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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-TWO:
This episode is about Ghodratollah Barani and Mark Morrison. Today’s episode is about two homeless men; both strangers, both forgotten, who were forced to live on London’s streets for two very different reasons. And although their stories were both tragic, you won’t have heard of their plight, as nobody cared.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The benches at Marble Arch where Mark Morrison was murdered is marked with a teal cross and is on the far left under the word Marble Arch. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
This was created using several sources,
Boris on a Wire - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hRwnXmdRCo
Queen & Bond (tell your face) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AS-dCdYZbo
Missiles on Roof - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXZXqltbnZI
Complete Opening Ceremony (plus sheep) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4As0e4de-rI
Operation Poncho in operation - https://youtu.be/Wxh2fPjn6pY
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about two homeless men; both strangers, both forgotten, who were forced to live on London’s streets for two very different reasons. And although their stories were both tragic, you won’t have heard of their plight, as nobody cared.
Murder Mile is researched using authentic sources. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details. And as a dramatization of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 142: The Invisible Men of Marble Arch.
Today I’m standing in Marble Arch, W1; one street north of the Hyde Park Bombing, three streets west of Annie Sutton’s sadistic stalker, one street east of the murder of Police Constable Jack Avery, and one street south of strange revenge attack at the Victory Café – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Situated on a traffic island between Edgware Road, Park Lane, Oxford Street and Bayswater, Marble Arch (formerly known as Tyburnia) is named after the infamous white-marble arch designed by John Nash in 1827. Inspired by Paris’ Arc du Triumph, this 45-foot-high, 60-foot-wide and 30-foot-deep monument was originally the state entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was relocated here in 1851.
Since then, it has had no purpose. Having been requisitioned as an army barracks in the forties and a police station in the sixties, it is now used for storage, and there are plans-a-foot to re-site it again.
Being a bafflingly pointless landmark, Marble Arch is often used as a place of protest where the furious give impassioned speeches to small but likeminded crowds of nodding heads, where tourists take selfies whilst quaffing that quintessentially English delicacy - fish n chips (which actually originated in Israel) and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a fist-fight between three floating Yodas, all called Yurgi.
At night, Marble Arch becomes a different world; a makeshift shanty-town of cardboard boxes where London’s forgotten bed-down and vanish. Oddly, for a group of people so invisible and forgotten, too many are frequently abused, beaten, robbed and persecuted simply because they have no home.
Two such homeless men were Ghodratollah Barani and Mark Morrison; they didn’t know each other, they had never met, and they had nothing in common except that they lived on the streets. Both were shunned by the wider world, and yet a cruel series of circumstances would force them together.
As it was here, on Friday 22nd June 2012 at about 3am, that Ghodratollah Barani strangled Mark Morrison to death. And although this incident would highlight the failures in our overworked mental health and immigration systems, because of who they were, it was barely reported. (Interstitial)
Homelessness is very much an invisible issue...
From a population of 66.5 million, it is estimated there are 280,000 homeless people living in the UK. That’s one in every 250. But homelessness is a word which is often misused and misconstrued, as it doesn’t just mean someone who sleeps rough, it refers to anyone without a permanent place to live.
But where-as any home - no matter how provisional – can provide some safety and stability, for many their only option is to live where-ever they can find shelter; on the street, in a doorway, or on a bench.
It’s impossible to accurately assess the true scale of rough-sleepers, but different organisations have estimated it’s anywhere between 2500 and 9000 people sleeping rough, in the UK, every night. Left to the elements, they live without life’s basics; like fresh water, clean clothes, heat, safety and food.
And yet their stories remain forgotten or go unheard, as – let’s be honest - with all of us unwilling to fully engage with the problem, except to toss these nameless souls a few coins in their pot just so we can feel better about ourselves, we often assume they are homeless for two reasons - drink or drugs.
