonates with students.”