Just 27 seconds of savagery left Charlie – and one of his killers – bleeding to death on a roadside. This chilling account exposes the sheer folly of Sadiq Khan's softly-softly stance on knife crime

Yesterday, the Mail began a three-part investigation into the scourge of knife crime in the capital. Not for five years has London seen such a rapid rise – up 20 per cent in a year, with some 14,500 incidents recorded.

Since Sadiq Khan first sought office as Mayor in 2016, promising to vastly reduce the use of ‘Stop and Search’ – the controversial police tactic that many regard as the most effective way to disarm gang members – knife crime has risen 54 per cent.

This week, Khan seeks a third term at City Hall, but his tough campaign talk on crime pales against a lamentable record.

In the second part of our landmark series, The Mail on Sunday examines a harrowing case that ended in two utterly pointless deaths, one of them the completely innocent teenager Charlie Bartolo…

Charlie Bartolo was stabbed to death in Abbey Wood south-west London after he was rammed off his dirt bike

Charlie was due to sit his GCSEs, after which he had lined up an apprenticeship as an electrician and plumber

Charlie was due to sit his GCSEs, after which he had lined up an apprenticeship as an electrician and plumber

On a Saturday afternoon in November 2022, just after 5pm, police in south-east London were confronted with the grimmest of puzzles – the bodies of two 16-year-old boys, less than a mile apart, both of whom had been stabbed.

‘It was very confusing for us at the start,’ says Detective Chief Inspector Kate Blackburn.

‘Separate 999 calls came in within six minutes of each other. We did not even know who had died first or if they were linked.’

Here we tell, minute by heartbreaking minute, the story that encapsulates the wickedness, futility and everyday nihilism of the gang violence Khan has failed so dismally to address…

Saturday morning November 26 2022

Charlie Bartolo is a loud, jokey boy of 16 with a quiff of blond hair who is always willing to play football with the young members of his extended family, or take them to the nearby lake. He’s popular at Bexley Heath Academy in Abbey Wood, south-east London, and is due to sit his GCSEs, after which he has lined up an apprenticeship as an electrician and plumber.

He spends Saturday at home with his mum Emma who describes him as her ‘pride and joy’.

Kearne Solanke, meanwhile, also wants to be an electrician. Sixteen as well, he has enrolled on an electrical installation course at college and been offered a supermarket job at Iceland.

He lives a ten-minute walk from Charlie in Thamesmead, also with his mum, as his father has returned to Nigeria. Solanke spends Saturday morning with his mum.


Solanke’s friends Hussain Bah and Alagie Jobe are driving a black Nissan Qashqai they had stolen the previous night. They are cousins, aged 19, whose family moved to the UK from The Gambia.

They stop to pick up a third friend Jake Debonsu, 17, who lives with his Ghanaian mum and five sisters. Bah and Jobe also come from large families and share bedrooms with their brothers.

As Bah drives, he feels the electronic tag rub his ankle, a reminder he is on post-conviction bail.

Since Sadiq Khan first sought office as Mayor in 2016, promising to vastly reduce the use of ‘Stop and Search’ knife crime has risen 54 per cent

Since Sadiq Khan first sought office as Mayor in 2016, promising to vastly reduce the use of ‘Stop and Search’ knife crime has risen 54 per cent

Five months before, he and Jobe were in a chicken takeaway when a brawl erupted on the street. The fight didn’t involve him but he joined it anyway, pulling from his waistband a large zombie knife.

He lunged into the crowd, indiscriminately stabbing a friend in the thigh.

His pal was put into an induced coma and given four blood transfusions, remaining in hospital for three weeks. Everyone in the car Bah drives is armed with a knife. It is standard. Debonsu shows off his as, he admitted later, he does not want ‘to look like a pussy’.


The car pulls up outside a ‘trap house’ in Titmuss Avenue – a home that has been overrun by a gang, where teenagers smoke cannabis and meet friends. They pop in and out of the Post Office next door.

Despite being expensively dressed in a black £800 Moncler jacket, Bah shoplifts a few sweets. Jobe is equally well dressed in a Canada Goose jacket, the likes of which will become so prized in the capital that gangs will mug them off wearers’ backs.

Bah, Jobe, Solanke and Debonsu are members of the T-Block gang, which has a longstanding feud with the A-Town gang in neighbouring Abbey Wood, where Charlie Bartolo lives.

