EastEnders has been praised after parents of young knife crime victims told their stories on a special episode of the BBC One soap.
They addressed the camera during Friday night’s episode, which centred on the funeral of fictional character Shakil Kazemi.
Shakil was stabbed to death by a gang in an episode shown in May.
Viewers said they were in tears watching the episode, which has also been praised by critics.
It concluded with the families of the real-life victims standing outside the church, holding up pictures of their loved ones, as the coffin was carried past to the sound of Abide With Me.
‘Relevant and powerful’
The relatives taking part in the episode included George Kinsella, father of stabbing victim Ben Kinsella, whose sister Brooke is a former EastEnders actress.
Ben, 16, was stabbed 11 times after a night out with friends in 2008.
Brooke, who played Kelly Taylor in the soap, has become an anti-knife crime campaigner and has advised on the long-running storyline.
It saw Shakil, played by Shaheen Jafargholi, stabbed in a knife attack after his friend Keegan Baker stole a bike.
Following the episode, Brooke thanked people for their support and “for the love of our lost loved ones”.
Thank you so much for all your beautiful words of support after tonight’s episode. I have read every one. Thank you for the love for our lost loved ones. From the bottom of my heart thank you @bbceastenders and your entire cast for your bravery and dedication to this storyline 💔
— Brooke Kinsella MBE (@brookekinsella) July 6, 2018
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Michael Hogan said it was “popular television at its most relevant and powerful”.
“The drama was stripped back and restrained, rightfully allowing reality to take the focus,” he said.
He praised both Strictly’s Davood Ghadami, who played Shakil’s brother Kush, and Bonnie Langford, who played his mother Carmel – saying the former was “unshowily excellent” and the latter “downright devastating”.
It was, he wrote, “a triumphant tribute to lives lost senselessly and a plea for sanity to be restored”.
The families devastated by knife crime
Among those taking part in the special episode were:
Trish Bergan, mother of Jerome Eugene Bergan, 21, who said: “The doctor came and she sat in front of me and she held my hands. I said, ‘don’t say anything, I know. Eugene is no more.'”
Paul Dove and Tanya Whitney, parents of Billy Dove, 21. Mr Dove said: “The thing’s a nightmare. And you believe it’s a nightmare.”
George Kinsella, father of Ben Kinsella, 16, who said: “All of a sudden, it happens to one of your own and it just turns your whole world, your whole life upside down in a second.”
Yvonne Lawson, mother of Godwin Lawson, 17, who said: “I started to ring Godwin’s number, just so desperately wishing that Godwin could pick up the phone and say, ‘Mum, I’m here.'”
Jessica Plummer, mother of Shaquan Sammy-Plummer, 17, who said: “My pain is too much and I do not wish another mother to go through my pain again.”
Pastor Lorraine Jones, mother of Dwayne Simpson, 20, said: “Even now I feel like I’m dreaming. I saw Dwayne on the life-support machine and he was so swollen… the only places I could kiss Dwayne was his forehead and his feet.”
Angela Spencer and John Greensmith, mother and stepfather of Jason Spencer, 17. Ms Spencer said: “Everything is beaten out of you. Everything. You question, is life worth living?”
Caroline Shearer, mother of Jay Whiston, 17, who said: “Jay didn’t die of an illness, Jay didn’t die of an accident. There wasn’t a reason – the same as many, many others.”
In Digital Spy, Sophie Dainty said the scenes may have been an EastEnders first – but that they were also “some of the most emotional in the soap’s history”.
She wrote that it was “an undeniably difficult watch”, especially where the actors and victims’ families shared the screen.
“This was a tear-jerking, traumatic reminder that knife crime is happening everywhere, in different ways, to different people – and that this is far, far more than a soap story,” she said.
Davood said on Twitter that he was “so grateful” for the “bravery and strength” of the contributors.
Hollyoaks actor Gregory Finnegan was among those praising EastEnders for “tackling an extremely difficult and emotive issue” in such an innovative way.
People who had lost loved ones to knife crime also commented, with one saying it had been handled “absolutely perfectly”.
Viewer Brian Welsh said it was “truly one of the most moving, poignant episodes of a drama ever on British TV”.
Many others said it had left them in tears, applauding EastEnders for highlighting the issue.
Oh my goodness, tears rolling down my face during that incredible episode, bravo #eastenders for addressing such a tragic issue.
— Jess (@Jesseleanor) July 6, 2018
The special episode came at a time of growing concern over knife crime.
There were 70 murders in the capital between January and June, according to Metropolitan Police data.
More information on knife crime and bereavement is available here.