But there are many reasons a person can become homeless. Some have no option; forced-out owing to a family break-up, a divorce, loss of work or income, cut benefits, or a conviction. Some are fleeing abuse, violence, persecution, politics, or are actively escaping life’s stresses. Some are mentally unwell having slipped through the cracks. And others are veterans abandoned by the country they fought for.
Sadly, it’s still a criminal offence to sleep rough, under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act of 1824, and with no fully-functional system in place to provide an alternative, many homeless are arrested and bounced between a wealth of grossly under-funded agencies, only to be turfed-out once a box has been ticked.
Life on the streets is dangerous. Over the last five years, 650 homeless people died on London’s streets with 770 dying each year in England and Wales; owing to hunger, assault, hypothermia and murder.
Although, you’ll never hear their stories, as ‘dead tramp’ doesn’t sell newspapers, ‘asylum seeker kills UK vagrant’ only sells in trashy racist tabloids and as many outlets are more about making money than disclosing facts, too many churn-out a puke of predictable pap about unfaithful footballers, two-faced politicians, or minor celeb’s weeping over a meaningless woe, just in time for the release of their book.
And even though the old press adage is “if it bleeds, it leads”, we all know the true criteria when it comes to reporting crime; that a drug-death is usually the victim’s fault, that the death of a black man is “probably” gang-related, that a dead sex-worker is only “of interest” if her killer is given a salacious nickname like ‘The Ripper’, and that a missing child is only a tragedy if they’re white, blonde and pretty.
The ugly, the poor, the unknown and the marginalised aren’t worth the ink.
And if they’re homeless or immigrants? People care even less.
Two such men who shielded by the shadow of Marble Arch in the summer of 2012 were Ghodratollah Barani and Mark Morrison; two very different men on the same street for two very different reasons.
46-year-old Mark Morrison originated from the Dunblane area of Stirling in Scotland, and later he lived in Glasgow. Described as a polite and pleasant man, Mark had a successful career as a chef, but owing to ‘personal problems’, he travelled to London in the spring of 2012 and became homeless. Living on the street; he stayed out of trouble, he kept to a regular routine and he was easy-to-spot owing to his oval sun-bleached face, his tangled salt-and-pepper hair and a ragged goatee beard.
Sleeping rough, his favourite spot was on a wooden bench beside Marble Arch. We don’t know why. But maybe the endless roar of traffic lulled him to sleep, the posh hotels on Park Lane reminded him of his old life, or surrounded by other homeless people pitched in tents, he found safety in numbers?
And that’s all the press could be bothered to report. It wasn’t worth their time digging into his past to ask why he had run away, why he was sleeping rough, or what we could have been done to help?
If he had been famous, on that spot there would now be a plaque...
...but as he was a nobody, Mark was entirely forgotten...
...just like Ghodratollah.
Ghodratollah Barani was either 26, 27, 29 or 32 years-old, depending on which source you trust. Some said he was born in Afghanistan or Iran, as if the two are interchangeable, but given that a basic search confirms that his name was Persian and that he spoke Farsi, we can safely assume that he was Iranian.
But you’ll soon see where this lazy journalism came from, as for too many tabloids, foreign is foreign.
Speaking limited English, Ghodratollah previously lived in Sheffield before coming to London. Being little and round, he was 5 foot 6 inches tall, medium build and had a broad babyish face. And just like Mark, the details of his life weren’t worth the press bothering to get right; so, we’ve no idea why he fled, how he travelled, who he was, what he did, or anything about his family, his history or his life.
And as one of 35,000 applications submitted every year, the life of Ghodratollah Barani was forgotten, and his existence and his status were boiled down to two highly contentious words – asylum seeker.
But for both men, more than any other year, 2012 would be a bad year to be homeless.
(Soundbite) “The host city for the 2012 Olympic Games will be... London”.
On 6th July 2005, London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. At a cost of $14.8 billion dollars, it would convert a 500-acre site of toxic wasteland in one of London’s most deprived boroughs into an Olympic Park; developing a wealth of new homes, jobs, roads, facilities and a legacy which lasts today.