Sammie Shallangwa, left, and Jake Debonsu were part of the group that murdered Charlie

Sammie Shallangwa, left, and Jake Debonsu were part of the group that murdered Charlie

The feud is not about organised crime, drugs or deprivation. The boys live in a pleasant area made up of blocks of flats and family homes with front and back gardens and open, green spaces.

The Hawksmoor Youth Hub that Solanke and his friends attend is near Water Lily Walk and behind its brightly-painted wall, decorated with frogs, falcons and honey bees, is a nature reserve.

But the youths are only interested in two things: being ‘active’, meaning they are ready to stab and retaliate for their gang, and being a ‘driller’ – someone who listens to drill music, the violent genre that glorifies knives and stabbing. But for now, it is a sunny afternoon so they relax outside the trap house, a seemingly laid-back group of boys enjoying Saturday.


Solanke joins them.


Of the group, five get into the car – Bah, Jobe, Solanke, Debonsu and the youngest, 15-year-old Sammie Shallangwa. He is small with delicate, almost feminine features, his hair twisted into long, thin plaits that corkscrew round his head.

His older siblings by his Nigerian parents have long left home. Being the indulged only child in the household has encouraged bad behaviour. A month before, he and a friend waylaid a boy outside a school by punching him to the ground and stabbing his legs.

Yet, all the boys in the car are in school or college and have reasonable attendance records.


They drive to Debonsu’s house where he picks up his Canada Goose jacket.


Charlie Bartolo has a surprise. His Christmas present from his mum arrives a month early – a scrambler or dirt motorbike with big wheels and a loud exhaust. Charlie is eager to give it a go, despite it already being dark outside. As he pushes his new bike through the door, he turns back and grins at his mother.

She recalls: ‘His smile was from ear to ear. He was so grateful and thankful.’ An innocent teenager out to enjoy his new present. ‘Never did I think that would be the last time I saw my boy.’

Hussain Bah

Alagie Jobe

Killers Hussain Bah, left, and Alagie Jobe were driving a black Nissan Qashqai they had stolen the previous night


Solanke posts a picture on social media site Snapchat of himself vaping in the back of the stolen Qashqai. The car thumps to the sound of drill music, its harsh, repetitive lyrics promoting violence, territoriality and boastful masculinity.

They check their social media feeds, full of drill artists on murder charges securing million dollar record deals. To them, status, money and murder are inexorably linked.

For their hard-working immigrant parents it is an alien world of which they are oblivious.


Charlie rides his new bike west on Sewell Road in Abbey Wood with two friends on their bikes, disturbing the almost rural silence of a road lined with houses one side and hawthorn bushes the other.


On the spur of the moment, Solanke and his friends decide to ‘spin the block’ and cruise through Abbey Wood, violating rival territory. They film themselves turning into Sewell Road, with the intention to post the video on Snapchat to taunt the A-Town gang.

Kearne Solanke died after Shallangwa was startled by him and lashed out with a knife, catching him on the shoulder

Kearne Solanke died after Shallangwa was startled by him and lashed out with a knife, catching him on the shoulder


In the dark, the fast-moving lights of three dirt bikes dance towards them. They reach for their knives in excitement. Here is a golden opportunity to gain kudos – the chance to ‘wet’ (stab) a boy from Abbey Wood, in Abbey Wood itself.


Bah abruptly veers towards one dirt bike. Charlie’s friend swerves, then stalls in panic. He ditches it, leaps on to the back of the other boy’s bike and they speed off to get help.

Bah rams the remaining bike, sending Charlie cartwheeling over the handlebars.

The brakes are slammed on but Solanke, Jobe and Shallangwa are out of the car before it stops. The three swarm on to Charlie, lying in the road, who pleads: ‘No, no, no.’ Through the dark, a CCTV recording captures the distinctive flash of oversized blades.


They strike at Charlie with ferocity and speed – landing eight separate stab wounds to his back, left arm and left leg.

Shallangwa drives his knife like a sword into Charlie’s skull and it is this traumatic brain injury that kills him.

It is over so fast that Bah and Debonsu, who had jumped out of the driver’s side, had only reached the bonnet.

All five dash back into the car, with Solanke dropping his knife on the way. Shallangwa turns back, unable to resist giving a final thrust into the dying Charlie.

After doing so, he doesn’t notice Solanke who has bent down to retrieve his knife.

As Solanke straightens up he startles Shallangwa.

In the savagery and confusion of the moment, and perhaps mistaking Solanke for an enemy, Shallangwa lashes out with his knife, catching his friend on the shoulder.

