How Sophie Lancaster murder was inspiration behind Coronation Street's Nina Lucas and Seb Franklin hate crime storyline

CORONATION Street fans were left heartbroken after seeing Seb Franklin and Nina Lucas viciously attacked by Corey Brent and his gang of drunken mates in Wednesday night's episode.

And things took a much darker turn in the ITV soap on Friday as Seb died from the brutal injuries he got as a result of the hate crime.

But, while Seb and Nina's horrific ordeal is fictional, the same, sadly, can't be said for Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby – whose tragic story inspired the Corrie storyline.

Tragic Sophie was a 20-year-old gap-year student from Lancashire who was beaten to death in an unprovoked attack in 2007, purely because of the way she dressed.

On 11th August 2007, she and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were viciously and mercilessly assaulted by a group of youths, while walking through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Rossendale.

The aggressors had initially attacked Sophie’s boyfriend Robert, and when he was unconscious, Sophie cradling his head on her lap, they began a sustained and brutal attack on her.

The pair received serious head injuries with their faces left so swollen the police could not ascertain which one was female and which one was male.

Robert's injuries left him in a coma and with internal bleeding. He gradually recovered, but had lost memory of the time leading up to, and during, the attack.

But Sophie’s injuries were so severe, she died in hospital 13 days later.

A mother's heartbreak

Sylvia Lancaster came up with the idea for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation while her daughter was lying in her hospital bed.

She said: "I was furious that people are so intolerant of people who look different and decided that when she was better, Sophie would come into schools with me and they’d see her, and they’d see she was lovely and just a normal person and they’d get it.

"They’d see how difference is nothing to be afraid of, it’s just what makes us all who we are.

"When we lost her, I was even more determined that this work was needed. So, it’s what we do.”

Targeted for being goths

Sophie and Robert's families described the couple as “goths” and said: “They’re both intelligent, sensitive kids.

“They’re not the sort of people to get in trouble, but they have had problems in the past because they stand out.”

And police claimed the attack was linked to the couple wearing gothic fashion and being members of the goth subculture.

During the hearing, the prosecution said: “Sophie and Robert were singled out not for anything they had said or done, but because they looked and dressed differently.”

Teenage killers

Although it's believed up to 15 people could have been involved, Lancashire Police arrested five teenage boys in connection with the attack and they were later charged with Sophie’s murder.

At the beginning of the trial on March 10 2008, all five boys pleaded guilty to the charge of grievous bodily harm with intent.

Ryan Herbert, then 15 years old, pleaded guilty to murder, while a 16-year-old Brendan Harris pleaded not guilty to murder. The murder charges against the other three – two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old who were kept anonymous – were dropped.

Consequently, Brendan Harris was found guilty of murder, and the judge allowed the names of both Brendan and Ryan to be made public to make an example of them – despite anonymity being automatic for under-16s in court in order to protect them.

Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell of Lancashire Police said it was one of the most violent murders he had come across in his career.

He said: "I do not think Herbert and Harris have recognised how violent the attack was.

"They have just done it without thinking, but they seemed to have enjoyed it, and carried on remorselessly kicking at two very defenceless people who were unable to protect themselves because of the level of violence inflicted upon them … I am very critical of some of the parents involved.

"I really don't think they have taken completely seriously how repulsive this incident was".

Judge Anthony Russell QC, who presided over Sophie’s murder trial, recognised the attack as a hate crime, “equal to all other strands of hate”.

He described the attack as "feral thuggery" and said: "I am satisfied that the only reason for this wholly unprovoked attack was that Robert Maltby and Sophie Lancaster were singled out for their appearance alone because they looked and dressed differently from you and your friends.”

He also described the Goth community as "perfectly peaceful law-abiding people who pose no threat to anybody".

The only reason for this wholly unprovoked attack was that Robert Maltby and Sophie Lancaster were singled out for their appearance alone

Both Brendan Harris and Ryan Herbert were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The trial judge recommended that Brendan Harris should serve at least 18 years, and Ryan Herbert at least sixteen years and three months.

Brothers Joseph and Danny Hulme, and Daniel Mallett, were jailed but have since served their time.

Moving on

The grief following the death of his long-term girlfriend led to Robert quitting his art degree in Manchester. However, he now works as an artist and freelance illustrator who produced a haunting collection of artworks in Sophie’s memory.

He’s found love since the tragedy and is now engaged.

Meanwhile, Sylvia says she hopes her daughter Sophie would be proud of her for using the biggest soap on television to tell her and Robert's story – especially as they used to sit down and watch Corrie together.

Speaking exclusively to The Sun, Sylvia told how Sophie's favourite character on the cobbles was eco-warrior Spider Nugent.

She said: "Sophie loved him, she absolutely loved him. We used to laugh about him.

“She liked the way he looked, the way he dressed, his moral values. She liked the whole package really.

“I don’t know what she’d think of me advising the producers. I’d like to think she’d be proud.”

Heartbreaking and dramatic

Corrie producer Iain MacLeod has explained why he felt now was the right time to focus on hate crime on the cobbles.

He said: “The issue of intolerance and hatred towards people from different cultures and subcultures is arguably more relevant now than it’s ever been.

“This incredibly hard-hitting storyline, which centres on a senseless act of violence, will draw in characters from all corners of our narrative universe and will, we hope, leave the audience with a clear message: everyone, regardless of how they look, how they dress or any aspect of how they live their life, should be treated with tolerance and respect.”

He added: “The story will run across the rest of the year and beyond, with many twists and turns, and will be heartbreaking and dramatic in equal measure.

“In the end, the story will see an optimistic outcome emerge from the traumatic attack.”

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