A convicted murderer today revealed ambitious plans to open a £300,000 youth centre in Preston.
At the age of 18, gang member Stephen Mellor was involved in the bloodbath killing of John Dookie outside the Variety pub in 1997 - but the 41-year-old says he has changed his ways and now wants to help youngsters in the city at risk of becoming involved in gang activity.
He was given a life sentence with a 14-year tariff after Mr Dookie was stabbed to death in a bitter war over territory between Preston drug dealers.
Today he said: “My passion lies within guiding these youths off the path I chose.
“I think there’s always going to be negative thoughts about my background. Yes I was involved in a terrible thing at 18, but I have this chance in my life to ensure others don’t follow that path."
The reformed killer has been cleared by the CRB to work with youngsters and has financial backing from a Preston businessman to buy and renovate a building in the Friargate area to work with young people at risk of becoming involved in gangs, drugs and knife crime.
The revelation comes just days after the Post’s expose on the city’s current gang situation.
The brutal killing of John Dookie case sent shockwaves through the community at the time.
In February 1997, Mr Dookie, of Princes Reach, Riversway, was stabbed outside the Variety Pub in St Peter’s Street, Preston, in a suspected ambush.
He fought desperately for his life, but died two days later at the Royal Preston Hospital.
His friend James Handyside, formerly of Deepdale Road, Deepdale, came within an inch of losing his life when he was also stabbed.
The incident triggered one of the largest murder inquiries in Preston for years.
During the trial, the jury heard Dookie and Handyside were small-time dealers in the Meadow Street area when Mellor, then of Moor Lane, began undercutting their prices on the same patch.
After Mellor was beaten up in revenge he organised the attack in which Dookie was ambushed with knives, bats and a hammer, having been tricked into thinking that negotiations were to be held between them in the pub.
At first Mellor denied murder, but was one of three men jailed for life in 1998 for the gang killing alongside Anthony Kirk, of Cranbourne Street, Bamber Bridge and Liverpool man Kevin Samuel “Sam” Cole.
While serving his sentence, Mellor made a dramatic murder confession from his prison cell to the Lancashire Post in 2007, claiming Cole was innocent.
Mellor was eventually released seven years ago, having obtained several qualifications in prison, including an Open University degree as a sports psychologist, diplomas in sports nutrition and sports science, and NVQs in engineering and personal training.
Since his release, he has met his partner Sammy, 29, who will be working alongside him.
They have three boys with another on the way.
Despite being on licence for murder, he was cleared by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to work with children as a boxing coach at Oyston Mill and in a college for young people who are not in mainstream education.
He said: “I’ve been planning this for seven years, I want to give something back to the community.
“It’s personal to me to change the paths of young people
“I feel like Preston is prehistoric at the moment, there’s not a lot for underprivileged youths.
“I know a lot of these youngsters don’t feel able to open up to people in authority - at their age I felt those people hadn’t been through what I have been through and couldn’t give me heartfelt advice.
“I was expelled at 13 and never got an education.
“At 17 I started dealing drugs and less than a year later was behind bars.
“I lost two of my brothers while in jail - one drowned and the other had a brain haemorrhage.
“I couldn’t read or write.
“But I came out of prison with qualifications.
“I immediately started working with underprivileged young people.
“A youth zone would allow these people to meet in a safe place in town whilst enjoying the facilities.
“I am looking to open a youth zone in a bid to reduce crime and give the kids somewhere safe to go and offer advice if needed. I’m hoping it will reduce the gang activity on the streets and change a few lives for the better.
“I think gangs are still a massive issue because they are all segregated into their own estates. But if these kids can mingle in same place and have activities and interests it could make a huge difference.
“I feel our message is important and we need to start giving our kids secure futures."
He added: “I understand I’m a convicted murderer but I never hurt a child. People can criticise all they like, I know I can make a difference to young people.
“I’m looking to the future, the past is the past and I want to make a positive contribution.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback because people realise the kids need something to do.”
Today Rob Dookie, brother of the victim said: “They killed my brother. We aren’t really interested in what they do.
“Our family’s opinion is the past is the past. My mum believes people have moved on.”