The murderer who's opening a youth centre

Image caption,
Stephen Mellor was 18 when he was arrested over the murder of John Dookie

Stephen Mellor was jailed for the murder of a rival drug dealer in February 1997. Now out of prison, he wants to set up a youth centre and prevent other children repeating his mistakes. Here he describes the childhood in Preston that led to him becoming a convicted killer.

I was born in Preston, grew up in Preston, five minutes from the city centre. I had five older brothers, five older sisters, all in a three-bedroom house. From a young age I wanted to be a fireman. Unfortunately, the path I took led me far, far away from that.

Mum and dad worked hard but couldn't provide everything because there were so many of us. I wore my older brothers' shoes and clothes, so there were a few issues growing up with people bullying at school. They'd call you a tramp, but I never fought back.

Then one day, I was only 13 and this lad in the year above was giving me grief. I snapped, gave him two punches and he was out cold. That was me expelled from school at 13 years old.

But I had learnt I could fight. People started giving me respect. So, I was fighting more.

No-one ever knocked on the door and said "he needs to go back to school". So, every day, I'd get up, have something to eat, walk into town.

The next day was the same. From age 13 to 17 I used to hang around the St George's shopping centre. Meet other kids. See what we could do to make money.

There was no path, no direction. It were just that circle, day after day. How can I explain it? It's like a noose.

People called us Townies. If other gangs came into town, we'd end up fighting. You'd go down alleys and have scraps, or you'd rob them in the street.

I was known for my fighting. I got done for biting people's noses off, people's ears off. Twice, I got sent to prison. One was a section 18, which is wounding with intent, and the other one was a section 20, which is malicious wounding.

Image caption,
Outside the house, situated above the shops, where Stephen Mellor grew up

I used to fight a lot of men when I was younger. People got to hear your name and wanted to test it.

We started drug dealing. We just needed to make money and obviously we weren't employed. So we started selling ecstasy tablets and then I got approached by a friend of a friend, asking if I wanted to sell heroin.

He supplied us heroin at a cheap rate, so we were charging half as much as other dealers and still making good money.

I was 17, dealing all over Preston. We had a mobile and we'd write down our number, pass it out and that was it. Every heroin addict in Preston wanted to come to me because they got double. We'd have three, four hundred pounds a week each, cash.

Only, it led to the murder.

John Dookie was also dealing heroin with his mates, but we were undercutting them. They got hold of our phone number from a heroin user, asked to meet us and told us to stop dealing, which we never did. Then it escalated.

One night in February 1997, I was watching a Mike Tyson fight and walked home through their area. I got into a fight with them. That night we went back to their house, climbed over the wall and attacked them. I had a hammer, my mate Tony Kirk had a knife, he stabbed John in the leg. A few days later, John was in a car that tried to run Tony down.

On 14 February, John turned up on my doorstep and said he wanted to speak to Tony. We arranged to meet, but when Tony came round he asked me: "Where's the knife?"

I knew he was capable of using it, but I handed it over.

We met John and we all got into a fight in St Peter's Street in Preston. John staggered off, I went after him and sat him down. He said 'I've been stabbed'. I waved a police car down and said he needed help, then left.

Image source, Lancashire Constabulary
Image caption,
Stephen Mellor, left, at the time of his arrest in 1997 and John Dookie, who was murdered

It wasn't me that physically stabbed John, but I got done for murder under joint enterprise. At that time, I was 18 years old and didn't understand the half of it. Most of what they said in court I didn't follow. Now I know joint enterprise means if you go out with someone to commit a crime, then you can all get held responsible for what happens.

So we all got done. I'll never fight it, though, because I'm guilty.

Not a day goes by where I don't regret what happened. I know John's brother Rob Dookie said he can't forgive us for the murder. I know he says we've never said sorry to his family for what happened.

I would have loved to apologise so many times but I'm not allowed contact with John's family. I can't imagine what they feel or think of me and I can't blame them, to be honest. But I'm not going to forget what happened.

Image caption,
St Peter's Street in Preston, where John Dookie was murdered

It's the smell that hits you first in prison. You've got three or five hundred lads together. All the testosterone and sweat. Then the prison officers want the landings clean, so you get all the chemical smells as well.

Prison's not easy. I got arrested in '97, I lost my brother in March '98 - he drowned in the Navy. My best friend killed himself while I was in prison. My nan also died as well.

There's funny stuff you miss. You'll have flashbacks to the taste of McDonalds. Going into a newsagents in the morning. Stepping in dog poo - you never see dog poo in prison.

