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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Garden for Aston shooting girls
By Andrew Dawkins
BBC News, Birmingham

Beverley Thomas and Marcia Shakespeare
Beverley Thomas and Marcia Shakespeare have watched it grow
More than three years after a shooting that shocked the country, the families of the teenage victims sit quietly at a new garden "to feel at peace".

This tranquil oasis in Newtown, Birmingham, is far removed from the devastating scene where the two girls died at a New Year's party in Aston.

Veteran TV newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald officially opened the garden on Wednesday in a high-profile ceremony as a tribute to the pair.

Singer Beverley Knight was another famous guest of honour and performed two songs in memory of Charlene Ellis, 18, and 17-year-old Letisha Shakespeare.

They were two peaceful girls
Beverley Thomas, Charlene's mother

They died as gangsters fired bullets into a crowd of party-goers outside a hair salon. Four men have since been jailed for their murder.

Their families see the colourful open space as a positive move forward, after a year's hard work.

They chose the roses at the centre of the tribute, which is next to an existing organic garden.

But much of the spectacular sight is made up of hundreds of individually-crafted tiles.

As many as 16 members of the families helped to make tiles - something which has brought them closer together.

Design
The design includes the names of the girls

Charlene's mother, Beverley Thomas, said: "They were two peaceful girls.

"Sometimes in the day, when you are shopping, you wish you had somewhere to go to be at peace.

"You don't get time to reflect - only when you go to bed at night.

"I feel at peace when I sit here. It's very calm. I hope people could live in peace and harmony to make the world a better place."

While many people have contributed, the overall design is based on the Romanesque and Gothic traditions of continental Europe.

'Square one'

It now forms the centrepiece of the St George's Post 16 Centre site, which is run by an education charity which came up with the peace garden idea.

Ms Thomas added: "After the court case, I felt I was able to focus on something else for a change.

We know the girls are looking down at us
Marcia Shakespeare, Letisha's mother

"It made me feel happy inside to feel someone wanted to do something positive for the girls.

"It's a nice gesture, but when you sit and think what the reason (for it) is, you go back to square one again."

However, the mothers stress it is not just for one family. The memorial can also help the community to gather their thoughts, as the general public can visit it on specific days.

Letisha's mother, Marcia Shakespeare, said: "In 2003 when the girls got killed a lot of negative (press) came out of what happened. But the girls were not involved in gang culture.

"They were just ordinary girls doing ordinary things. Now this is something positive.

Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis
Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis were shot in January 2003

"The pain gets easier but it never goes away. As far as we're concerned, we still live a prison sentence, because the girls will never return again.

"So even though we do many positive things, basically it still haunts us. We still live with the fear."

While the families and the community have played their part, the inspiration for the 50ft (15m) wide design came from Paul Williamson, who has been out in all weathers building it.

He said: "The initial sketch was a rough idea - a five-minute doodle on a miserable day on grey concrete slabs.

"But it's become more decorative than the original idea."

Ms Shakespeare added: "We know the girls are looking down at us and saying 'well yeah our mums are still carrying on'. But it's very emotional for us."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See the peace garden in Newtown



SEE ALSO
Aston shootings man loses appeal
28 Oct 05 |  West Midlands
Four guilty of New Year shootings
18 Mar 05 |  West Midlands

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