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12th Jun 2023

Brothers take own lives in prison after waiting 18 years to avenge murder of other sibling

Steve Hopkins

They carried out the plot on Halloween

Two brothers took their own lives in prison after waiting 18 years to wreak vengeance on the man they believed murdered their other sibling.

Stephen O’Rourke, 48, killed himself just hours after a jury found him guilty of murdering Rocky Djelal, 38, who he held responsible for slaughtering his younger brother, an inquest heard.

He disguised himself as a builder wearing a high-vis jacket and crept up behind Djelal before repeatedly stabbing him in the back near a children’s playground in broad daylight.

The attack in Southwark Park in Bermondsey, southeast London, just before 2pm on Halloween was on the 18th anniversary of his 21-year-old brother Michael’s funeral. Michael was killed in August 2000.

It was described as a calculated and planned attack as Stephen O’Rourke, dressed as a construction worker on a nearby site and a hood covering his face, ambushed his victim, who had only just been released from prison for an unrelated attack when he was killed.

Another brother Jason, aged 34 at the time and known as ‘Biggie’, was recruited to collect his brother’s bloodied clothes and take them to be washed.

The two siblings were arrested two months later, but Jason took his own life in HMP Belmarsh while awaiting trial over charges of assisting an offender.

Stephen O’Rourke claimed he acted in self-defence, but refused to give evidence at his murder trial at the Old Bailey and a jury found him guilty in December 2020. I

In the months after the killing of Michael O’Rourke, Djelal was arrested as part of the investigation into the murder, but released without charge.

No one has been prosecuted for Michael’s death and an inquest in June 2001 recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

By 2018, Stephen O’Rourke blamed Djelal for Michael’s murder and became convinced his brother’s killers were “messing with his head” and contacted his other brother Jason.

Djelal, who had a daughter aged 16 at the time of his death, was himself just been released from prison over the death of another man when he was knifed to death in a park not far from his home.

CCTV showed Stephen O’Rourke searching for Djelal in the park, before creeping up behind him while he talked and laughed on the phone.

After knifing him in the back three times in just 26 seconds, he was seen casually walking away from the scene.

Djelal managed to stumble away before collapsing over a fence into the play area, screaming: “Help me, help me, he has got a knife.”

Passers-by tried to help, before his father and brother rushed to Southwark Park as paramedics and an air ambulance also arrived, but Rocky died minutes later.

Stephen O’Rourke had a history of mental health problems and his sister warned staff at the prison he planned to kill himself after being convicted.

An inquest into his death held at Inner West London Coroner’s Court on May 26 concluded prison failings contributed to his death.

In September 2020, he told staff at HMP High Down he might take his own life, particularly after he had appeared in court, and was then moved to Wandsworth during his trial as it was nearer the Old Bailey.

Hospital staff at High Down advised he should be held in Wandsworth’s healthcare wing but due to a lack of space he was instead located in a constant supervision cell on a standard wing.

On December 12, Stephen’s sister told the prison he intended to take his own life, but Stephen told prison staff that was not true.

Three days later when he was convicted of murder he saw a nurse and a doctor, both of whom told the reception manager that his risk of self-harm needed to be reviewed and that constant supervision should be considered.

The reception manager contacted Stephen’s wing manager, who said that he was about to go off duty.

Then the reception manager contacted the incoming wing manager, who said that he was not trained to carry out these reviews.

When staff eventually went to his cell to carry out a review at 11.17pm on December 15 they found him hanging. He was pronounced dead at 12.18am on December 16.

Assistant Coroner, Priya Malhotra, concluded: “Mr O’Rourke’s death was due to suicide, following failings by HMP Wandsworth in the management of Mr O’Rourke’s heightened risks following conviction.”

Kimberley Bingham, of the Acting Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, said: “I am very concerned about the adequacy of arrangements to manage those at risk of suicide or self-harm in Wandsworth.

“No individual took overall responsibility for managing O’Rourke’s risk as a case manager.

“It was well documented that the culmination of his trial was a potential trigger point for O’Rourke’s safety.

“Despite this, his risk to himself was not reviewed when he returned to prison after being convicted and prison staff did not consider whether he might need to be observed more frequently or require additional support.

“There were also communication difficulties between the two healthcare departments when Mr O’Rourke transferred from High Down to Wandsworth.”

The MoJ said HMP Wandsworth accepted all the recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and now operates a new management system for prisoners at risk of self-harm. A Prison Service spokeswoman added: “HMP Wandsworth has accepted and implemented the Ombudsman’s recommendations and has seen an improved delivery of primary care and mental health services to support vulnerable prisoners.”

Just before his death, Djelal had been released after a six-year prison sentence for conspiracy to cause GBH after the mistaken identity murder of Christopher Foster, 34, on Borough High Street, southeast London, in 2013.

The city porter and dad-of-one was stabbed in the back as he smoked a cigarette with a friend outside the St Christopher’s Inn pub and died an hour later after suffering catastrophic internal injuries.

Djelal, a labourer, was charged with murder but had this dropped mid-trial as he and two other defendants agreed to plea conspiracy to commit GBH.

In 2008 Djelal was jailed for three years after punching Arsenal and England footballer Sam Kanu, 24, when he tried to stop him stealing bottles of wine from a Costcutter near London Bridge.

The attack left the young athlete in a wheelchair with permanent brain damage.

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