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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 14:27 GMT
The darker side of life as a Goth
By Clare Purdy
BBC News, Manchester

To be consistently verbally abused about the way you choose to dress seems inconceivable to most people.

Sophie Lancaster
Sophie Lancaster had tried to protect her boyfriend
Blending in and staying anonymous in an age where gang mentality is increasingly commonplace seems the safer option.

Ade Varney, a Goth since the age of 17, says that the reality is that the abuse aimed at Goths is alarmingly regular.

Following Sophie Lancaster's killing in a Lancashire park, he is campaigning to have the definition of hate crime to include offences against people based on their appearance or subcultural interests.

A regular at the Whitby Goth weekend, which Miss Lancaster and her boyfriend Rob Maltby also attended, Mr Varney has also been among those who have helped put a memorial bench in place for Miss Lancaster.

He said: "We decided it only fitting that she had a memorial not only in the place where she and Rob had once enjoyed but also a place where Goths frequent, so they can pay their respects when there."

Miss Lancaster, 20, suffered fatal injuries when she and Mr Maltby were attacked in Stubbylee Park in Bacup in August last year.

Preston Crown Court heard they were attacked by teenagers purely because they were dressed as Goths.

You have to search hard to find a Goth who is violent in nature and even harder still to find one who has not been targeted in some way
Ade Varney

Mr Varney said: "Among a bunch of young kids, who shouldn't even have been out at night, were some teenagers, who operated with an 'us and them' gang mentality.

"We get verbal assaults every day, and not just from young people. But now younger teenagers have the mentality of hardened criminals and I definitely sense this violent aspect getting worse.

"It's often exacerbated by misconceptions about what Goths are.

"Goth teenagers can tend to be bookish, quiet and thoughtful. As a result they can sometimes become distanced from the majority and become targeted.

"In my experience of over 20 years, as a general rule, you have to search hard to find a Goth who is violent in nature and even harder still to find one who has not been targeted in some way.

"These packs so often see a slightly built guy on his own, wearing make-up and to them, he is fair game, an easy target to bully. It is happening to girls now, more than ever.

Robert Maltby in November 2007
Robert Maltby was seriously injured

"Sophie and Rob were young and happy together and at that age, you sometimes think nothing bad can ever happen to you. I've been there myself.

"They may not have been able to conceive that anyone could be so cruel. I'm sure they had no idea what hit them at first. It appears they had virtually no chance to react or defend themselves."

The attack happened only moments after the pair had a "good-natured" conversation with other youngsters in the park.

Mr Varney started a petition to expand the definition of hate crime and has gathered more than 4,000 signatures.

"I would say I get some sort of abuse most days, whether alone or with friends. Some might be light-hearted, but it's never fully good-natured.

Memorial bench

"People think that we dress like this just to stand out. We might stand out, but it's not to shock. It's a choice and we like it - it's more about what we want to be for ourselves, than anything else.

"Sophie's death has made people think and I have heard of teenagers, especially girls, modifying the way they dress when they walk though certain areas."

Martin 'Oldgoth' Coles, a prominent music DJ on the Whitby Gothic scene instigated the memorial project and organised the fund-raising for Sophie's bench, which is marked with the words: "An angel too soon."

Mr Varney will speak at its official unveiling in Whitby on 26 April.

"Sophie's body is not there, but we like to think her spirit is," he said.

"Whatever you believe in, her memory will always last in this place."

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10 Mar 08 |  Lancashire

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