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Brianna Ghey murder: Extraordinary and savage crime marks a moment of reckoning for Britain

Scarlett Jenkinson, the ringleader in the killing of the transgender girl, scoured the dark web for gore, while Eddie Ratcliffe expressed transphobic attitudes

The sentencing of Eddie Ratcliffe and Scarlett Jenkinson, the teenage murderers of Warrington transgender girl Brianna Ghey, lasted almost five hours in Manchester crown court. Ratcliffe sat with his head bowed for almost the entire time, staring downwards. Not in shame or upset. He had a piece of paper on his lap – Ratcliffe was doing puzzles.

The extraordinary scene was relayed to accredited media via a live video link from the court. It showed the uniqueness of the trial. The killing of 16-year-old Ghey, meanwhile, was an extraordinary and savage crime. It has forced Britain to confront new realities about the effects of internet gore on children and attitudes towards transgender people.

Ratcliffe, who was just 15 when he helped stab Ghey to death in a Cheshire park last February, suffers from anxiety, has a form of autism and selective mutism – his trial heard he often refuses to speak to anyone but his mother. The judge allowed him to do puzzles to keep calm.

Jenkinson was also just 15 when, hooked on “dark web” real-life gore videos, she planned the murder of Ghey and carried it out with Ratcliffe. She has shown evidence of autism and a “conduct dissocial disorder”, which doctors say means she feels little empathy.


The vulnerable Ghey, who suffered from anxiety, could only have felt terror when Jenkinson and Ratcliffe lured her to the Culcheth Linear Park north of Warrington, where they plunged a hunting knife into her body 28 times.

The murderers and their victim were underage, but this was not child’s play. At 37 and 35 respectively, Jenkinson and Ratcliffe will be approaching middle age by the time they are eligible to seek release. Jenkinson got a minimum of 22 years while Ratcliffe got at least 20 years, among the heaviest sentences ever handed down to children in British legal history.

The judge, Amanda Yip, said they may never be released from their life sentences if they are still a danger. Jenkinson, whom the judge said was the “sadistic” ringleader, has been found drafting fresh “kill lists” of her carers while in custody.

Ratcliffe, sporting adolescent facial fuzz and with long hair over his shoulders, came to court on Friday in a black shirt and grey tie. He sat in the dock at the far end of a bench behind glass panels facing the judge. To his right, at the other end of the bench, sat Jenkinson in a dark cardigan.

Once so close when they plotted the murder, they physically could not have sat further apart. They blamed each other for the stabbing during the trial, but since their conviction in December, Jenkinson has suggested to a psychiatrist they both wielded the knife, and that she enjoyed it.

Cheshire police were quick after the attacks to announce that Ghey was not murdered because she was transgender. The judge, however, concluded that transphobia was a factor. She highlighted Ratcliffe’s transphobic statements to Jenkinson, which the judge suggested contributed to his motivation. Jenkinson was happy to kill with him on that basis.

Underage defendants normally get anonymity until the age of 18, which for the two killers is in less than two years’ time. The judge allowed media to name them on Friday to prevent a fresh upsurge of publicity in two years and because of the intense public interest in a crime that has shaken Britain to its core.

Ghey attended Birchwood Community High School, where she met Jenkinson, who was transferred there four months before the murder. Emma Mills, the head teacher of the school, told The Irish Times she was glad the judge had allowed the underage killers to be named. It would allow the school community to talk more openly about what happened, she said. Some pupils are still receiving counselling a year on.

Charlotte Nichols, a local Labour MP, says the naming will also help the town of Warrington cope better. “A lot of the questions that people have can now be delved into better with the identities revealed,” she said. “There was a vacuum before in terms of what could be disclosed.”

For Ghey’s family, closure will take more time. Her father, Peter Spooner, told the court on Friday he couldn’t see the killers as children. “That makes them sound naive or vulnerable ... Brianna was the vulnerable one.”

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