It was The Big Issue’s darkest day. On the evening of January 11, 2013 as shops were closing on Birmingham’s busy Union Street, two vendors were killed on their pitches. Wayne Lee Busst, 32, was selling the magazine to people heading home for the weekend when he was stabbed. His friend, Ian Watson Gladwish, 31, was nearby, saw what was happening and ran to Wayne’s aid only for the knife to be turned on him. Both died at the scene.
In this week’s Big Issue we pay tribute to Ian and Wayne and ask what’s changed for homeless people since their tragic deaths. And our vendors have shared their thoughts on the impact that it had, then and now.
Viorel Parnica, who is featured in the My Pitch column in next week’s edition of the magazine, said: “It’s terrible what happened to my colleagues in Birmingham five years ago, and I send my condolences to their friends and family. These things will not be isolated incidents if nothing gets done about homelessness.
“Those who are rough sleeping or at risk of doing so need more support, like housing and jobs. Luckily I have never been threatened and I am better off financially now thanks to The Big Issue. If things were different only God knows what could have happened to me, and many others like myself for that matter.”
Vendor Paul Jones added: “I am fortunate to be working on a pitch in a train station instead of on the streets because it is completely different when you are selling there.
“As soon as you put on that red tabard you are a bit of a target and you get the odd shout of ‘get a job’ and stuff like that. I wouldn’t sell at night because there are drunk people around and you don’t know what might happen.
“The story of the two vendors in Birmingham reminds you how vulnerable Big Issue sellers are. It was a one-off but you are out working on the street every day and when you are among the pathways and shops you are vulnerable.”
Former vendor Neil Harvey was working selling The Big Issue in Birmingham on the day that Wayne and Lee were killed, and the memories of that day are sharply etched in to his memory.
He said: “Friday January 11, 2013, started much the same as any other day. I arrived at the Big Issue offices at approximately 9am, and asked to book the Union Street pitch, at which I heard a mumble behind me. Turning around, I found it to be Wayne. He had wanted to work Union Street, so I said he could have it. I had no idea that this would be the last time I would see him.
“It was a quiet day, and business was slow. You would see various other vendors during the day, most of whom would stop for a brief chat on the way to their pitch. One of the vendors I saw that day was Ian. He always had a kind word, and offered advice to me as a new vendor.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
“The next morning, I had a look on the BBC News website. There was a headline that caught my eye. ‘Two men stabbed to death in Birmingham city centre’. My heart sank. I read the article, which contained very few details. Living around a big city, this kind of story happens all too often.
“I headed out to sell some copies of the magazine. The city centre was a ghost town, eerily quiet.
“Upon returning to the hostel, I checked the BBC website for further updates. There it was in big, bold print. Both men had been Big Issue sellers. I felt sick. I immediately thought of that previous morning, and then my mind turned to Wayne. ‘Please, don’t be him’, I thought. It was. I couldn’t help but think, what if…? What if I had been earlier to the office, booked the pitch and not seen him? Maybe he would still be alive, maybe I wouldn’t.
“These senseless killings would instil fear to many people, but only through love and acceptance can we move on and put these incidents behind us. We will always remember those who have fallen by the wayside, for whatever reason, but we must always remember what their lives meant, not what their deaths mean.”
Dinah Lea, another former vendor who sold the magazine in Birmingham, knew Ian and Wayne and was deeply affected by the tragedy. She echoed Neil’s view that in the face of such a horrific event coming together for support is all-important: “We all reflect in different ways at times like this. Two lovely lads cut down in their prime, it truly is devastating. It’s a horrid empty feeling knowing that all we can do is mourn, when what we really want to do is bring them back, to reverse time and change the course of events of that tragic day.
“It’s nice to know that they had some form of faith as they used to sit in St Philip’s [Cathedral] from time to time. There was a little vigil service in Union Street where some people said a few words and many tears were shed. It was heart-warming. May they never be forgotten and may we always remember.”