A crowdfunded appeal has been launched today to create a lasting memorial to two gay men who were savagely attacked – and one murdered – in Central Park more than 25 years ago.
The collective organisation Pride in Plymouth and the city’s first openly gay MP, Luke Pollard, have jointly launched a Crownfunder appeal to ensure Terry Sweet and Bernard Hawken are not just remembered, but celebrated.
The two men were subject of a savage and ignorant homophobic attack by three teenage thugs on the evening of November 6, 1995.
Terry Sweet lost his life the following morning due to the attack and Bernard Hawken was left with brain damage, life-changing injuries and confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
Their attackers – two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old were later convicted of Terry’s murder and given life sentences.
The attacks left the city in shock and the gay community – already relatively hidden – increasingly fearful. As details emerged many found it hard to understand how three seemingly ordinary young boys could launch attacks so savage and brutal that local media felt unable to publish details of the assaults.
Both noted how the horrific incident galvanised the LGBT+ community in Plymouth which until that point had remained all but hidden and silent.
They both hoped that a suitable tribute could be created which not only remembered the men, but also celebrated how far the city had come since the November 1995.
The crowdfunding appeal aims to raise £500 for a plaque on the restored bench in Central Park and the planting of a mature willow tree in memory of Terry and Bernard to fund a dedication event when lockdown restrictions finally allow.
The appeal – launched today – also includes a £500 stretch target and, should this be reached, Pride in Plymouth will create a bespoke educational programme to address hate towards LGBT+ people in Plymouth.
Luke Pollard MP, Plymouth’s first out MP, said: “This attack shocked our city with its brutality and in the reaction. This appeal will create a fitting and appropriate memorial to Terry and Bernard that remembers them as people rather than one that remembers Terry’s murder.
“I know Plymouth’s LGBT+ community will support this appeal and I hope it can be delivered this side of Easter with the support of our city.”
Dr Alan Butler from Pride in Plymouth said: “This story is a difficult and painful one to tell as part of our LGBT+ heritage in the city.
“We’re very aware of the sensitivities for the family and friends but as a community we feel we need to remember and acknowledge these two men and their loss while also hopefully looking at the distance that’s been travelled since the time of the murder and what the next steps may be.”
The crowdfunder can be found at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/centralparkmemorial
The murder changed Plymouth forever
It was a brutal and horrific murder that left the whole city in shock and forced Plymouth’s underground gay scene into the spotlight for the first time.
The callous murder of Terry Sweet and brutal beating of Bernard ‘Bernie’ Hawken was carried out by three teenage thugs in Plymouth’s Central Park on November 6, 1995.
The scene of the vicious crime, a shelter in the park, was a well-known meeting place for homosexual men at the time.
The three out-of-control teens – of whom was the son of a top lawyer – inflicted injuries so bad on their victims that The Herald has always chosen not to report the full details.
Both men had their faces crushed as they were held face downwards and repeatedly stamped on.
Their genitals were stabbed and mutilated with a craft knife.
Mr Sweet, aged 64, was tortured and left to die.
Bernard (Bernie) Hawken, 53 at the time, suffered brain damage and was left in a wheelchair.
All three – Richard Bownes, then aged 18, Roberto Pace, 18, and Stuart Smith, 19 – were later convicted of the murder and given life sentences.
The gang came from well-off families
The gang, all of whom came from well-off families and had been to grammar schools in Plymouth, had spent the evening each drinking up to two litres of Liebfraumilch, smoking cannabis, taking valium and sniffing butane.
One of the trio told police he watched Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction before heading out that evening.
Then they went on a gay-bashing expedition.
A jury found that they had held down their victims, brutally kicked and stamped on them and slashed them with a Stanley knife in what was described as a “chillingly sadistic” attack.
Nobody will ever know the killer trio’s motives.
But they had been on a drink and drugs binge that night, before picking on the defenceless men.
Pace – who had previously blinded a man in the eye during a fight in the same spot – said he was “spaced out” on a cocktail of booze, cannabis and pills when he and his pals went to Central Park.
He claimed Mr Sweet “tried to rape him” in the shelter and that all three attacked him after he “made a grab” for the youngster.
Pace would later accept he was responsible for slashing and stabbing the two men and that his friends eventually pulled him off the pair.
He would tell a murder trial that he found the attack “almost too horrible to think about”.
The teenager denied he had gone out “intent on a bit of queer-bashing” and looking for “sadistic fun”.
He told the jury he had “just flipped out” and had no recollection of inflicting the injuries on the pair. Read the full story here.