Still reeling from the economic collapse of 2008, the opening ceremony was a spectacle like no other (even if the Queen had forgotten to tell her face) and it was a vital moment of pride for Great Britain.
But not everything about the 2012 Olympics was as glorious as it seemed.
Anticipating a huge influx of tourists bringing a much-needed revenue to the city - with the Tottenham riots of one year earlier still fresh in the world’s mind - London needed to be seen as “clean and safe”.
In 2009, London Mayor Boris Johnson pledged to clean up the city and to end homelessness for good, but the methods employed were rough, heavy-handed and just a smoke-screen. ‘Operation Poncho’ directly targeted the homeless by establishing ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Dispersal’ zones in tourist hot-spots, it increased Police stop-and-search powers to tackle smoking, drinking and sleeping in public, any haunts favoured by rough-sleepers were continually ‘wet-down’ with high-pressure hoses, and any bench or ledge was fitted with steel railings and dulled spikes to make anything but sitting-upright impossible.
Near to tourist spots, cycle-ways and Olympics highways, any temporary shelters were removed and – as happens before every royal wedding – many ‘undesirables’ were forcibly bagged-up and bussed-out to neighbouring towns like Brighton, Reading and Slough. Operation Poncho’s ethos wasn’t to solve the problem of homelessness, but to push these ‘unfortunates’ out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
So, as if their lives weren’t stressful enough, rough-sleepers were marginalised even more than usual.
For Mark, who kept-to-himself, it was an inconvenience. But for Ghodratollah - with immigration and mental health services under even greater strain - his homelessness made him even less of a priority...
...and even more invisible.
In Autumn 2011, Ghodratollah was being held at Brigstock House, a dispersal unit in Thornton Heath used as long-term accommodation for asylum seekers until their applications have been decided. But after six months of waiting, with his application rejected, his accommodation was withdrawn.
Guidelines were followed, boxes were ticked, papers were filed and somewhere in an office, a faceless official crossed-off yet another number from their list. “Next?” But while Ghodratollah would appeal this decision, he would live rough. With no home, this made any application harder, as with vagrancy being illegal and hindering his immigration status, into the system and the city, he would vanish.
Six years earlier, Britain was riding high, having won the Olympic bid. We don’t like winning, as it gives us nothing to grumble about, but again, we don’t like losing, especially to the French. “Zut alors”.
But following the financial crash of 2008, being cash-strapped, the British tax-payer balked at the initial budget pitched at £2.8 billion, which ballooned to a whopping £8.7 billion. Behind schedule, the city became a building site, as the run-up to the Olympics were beset by a series of embarrassing blunders.
Described as “a predictably British clusterf**k”; Wenlock & Mandeville, our mascots who looked like brightly-coloured flaccid penises were quickly ditched. BoJo, our flag-waving mayor and (dare I say it) current Prime Minister got stuck on a zipwire. The ticket system was so farcical it left thousands with either no tickets, or an unpayable bill, being forced to watch crap like ‘horse dancing’. Local businesses were banned from the site, as the only official food-outlet was the world’s largest McDonald’s. G4S had ballsed-up so badly, the British Army was called in. And everyone’s expectations were low, as (a) we’re British, and (b) the opening ceremony had been announced as featuring “fifty REAL sheep”.
Of course, we’ve all forgotten about the crappy build-up to London 2012, having replaced it with the triumphs of Olympic heroes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams, Laura Kenny, Gabby Douglas, Bradley Wiggins and David Weir, to name but a few. As well as Tom Daley’s awesome dive, Stefan Feck’s belly-flop, and even Oscar Pistorius before the... you know.
The Queen and Bond parachuted in, Mr Bean played Chariots of Fire, the Paralympics was an absolute triumph, and the Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was (pardon my French) “f**king brilliant”.
That shift in mood started the moment the ceremony began on Friday 27th July, but in the weeks prior, as Union Jack bunting adorned the streets, London 2012 was considered a “waste of money”.
