'Have I just walked past his killer?': How it feels when your son is stabbed to death and no one is brought to justice

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·5 min read
Michelle and JJ McPhillips. JJ was stabbed to death in 2017. The case remains unsolved. (Michelle McPhillips)
Michelle and JJ McPhillips. JJ was stabbed to death in 2017. The case remains unsolved. (Michelle McPhillips)

For Michelle McPhillips, it’s the simple tasks that bring back the horrors of her son’s unsolved knife killing three-and-a-half years ago.

Simple tasks such as cooking a roast dinner.

“There’s many a time I’ve stood in the kitchen with a roll of beef and tried to stick a knife in it,” she says. “You have to put some force in when you’re trying to get a knife in a piece of flesh.

“When JJ was stabbed, the knife broke his fifth rib, went through the heart and pierced the left lung. The impact of that upward thrust is amazing when you sit and think about it.

“So the impact of that strike is forever troubling.”

No one held accountable

Jonathon “JJ” McPhillips was stabbed while on a night out in Islington, north London, in February 2017.

JJ, described as a “lover, not a fighter”, had intervened after a fight erupted involving a boy he knew.

He suffered three cardiac arrests and sustained severe brain damage. His life support machine was switched off three days later.

JJ was 28. He had two daughters described as his “best friends” who “would follow him everywhere”.

His mother is speaking to Yahoo News UK two years to the day since a murder trial into his death collapsed.

Michelle McPhillips and her son, JJ. (Michelle McPhillips)
Michelle McPhillips and her son, JJ. (Michelle McPhillips)

Michael Dyra, then 22, was due to stand trial at the Old Bailey on 6 August, 2018, but the court heard there was “no realistic prospect of a conviction” due to an issue with facial mapping evidence in the case.

Prosecutors entered no evidence and all charges were dropped.

Three-and-a-half years since JJ gasped his last word – “mum” – to McPhillips as she sat beside him in an ambulance, no one has been held accountable for his death.

‘Justice system has failed me’

According to the Metropolitan Police’s homicide dashboard, 27 homicides from 2017 remain unsolved.

“The fact no one has been caught for my son’s killing shows me a failing in the justice system of Great Britain,” McPhillips says.

“It gives me no hope that if anyone in this country commits a crime, they are going to be caught for it.

“There were plenty of witnesses, plenty of people around that night [JJ was stabbed in Upper Street, Islington’s popular shopping, restaurant and nightlife destination]. I don’t feel the whole case has been conducted as well as it could have been from the moment of the impact.

A police officer at the scene on Upper Street in Islington, north London, close to where a man was stabbed to death.
Police at the scene of the stab death of Marcel Campbell in Upper Street, Islington, in May 2018. He was killed across the road from where JJ McPhillips was knifed in February 2017. (PA)

“It shows me a failing, all over, in the whole system.”

McPhillips divides her time between Clacton-on-Sea and Islington. It’s when she’s walking in the streets of Islington that she is haunted by her son’s unsolved case.

“I’m thinking to myself: ‘Have I just walked past my son’s killer?’ I believe I know the person who murdered my son, I believe I’ve looked in that person’s eyes and spoke to that person.

“But I need the justice system to get behind me and help to prove, 100%, that’s who it was.”

‘I can’t get past the brutality’

Islington has a wealthy image. In the past, Boris Johnson has lived in houses close to the scene of JJ’s stabbing. Rich people, from barristers to actors, populate the borough’s plush Georgian townhouses.

At the same time, this is a misleading image. There are also pockets of huge deprivation in Islington, a place which has long-standing issues of violent crime.

Fifteen months after JJ died, another young man – 30-year-old Marcel Campbell – was stabbed to death across the road from where JJ was knifed.

Last month, 22-year-old Imani Allaway-Muir was shot dead in broad daylight, and near a children’s playground, less than a mile away.

Imani Allaway-Muir was killed less than a mile away from JJ last month. (Met Police)
Imani Allaway-Muir was killed less than a mile away from JJ last month. (Met Police)

Campbell’s killer, Reece Williams, is currently serving a 12-year jail sentence for manslaughter. Meanwhile, four men have been charged with murdering Allaway-Muir.

McPhillips, by contrast, remains in agonising limbo while JJ’s killer, or killers, continue to walk free.

Of the impact it continues to have on her life, McPhillips says: “You never have a normal life, you’ve lost your child.

“Because of the brutality of the actual incident, that’s the part I can’t get past. My son wasn’t that type of person, didn’t live that type of street life. Therefore he didn’t deserve that brutality.”

Michelle McPhillips says the justice system has 'failed' her as JJ's killing remains unsolved. (Michelle McPhillips)
Michelle McPhillips says the justice system has 'failed' her as JJ's killing remains unsolved. (Michelle McPhillips)

His young daughters are also unable to process his death.

“They still ask questions,” McPhillips says.

“Last night, I was on the beach with his five-year-old. We had a full moon. It lit up the sea and she said ‘my daddy has lit up the sea’. We get little sayings like that all the time, and that’s the heartbreak.

“They are growing up trying to puzzle together why somebody robbed them of their father.”