On New Year’s Eve 2007 the Longacre Tavern on London Road welcomed the New Year with a party that tragically ended with murder. It is one of the most notorious unsolved crimes to have happened in Bath. This is partly due to the twenty-five witnesses that never came forward, but mainly the poems that began to appear around the scene of the crime three months later.
Running from Paul Kelly
Now I will show how a few words can be made
As sharp and deadly as any boy’s blade
How running away will not you save
The truth is there like an open grave
You can wipe your bloody hands in the grass, till they bleed…
A defenceless man is dead and his blood’s gone cold
But the story of his end is going to be told
You can run and run until your shoes wear thin
And hope that you’re safe because of the colour of your skin
Paul Kelly lies dead, and who held the knife?
It was you, [name removed], we all saw take his life.
The New Year was but a short hour old
When you and your mates were: Oh, so bold
You put us to shame,
But we did the same
It was black on white, so it must be right
It was you who said:
‘He had it coming that night’
Then you ran away and we turned our backs
You said we would be next if we breathed a word
We took in your threats that now sound absurd
So we closed our eyes
And took in your lies
So where will you run when, at last, you face a brave man?
You gonna run once more through the streets, all a-quiver?
Will wash yourself down in the deep, deep river?
You, young [name removed], where you threw the knife,
Listen to what I say and take good heed,
You can wipe your bloody hands in the grass till they bleed…
But you will never, never get them clean.
The young male named in the poem was then arrested and tried, but found not guilty. As the poem suggests, a conflict between races was suspected.
I was able to speak with a man who – although was not present on the night – has a very strong connection to the story. He wishes to remain anonymous, but offered me an untold version of the events that took place on – and even months after the murder of Paul Kelly.
We sat down with our half lagers and, naturally he was suspicious of my intentions with his story. I assured him that I wouldn’t use his name and if he didn’t want to speak to me then he didn’t have to. This seemed to soften him up slightly. He took a swig of his drink, leaned in and began.
‘On New Year’s Eve I wasn’t there, but I do know the story. That night there was a good party at the pub, everybody was having a good time and the victim so to say – the person that fatally died – was in there with his friend, who we called Manchester, he was a stocky little guy. They’ve shifted him out of Bath now, but he lived up Snow Hill and I think they lived together. Well, them two started to have a bit of beef and Manchester ended up head-butting his friend. You know what it’s like – people were saying “Take that out of here! Take that out of here!” Because there was a lot of people having a good time, but these two guys were having an argument and that’s their business. Old Manchester only lived around the corner so he went off and come back. The next thing, there is this incident and his friend ended up being dead.’
From what he told me so far, I didn’t think there was enough reason for him to actually suspect Manchester of the stabbing. He never actually saw the events that took place on New Years Eve. I thought about picking him up on it, but before I could, he began to tell me about his own run in with Manchester that gave birth to his suspicions.
‘About two months after the dust settled and the cameras had gone, I’m working behind the bar (at the Longacre Tavern) and old Manchester comes down the pub. I said “Oi you, you’re banned.” I said “[The landlord] don’t want you in here, I’m not serving you, you got to leave.” He tried to have a little altercation with me and I said, “Look, get out or I’ll call the Police.” My friend was there at the time and he even said to Manchester, “Look, man you have to leave.” And then he went off. Manchester only comes back down the pub about ten minutes later with a massive carving knife.’
This description of the knife made something click in my mind. From reading about the murder, I know that the knife Paul Kelly was stabbed with was described as a carving knife. It was suspected that the knife had been thrown in the river Avon. Officers carried out a search, but no such knife has ever been found.
‘I’m not joking, after his friend (Paul Kelly) had just died, he come down with that. My friend was having a cigarette down the alleyway and before Manchester even got inside the pub, they had a scuff and he chucked the knife down. Now, my lady was coming to pick me up because I was finishing my shift and she said, “Look, there’s a fight going on out there.” So she goes out and she picked up the knife and bought it into the pub and I called the Police.’
He was about to carry on, but just before he did I asked him to describe the knife to me.
‘It was at least a foot long with a big blade and handle, just like a big knife in your kitchen. That’s what he bought down the pub to have a go at me because I’m telling him I won’t serve him.’
He took a sip of his drink and I saw his shoulders drop as he relaxed slightly. I felt that he was becoming more comfortable in my company and he proved this when he lowered his voice to nearly a whisper and continued.
‘I reckon I know exactly what happened on New Year’s Eve. I think the knife his friend got killed with was the knife he actually brought down there. They were the only two causing problems. No one else is going to come into the pub where everybody in there is friends and family and bring a carving knife! You just don’t do that on New Year’s Eve. It just didn’t happen in that pub, it’d been there for 35 years and it just didn’t happen.’
‘Was there anything about Manchester that made you suspicious of him before all of this happened?’ As he answered my question, he became much more animated. A frown spread across his face and he jabbed his forefinger on the table violently as he spoke.
‘I think the guy is psychotic and dangerous. I know he’s been done before for knife crimes, to the point where he’s cut somebody. The Police know about it – they moved him out of Bath. All you have to do is look at the guy’s history! He’s kidnapped people at knife point and it goes in so deep I’ve heard he’s even kidnapped someone and f***ing buggered the c**t.’
His outburst shocked me, but I appreciated his passion and honesty.
I wondered where he stood on the boy named in the poem, as when I began researching I was convinced he had done it. ‘What do you think about the fact that a boy from Larkhall was arrested?’
‘Although he was arrested for it, I don’t know if he ended up with the knife of if they tried to blame him. The person I think that brought the knife down was Manchester, the same person that brought a knife down two months after and I tell you what, I even accused him at the same time of it. Think about it, New Year’s Eve, you’ve got one Scottish person and one Mancunian bloke amongst a lot of West Indians. You would maybe feel out of place. I’d feel out of place if I was in a pub on New Year’s Eve and was one of the few white guys, but they were known in the community. Nobody had any malice or beef with them, if they had, they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.’
‘Do you think this was such a big story because it’s so rare to come across a crime like this in Bath?’
‘Absolutely. Who wants to carry knives around? In Bath everybody knows everybody, we all know the kids, their parents and all the parents know each other.’
I could tell he was very proud of the tight knit community in Bath, but he felt let down by this tragic event. ‘So would you say that most crimes are committed by outsiders?’
It’s only strangers that are going to come in and disturb the peace. They start to move in the most vulnerable people in society, who have no respect for the area and half the time they just bring it down, and they bring it down fast because they’ve got nothing to lose.’
The pub was obviously his thing to lose. From living in a family pub myself, I know it would have been the hub of the community, rather than just your average boozer. It would have held many memories for him and lots of other people in the community. ‘Do you think it was it this incident that caused the pub to close two years later?’
‘Well, yeah, it started to go downhill after that. People just gave it this bad name. It was such a shame. After 35 years of the landlord having that pub, I think it’s pretty good going for just one incident to have happened.’
I agreed with him. We both reflected over this and sipped at our nearly empty drinks. Another frown then crept across his forehead, much softer this time. He seemed to be concentrating so I did not interrupt him. The frown began to fade away as he told me what he had been trying to remember.
‘Y’know, if you went through Brixton many years ago, across the bridge they used to have a big sign saying: 95% of the crimes are committed by 5% of the people. I think it’s a similar story in Bath. 80% of the crimes that happen in Bath are committed by people from outside the city.’
From here, we didn’t speak anymore of the murder. We chatted and finished our drinks before saying goodbye. Although I cannot comment on what truly happened on New Year’s Eve, I now saw the story from the community’s point of view. Sadly, even six years later, this unsolved murder still hangs over the area like a black cloud.