But for Ghodratollah, the Olympics meant nothing. As being stressed by his failed immigration status, his imminent risk of deportation and his new homelessness, they all impacted on his mental health.
In the early hours of Sunday 17th June 2012, Ghodratollah was seen banging on the Privy Purse Gate of Buckingham Palace. He demanded to see the Queen, as only she could help him, and he claimed he was the King of Afghanistan – which is why so many lazy journalists got his nationality wrong.
Stopped by the Police, even though their powers had been increased under Operation Poncho, as he hadn’t broken in, caused damage or a disturbance, he wasn’t an immediate threat to himself or others and - more importantly – he wasn’t making London look messy to the tourists, he was sent on his way.
It is said that one-in-three asylum-seekers suffer some form of depression, anxiety or PTSD.
But was he suffering from a mental collapse...
...or was this simply a cunning ploy to progress his asylum?
The next day, on Monday 18th June, he did it again, banging on the gates of Buckingham Palace and claiming to be a King. Believing he was mentally unwell, under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, the Police were authorised to “take him to a place of safety”, in this case, a hospital. But what can you do, if you’re in a foreign country and you don’t know that you’re mentally unwell?
Ghodratollah was assessed that day at St Thomas’ hospital; first by junior psychiatrist, Dr Nancy Butler, and later by Dr Neeraj Kabra, a senior psychiatrist, with his words translated by a Farsi interpreter.
But then, mental illness isn’t like a broken leg; it’s not immediately obvious, it can easily be faked, the symptoms can be confused, and are often caused-by intoxicants, stress, injury and other illnesses. So often a specialist can only take the patient’s word about what they claim they have seen or heard.
In both assessments, he said that three times he had attempted to kill himself; once by setting himself on fire, once by stabbing himself, and once by asphyxiating himself with gas. None of which needed medical assistance afterwards, and left no physical scars. In both assessments, he said he heard voices telling him he needed to “kill someone, within three days, to become to King of England”, but he had no known history of violence, showed no signs of aggression and Police detained him without issue.
In this case, it was decided that he was “suffering from situational crisis because he was homeless and was waiting any adjudication of his asylum claim". But Ghodratollah didn’t help his own assessment?
Throughout, he appeared anxious and agitated, owing to an appointment with the UK Border Agency at 11am, and believing this was his “last chance” he asked the doctors to write a letter to support his asylum application. Unsurprisingly, the doctors believed he was faking his symptoms of schizophrenia.
It was never reported whether he attended the meeting, but on Tuesday 19th June, he returned to St Thomas’ complaining of back pain. He didn’t claim to hear voices or mention that he was the King. On Wednesday 20th, he returned to St Thomas’ with a new issue, but being fit and well, he was discharged. And on Thursday 21st, he returned to Buckingham Palace, but this time, refused to let go of the gate.
Being even more agitated and determined to see the Queen, he was restrained, escorted to safety and his case was referred to social services, who requested that – again - he be mentally-assessed.
At the Gordon Hospital, an adult psychiatric centre on Bloomberg Street in Pimlico, over several hours, a number of doctors assessed him, but found “no grounds to admit him”. He couldn’t be committed and it wasn’t worth arresting him, so being issued with an exclusion order banning him from entering the Royal Parks (including Buckingham Palace), that evening, Ghodratollah Barani was released.
As a homeless asylum-seeker, he was little, harmless and invisible...
... but a few hours later, he would do the unthinkable.
Five weeks before the start of London 2012, the city pulsed with tension and stress. The bunting was up and the tourists were out, but businesses were rightfully grumbling as a £13bn boost to the local economy had failed to materialise. The unfinished Olympics highway was a national embarrassment which would leave exhausted athletes stuck on hot coaches. Terrorists were being dicks, so in parks and on tower-blocks sat batteries of surface-to-air missiles to shoot down any hijacked airliners. But – for once, like a drizzly-little miracle - the typically inclement British weather was actually okay.