The pair dive into the car. Solanke is clutching his shoulder thinking he’s been punched, but he doesn’t realise the stabbing has cut a vital blood vessel and penetrated his lung.


Debonsu floors the accelerator and speeds away, leaving Charlie dying in the road. Sparks flare from the car’s undercarriage as it drags along Charlie’s bike. The whole incident takes barely 27 seconds.

CCTV footage shows the killers’ car ramming into Charlie on his new bike

CCTV footage shows the killers’ car ramming into Charlie on his new bike


A 999 call is made from Sewell Road. Charlie is rushed by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich.


Debonsu drives back to Thamesmead and the safety of home territory in a celebratory mood. They plan to rap about their triumph before posting it on social media. Then they realise something is wrong with Solanke, slumped in the back seat. They start to panic.


They turn right at a small roundabout on Applegarth Road and pull up in Titmuss Avenue. On one side a block of flats rises above a line of garage doors. They drag Solanke out of the car and dump him on the tarmac. Solanke watches his boys running off as he fights to stay awake.


As the others scatter, Debonsu parks the car. But he has a change of heart. Knowing that he is taking a big risk, he returns to Solanke and calls 999.

‘Someone has been stabbed,’ he blurts out. ‘Bro, please hurry up.’

He hastily adds: ‘We don’t need police. He’s struggling to breathe. Please, please quick. He’s losing a lot of blood from his shoulder.’ Then to Solanke he says: ‘You have to keep your eyes open. I’m telling you, on your mum’s life. Stay with me, please.’

A nearby resident Tarina Brooks hears shouting and runs out of her house to the two boys.

Solanke tries to get up but Tarina pushes him down with ‘all my might’. Solanke gives in and lies still. Thinking Tarina is his mother, he mumbles: ‘It’s OK Mum, I’ll be OK.’ Tarina urges: ‘Stay with us – and talk to me.’


Police and an ambulance arrive. Debonsu stays to help. Solanke’s actual mum, in her house nearby, gets a phone call and hurries to the scene. She collapses to the ground next to her dying son, later describing his blood as ‘running down my hands’, cold on her skin in the night air.


Debonsu makes his way to Hawksmoor Youth Hub. He signs himself in – and in the hub’s garden, CCTV records him re-enacting the murder to a friend.

His hand slashes down as he demonstrates Shallangwa’s death blow to Charlie’s head.


Charlie dies in hospital. His mum Emma says: ‘In that moment my life collapsed.’ Sammie Shallangwa, the youngest member of the group, has killed both boys in the space of 27 seconds.


Police traced the 999 call back to Bah and his circle as Debonsu had used his friend’s phone. Still, with no faces identifiable on the CCTV footage, officers painstakingly studied the clothes and footwear of the assailants to understand the bloody events.

Three days after the murder, they arrested Shallangwa, found hiding under his girlfriend’s bed, holding a large knife.

Police also found his clothes and trainers, bundled up in a black bin liner and placed next to the rubbish. They had Solanke’s blood on them.

Emma Bartolo said when she arrived at the morgue to see Charlie: ‘I was unable to dress my son due to the horrific knife wounds all over his body.’

She tried to put a pair of new trainers on him but one foot ‘was practically hanging off’. She said: ‘They savagely took my boy. His precious life was not theirs to take.’

Charlie’s dad Tony said: ‘Never in my worst dreams could I ever imagine that my son Charlie would be murdered, all alone in the dark on a November evening. And for what reason? As a father I am haunted by how I was not there to save him, comfort him. Was he scared? Did he wish I was there?’

The police investigation was a success and they secured murder convictions for all four of the defendants.

They were guilty of ‘joint enterprise’ and the rare legal concept of ‘transferred malice’.

This sends a powerful message, said Detective Chief Inspector Kate Blackburn: ‘You get in a car, you drive a car and you don’t have to stab anyone.

‘But you set out to do something and you end up in prison.’

She said that the mindset of the gang was not ‘let’s go to the park and kick about a football, it’s let’s drive around and find someone to stab’.

Bah and Jobe were handed life sentences with minimum terms of 24 and 25 years. Debonsu also got life and must serve a minimum 17 years. Shallangwa, the killer of both Charlie and Solanke, looking every inch a child in court in a suit that was too big for him, will serve at least 18 years.

As Debonsu and Shallangwa were taken down to the cells, Emma Bartolo shouted: ‘I hope you rot in hell.’