Activism

Justice For Nicole Smallman & Bibaa Henry's Family Must Involve Real Structural Change

Early signs suggest that the investigation into Nicole and Bibaa’s deaths was woefully mishandled.

Bustle Creative Team

On June 6 2020, sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were found stabbed to death in Fryent Country Park, Wembley. Just hours before, they were pictured celebrating Bibaa's 46th birthday with friends. While news of their murder was tragic enough, it was later reported that two police officers had taken "non-official and inappropriate photographs'' at the crime scene. The officers then sent these images on to other people. Nicole and Bibaa's family has said that their case wasn’t taken seriously from the start and racial stereotyping played a part in the mishandling of it. A petition has since been created calling for formal criminal charges against the two police officers under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

Early signs suggest that the investigation into Nicole and Bibaa’s deaths was woefully mishandled by the police officers involved, not only in terms of the alleged misconduct at the crime scene, but the inertia the family experienced when they first reported the women missing. The alleged bungling of this case appears to be a direct result of systematic racism that still persists in the UK's police force today.

Here’s a timeline of what’s happened with Bibaa and Nicole’s case, plus what you can do to help in the fight for justice for them.

What Happened To Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry?

On June 5 at around 7 p.m., 27-year-old photographer Nicole attended a birthday gathering for her half sister Bibaa, a social worker, in Fryent Country Park, North London. They were with friends, celebrating and images have since been released by the police of the sisters dancing with fairy lights in their hands. It’s been reported that they stayed out later than everyone else, their contact with family and friends happening at 1.05 a.m.

Speaking to the Guardian, DCI Simon Harding, who is leading the murder inquiry, said, “They were in good spirits and taking selfie pictures, listening to music and dancing with fairy lights until at least 1.13 a.m.” Police have said that the sisters failed to answer phone calls from 2.30 a.m.

When Nicole and Bibaa didn’t return home, their family reported them missing on June 6. However, it wasn’t until roughly 1 p.m. on June 7 that Nicole's boyfriend found both her and Bibaa's bodies in the park. It’s believed that their murderer was a male stranger and the sisters died in the early hours of June 6. Nicole's boyfriend also found a knife, and a post-mortem examination stated multiple stab wounds was the cause of death of both women.

The Police Investigation

Adam, Nicole's boyfriend, found the bodies of the two sisters after their mother coordinated her own search to find them. Bibaa and Nicole's mother Mina told the BBC that the Met Police didn’t immediately respond when she made it known that Nicole and Bibaa were missing.

In the days following Adam's discovery, the police began searching the relevant areas, including a pond, to find evidence. They reported trawling "through hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubbish" that was accidentally cleared from the scene, according to BBC reports. On June 12, Detective Chief Inspector Simon Harding confirmed "with some certainty" that the women "were murdered by someone who was unknown to them."

Speaking about what she thinks is behind the Met's initial lack of motivation to act, Mina told the BBC: "I knew instantly why they didn't care. They didn't care because they looked at my daughter's address and thought they knew who she was. A Black woman who lives on a council estate."

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has since launched an investigation into what happened with this case and will examine if the search for the two sisters after they were reported missing was bungled. Part of the investigation will be "examining whether the officers’ actions were motivated or influenced by race discrimination," Sal Naseem, the IOPC Regional Director for London, told the Guardian.

Police officers, detectives, and forensic officers are still searching for evidence in this case. They’ve appealed to anyone who may have seen them on the night that they died to come forward with whatever information they have by calling 020 8721 4205, texting 101 or tweeting @MetCC and quoting CAD 3160/7Jun. Or information can be provided online via this link.

The Photographs

For Nicole and Bibaa's family, the horrifying experience of losing their loved ones was compounded by a revelation made in the days afterwards. It has been reported that photographs were allegedly taken by two police officers at the crime scene where the bodies were found. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have since said the pictures were allegedly "shared with a small number of others" – including members of the public.

Speaking about this to the BBC, Mina, said: "Those police officers dehumanised our children," she said, adding that news of the photographs took their grief "to another place."

She continued:

"If ever we needed an example of how toxic it has become, those police officers felt so safe, so untouchable, that they felt they could take photographs of dead Black girls and send them on. It speaks volumes of the ethos that runs through the Metropolitan Police."

The allegations about the photographs will form a large part of the IPOC's investigation into this case as they examine what exactly happened and whether the actions taken were motivated by prejudice.

The Met has released a statement stating that “these are very serious allegations and the [Metropolitan Police Service] has been and will continue to provide every possible support to the IOPC investigation team as they work to establish the facts.” Leading figures at the Met have also publicly condemned the alleged behaviour of the two officers, as has the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who said: "Londoners will be undoubtedly disgusted by these sickening allegations and I am deeply concerned about the impact this will no doubt have on the victims’ family, friends and the wider community."

What Has Happened To The Two Officers Involved?

It’s now been confirmed by Scotland Yard that on June 22 the unnamed officers were suspended from duty and arrested by the IOPC on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. They have since been bailed to a later date, pending further enquiries.

Has The Killer Been Arrested?

On July 1, there was finally some good news for the family, as it was reported that an 18-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of murdering Bibaa and Nicole. However, at the time of writing (June 1), no other information has been provided.

What Can You Do To Help?

While police have arrested a man their suspect of murdering the two sisters, the investigations into the crime itself and the police officers' handling of the case (including the alleged photographs) are still ongoing.

One important thing you can do is raise awareness about Nicole and Bibaa's case by sharing information on social media and talking to people in your life about it. This will help to apply pressure on the Met and the IPOC to get to the bottom of what happened.

Nicole and Bibaa's family have set up a petition to call for formal criminal charges to be brought against the two officers who allegedly took and distributed the photographs so “these officers are never given an opportunity to disrespect anyone ever again in the way that they have our two girls.” Those who wish to sign it can do so here.

You can also write to your MP about this case and ask them to act on behalf of their constituents who want to see justice for Nicole, Bibaa, and their family.