The Olympics was upon us, nothing else existed and – with many having been bussed to neighbouring towns, whose homeless population had doubled - the rough-sleepers of Marble Arch were invisible.
By day, tourists flocked to take selfiesof this purposeless monument. By dusk, any possible sleeping spots had been wet-down with high-pressure hoses. But by night, some of the homeless had returned.
Neither were aware of the other, and that was just how the British government wanted it.
Friday 22nd June 2012 was no-different to any other night. Being clear, dry and warm; for this 46-year-old ex-chef from Sterling, even at 3am, it was nice enough to leave his tent and to sleep on a bench.
Being his favourite spot, Mark Morrison snuggled-up in his sleeping-bag, gazing at the yellowy haze of the sky, as the soothing hum of traffic circled him. The night was calm, with the tube shut he wouldn’t be bothered, and as always – keeping out of trouble – he was polite and pleasant to everyone.
As far as we know, the two men had never met.
Fluent in different languages, it’s unlikely they spoke.
And being relatively passive men, nobody heard any screams or saw a struggle.
But at a little after 3am, an engineer working at Marble Arch tube station saw a man stooping over Mark, who lay slumped by the foot of the bench. Being confronted, Ghodratollah ran off and the Police were called, but it was too late. Mark had been strangled to death with green piece of tent cord.
His life snuffed-out for no reason by a man he didn’t know.
But was this murder caused by a ‘situational crisis’ as the doctor had said, a part of Ghodratollah’s deluded plan to become King of England... or simply a ploy to get his British citizenship? (Interstitial)
The next day and the following Sunday, Ghodratollah was arrested for breaching the exclusion order by banging on the gates of Buckingham Palace, and again he was later released. But with CCTV footage identifying him as the killer of Mark Morrison, using his fingerprints which had been kept by the Home Office, on Friday 29th June 2012 he calmly presented himself at Horseguard’s Parade and was arrested.
On Saturday 30th June 2012 at Westminster Coroner’s Court, Ghodratollah Barani was charged with murder. Remanded at the hospital wing of Belmarsh Prison, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. On 1st March 2013, having pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, he was given an indefinite hospital order. As of November 2015, he has lived at the Evergreen Lodge care home in South Croydon, a facility for men with complex mental health issues; he has improved under medication and counselling, and - although limited - he has found work and a social life (of sorts).
It is unclear whether his asylum has since been approved, or if he will be deported upon release.
So, was this a situational crisis, a cunning ploy, or was it really schizophrenia? We don’t know.
What we do know is that homelessness is a big problem we refuse to resolve, as any reporting of crimes against our city’s rough-sleepers often go unreported, or in this case, badly reported. But homelessness is solvable and none of it requires a human being bussed-out and hidden elsewhere.
As seen at the start of the pandemic, within in a single week, almost every rough sleeper was given a bed; a place of safety, where they could wash, eat and sleep, with a chance to resolve their problems and get back on their feet? But with ‘our crisis’ almost over? The homeless are back on the street.
Where they remain nameless, faceless and invisible.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
As always, a non-compulsory chatty mcchatface follows after the break, where you can learn a few extra details about this case, if you want, but if it’s not your thing, I won’t be offended if you don’t.
A big thank you to my new Patreon supporters who are Jo Fulton, Harry Morrell-Hall, Kelly Jackson, Epona 2 and Alex Kolb, I thank you all. I hope that the new Cake of the Week feature isn’t proving too delicious for you all, and that you haven’t coated your Murder Mile goodies in chocolate and scoffed them. Plus, a thank you to an anonymous donator via the Supporter Link (I’m guessing it was Audrey Tautou, trying to get my affection, without Eva knowing, as Eva does get very jealous) and a special thank you to Amanda Harris for your kind donation via the Murder Mile website. I spent it on a coot shaped cake. Obviously.
Murder Mile was researched, written and performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totalling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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