Murder #26, Gagandip Singh, Blackheath
The body of Gagandip Singh, 21, was found in the boot of a burnt out car in Blackheath, south London, in the early hours of February 26, 2011. Police officers on patrol came across the Mercedes C-class on fire in Angerstein Lane. Tests later revealed the victim suffered severe head injuries and was still alive when the car was set alight. Three 19 year olds were charged with the murder, Mundill Mahil, Harvinder Singh Shoker, and Darren Peters. The prosecution claimed that Mahil plotted to murder Mr Singh after he tried to sexually assault her in August 2010. Shortly after arriving at Mahil’s house in Brighton he was attacked by Shoker and Peters. Gagandip was beaten unconscious, wrapped in a duvet, put into the boot of the Mercedes and driven to Blackheath. Petrol was poured over the vehicle and set alight. On February 24, 2012, Shoker was convicted of murder and Peters was convicted of manslaughter. Mahil was cleared of murder but convicted of wounding with intent. On February 29 Shoker was jailed for life with a minimum of 22 years before parole. Peters was jailed for 12 years while Mahil was jailed for six years.
‘An urban myth is that Blackheath was associated with the 1665 Plague or the Black Death of the mid-14th century. The idea that Blackheath got its name from its use as a burial pit goes all the way back to the medieval period, when it was almost certainly used for the disposal of the dead during the ‘Black Death’. So says Wikipedia about Blackheath near where Gagandip Singh’s burnt body was found. Disposed of and burned in a car after being beaten badly.
I exited Blackheath station and made the long walk over Blackheath open fields, north to Angerstein Lane. The Lane is hidden behind the grand houses that overlook Blackheath from the north side. The Lane is unpaved, really its a dirt track, and would be almost invisible except for its local residents. Beneath a blackened tree laid the flowers and candles that marked the spot where Singh died. The charred tree stood out from the moss tinged trees that stood all around it. The burned Mercedes car had been taken away and I could see that the night before there had been a candlelight vigil at the spot. I cursed myself for not having shown up a day earlier. I craved to photograph people for this project and still felt uneasy photographing landscapes devoid of walking living human beings. And yet it also filled me with a lot of dread having to confront people in the midst of mourning. Beyond the murder it was also strange to be surrounded by grand houses that were really mansions in another area. Some had been chopped up into flats but the area still felt extremely wealthy. Poverty did not lurk as it had in the previous images I had made. Only couples, mostly middle aged, walked by in what seem to be a daly routine, sometimes with a dog in tow, as I photographed. I made photographs of the candles that were arranged to spell “Gagandip”, the flowers but I settled on a photograph that showed the quiet dirt track lined with trees. I walked back to Blackheath Station crossing the Heath really wondering if there were mass graves beneath my feet filled with victims of the Black Death. It does seem that open spaces in London, many of them beautiful, have dark secrets beneath them. They all seem to have an alternative history to their present day use as parks and play areas.
Weeks and months went by and the murder of Gagandip Singh would get a lot of press. The fact that it involved a beautiful young woman and a honeytrap plot seemed to thrill some parts of the media. The whole case seemed scripted by cliches of what murder is. Jealousy, sex, violence, kidnapping, a nice car and the murder site deemed it an interesting story. The murder even made news in India and all parts of the Asian Press. One of my Asian neighbours in North London seemed quite abreast of facts about the case. It had a lot of soap opera elements. The girl in question, Mundill Mahill, got most of the attention even though she was given the smallest punishment for her role. The whole story seemed to revolve around her character. Very much like the Amanda Knox case.It went against the grain of most of the murder cases I photographed. Most of the victims whose stories I came to know remained anonymous, whose deaths in all its elements seemed mundane or unexciting to be covered by the press. Nothing to hang a witty headline on.