Hundreds of mourners have lined the streets of Plymouth for the funeral of the murdered teenager Bobbi-Anne McLeod as city leaders acknowledged more needed to be done to keep women and girls safe.
McLeod’s favourite music – alternative rock – was played at the service in the city centre church of St Andrew and many mourners wore band T-shirts and black jeans in tribute to the 18-year-old.
The funeral took place six months after McLeod was abducted from a bus stop and murdered, and a week after her killer, Cody Ackland, 24, was jailed for at least 30 years.
Outside the church, Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth Moor View, said the crime had devastated not only McLeod’s family but the whole city. “Bobbi-Anne was clearly a very special person who touched the hearts of so many people,” he said.
Her murder in November 2021 came just three months after Jake Davison, a 22-year-old apprentice crane operator who harboured extreme misogynistic views, shot dead five people in the Keyham area of Plymouth.
Mercer said: “Stranger murders and mass shootings are two of the rarest crimes but it doesn’t feel like that in Plymouth at the moment. Women and girls are frightened and we have a job of work to address that.”
There were many poignant moments. People left flowers and balloons on a memorial bench opposite the bus stop in the Leigham area of the city where McLeod was attacked and then abducted.
McLeod’s coffin was taken by horse-drawn carriage from a pub car park near the bus stop down the hill to the church.
At the door, mourners were handed ribbons in blue, McLeod’s favourite colour, and asked for donations for pink bands for charity that read: “My heart is with you for ever Bobbi-Anne.” Inside, songs that were played included Iris, by the American alternative rock band Goo Goo Dolls, and a Puff Daddy track.
Bands and musicians that McLeod loved – Pink Floyd, Nirvana, AC/DC, Queen and Eminem – were well represented on mourners’ T-shirts. People respected the family’s request not to wear ripped jeans, an item of clothing McLeod was wearing when she was abducted.
Ackland, a guitarist in a local rock band who was obsessed with the serial killer Ted Bundy, attacked McLeod with a claw hammer before kidnapping her and carrying out a prolonged assault in a forest, causing “catastrophic” injuries.
Crimes against women have risen in Devon and Cornwall during the last year. Recorded crime as a whole is up 11% but rape has risen by 19% and other sexual offences by 29%. Women and girls say they have become afraid to go out alone.
Plymouth city council is about to publish a report from a violence against women and girls commission set up after McLeod’s murder. The commission is expected to include 15 recommendations, ranging from finding practical ways of making the city safer to attempting to change fundamental negative attitudes towards women and girls.
Rebecca Smith, the council’s cabinet member for homes and communities, said: “We’ve been listening and are 100% aware of the fear and uncertainty. We recognise that one of the big issues is education and how we change the culture.”
Women in Plymouth told the Guardian that they felt unsafe and angry. The mother of an 18-year-old said her daughter had suffered “extreme sexual threats” at a bus stop before McLeod’s murder.
“We spent weeks ferrying her to college because bus stops were now a scary place,” she said. “After counselling she felt strong enough to take buses again and then the awful murder happened. I fear for her every time she goes to meet friends in the evenings. Even during the day she runs a gauntlet. Shouts and leers are the norm.”
A 25-year-old woman who knew Ackland said: “A lot of women I speak to in Plymouth are so angry. How dare my life not be safe. Personally I have been scared to walk around at night.”