I remember my mum saying to me in court: "If you want to see your dad alive outside of prison you need to start sorting your head out". My dad's my best mate but he was knocking on a bit.

My first son was also born just before I was sentenced. I thought I might not get to spend time with both of them outside again, so I needed to turn my life around.

I couldn't read or write when I went into prison but you get a good set of teachers in there and if you show them that you want to sort things out, they'll help you. Every night, I'd go back to my cell and practise my handwriting.

My girlfriend at the time would bring my son to visit me and he used to say things like: "When can dad come home?" That keeps you on the straight and narrow.

I did diplomas in personal training and sports psychology while I was in prison. I got a level 3 qualification in engineering, English and maths, which is like an A-level. I also spent a lot of time with the psychologists. They make you go back to your offence and tell them what you were thinking and feeling at the time. It breaks you down. It strips you right down to your heart.

Image caption,
Stephen Mellor in Preston, where he was born, committed a murder and now hopes to open a youth centre

There's two ways to go in prison, the right way and the wrong way. Put your head down, do your books and your sentence will pass. The other way is getting angry, doing drugs. I'd still be in there if I'd done that.

I got parole after 14-and-a-half years, which was the minimum the judge recommended, so I got out of prison in 2011. Tony's out as well now.

It's an amazing feeling, the day you step out of prison. You're flying. You can't wait to get home. You can have a mobile phone and sleep in your own bed. Eat what you want. You can step in dog poo again.

After being released, I was giving a talk at some conference organised by Timpson, the cobblers, who do a lot of work with ex-cons. Some guy approached me and said 'Would you come and give a talk to some kids?' I said 'Of course'.

Afterwards, they asked me to come work with them, so I got my CRB check and I went to work as a support tutor in Preston.

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I was working with a lot of the worst kids in Preston. They're beautiful kids and no-one sees it, all they see is the cheek and the bravado. They live on these estates where there's nowhere for them to go, no activities for them to do, it's just a dead end for them.

Some of them, I know I've turned their lives around.

There's one lad that the police could not control, he'd been done for carrying knives and had no qualms about using one. I took him boxing and he absolutely loved it. Then he came to me one day and opened up. He said: "We're going for a gang fight tonight."

I told him to look at my past. "I've wasted my life but you've got a chance," I told him. "Don't be sitting in a cell when your mates are going to Ibiza. Don't be sitting in a cell when your mates are going to big football games. Don't be sitting in a cell when your mates are going out and meeting girls."

I told him to come with me that night and do some boxing. He didn't go to the gang fight. He's now in full-time work.

Image source, Supplied
Image caption,
Stephen Mellor and some of the young people with whom he has worked since his release from prison

I want to open a youth centre in Preston. We're going to offer a safe place and people who listen.

My business partner's Barry Hastewell. Growing up, me and him were both lads around town, we both had reputations. He did four years for conspiracy to supply cocaine, so between us we've served almost 20 years in prison. But we're both different now. He runs a skip business and he's got a coffee shop, a bar and a lap dancing club in town.

We've got a building. We're about to pick up the keys. Barry's invested some money and we've applied for grants. To start with, it will be me and Barry and my wife Sammy working there. She's put up with me for seven years so she knows how to deal with people who've been through hardship.

Image source, Supplied
Image caption,
Stephen Mellor on the day of his wedding to Sammy

In Preston, the reaction to us opening a youth centre has been about 98% very supportive. I've had a few negative comments. I've had people say: "I wouldn't let my child go there with a murderer." I just say my past is my past, I'll never forgive myself and I just hope their children don't end up needing our help.

Kids are being let down at the moment. You can't go to a university and learn how to speak to these kids. They can't tell the teacher at school because the teachers haven't walked that path.

They can't tell the police. They can't tell people in authority. There's always a trust issue. But we can relate to what these kids are going through. I want them to know that I've been in their shoes. I can help them because I understand.

Image caption,
Stephen Mellor outside the property in Preston where he plans to set up a youth centre

It's not just Preston though. There's so many troubled kids out there, all over the country. It's generation after generation. Living in certain estates, falling in with gangs.

They feel there's no way out, but I want to show them that there is if they want it. I threw my life away for stupidity, I see that every morning. But if I let that negativity drag me down it would be for nothing. It's about turning that negative into a positive.

I feel like I lost my path for a little while, but I am at peace with myself now. I've got a family that support me, I've got a good relationship with my eldest son, who was born while I was in prison. I've got a target that I'm working towards.

I'll never ask for forgiveness. All I'm asking for is the chance to make people's lives better. That's all I'm asking for.

As told to Dan Box

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