Shattered dream of little Thusha

Struck by a gangster's bullet a year ago her Sri Lankan-born parents have been plunged into debt
By Nick Fagge and Chris Greenwood

Before her life was shattered by a gunshot, Thusha Kamaleswaran dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. Now she likes to sit in her wheelchair and watch home videos of herself performing in beautiful traditional Tamil costumes.

One year after she was paralysed from the chest down by a .22 bullet from a gangster's gun as she danced happily in the aisle of her uncle's shop, the six-year-old cries openly when she tells people what happened to her.

She was only five when she was struck down in Stockwell, South London. At the Old Bailey on Monday three members of a notorious gang were told they faced long jail sentences after a jury unanimously convicted them of causing grievous bodily harm.

Thusha faces a lifetime of chronic pain and further dangerous operations to correct a potential curvature of her spine caused by her vulnerable condition. Speaking to the Daily Mail with the consent of her parents, Thusha said she had starred in a classical Indian dance performed only months before the shooting.

Split second before: An unsuspecting Thusha is seen dancing through the aisles of her uncle's shop Gunned down: Thusha's family move out of the way to reveal the little girl lying on the floor Her uncle Mahadavan Vikneswaran lifts her limp form from the floor and carries her to safety.

She played the god Krishna alongside more than a dozen other little girls after learning the complex ten-minute routine in only two weeks. Now all she can do is watch herself on TV, playing the footage again and again via a remote control from her second-hand wheelchair.

Thusha said there is little else to do other than play video games and watch TV because in her words: 'I cannot move.' She said: 'I really miss going to school. I miss my friends, the teachers and the lessons. Now I am stuck in the hospital in a wheelchair, learning to wheel myself around.

'I miss my family. My sister, Thushaika, my mum and my brother Thusan. I miss my mum's cooking. Dad is with me at the hospital during the week but I get really bored. 'I am scared to get into the car because of the strangers all around us. I worry that someone will try to hurt me again.

'But I am bored with everyone talking about what happened to me. I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to learn dance properly, to take lessons. 'I am proud of how quickly I learnt. I really enjoyed it. My mum and dad were amazed by how quickly I learnt. I went to classes for only a few weeks but I learnt the whole programme.'

So young: Thusha pictured in her traditional dress before the shooting

Turning to her mother Sharmila, she added: 'Please show him the video mummy. Please show him the photographs of me when I could stand.' The family came to Britain as refugees fleeing from the indiscriminate killing of the brutal civil war in their native Sri Lanka.

Now they face the appalling impact of an utterly senseless and callous attack by feral gangsters who have never shown any sorrow. The only sign of the gunshot wound Thusha suffered is two small bumps on her chest and back where the bullet pierced her body.

But the severity of her injuries is laid bare in medical notes which clinically detail how doctors performed open heart surgery on her in the street. One surgeon kept her alive by pinching a severed vessel leading to her heart between his fingers to stem catastrophic blood loss.

Her heart stopped twice in the hours after the shooting and she was left relying on a ventilator machine for almost three weeks. Thusha continues to endure a strict routine of intensive physiotherapy and treatment at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire

It means she can go home only at weekends and her parents say it is heart-breaking to send her back on Monday mornings. They have been plunged into severe debt and emotional despair as they struggle to deal with the terrible fallout of the shooting.

The family remain in a run-down rented two-bedroom house, desperate to move into a larger property that could accommodate the specialist equipment Thusha needs. But Redbridge Borough Council has told the family they are not entitled to a house suitable for their daughter and there is no school place available to educate her.

At one stage they even faced eviction by the local authority after falling behind with the rent. Her father Jeyakumar Ghanasekaram, known as Sasi, gave up work to spend his days and nights at Thusha's bedside.

The fear of having to move meant he has been forced to pawn his wedding necklace, the Tamil equivalent of a wedding ring, to raise money. Thusha's mother has suffered insomnia and severe depression as she battled to look after the little girl's traumatised siblings.

Thusan, her 12-year-old brother, could not face school for a month after the shooting and cried constantly. Thushaika, three, remains traumatised by the sight of her stricken sister. Mrs Kamaleswaran said: 'We have to do everything for her. If she wants to go to the next room we have to carry her.

'I miss her when she is in the hospital. But I cannot sleep when she is here with me. I wake up in the night and the terrible events come back to me again. I stroke Thusha's legs and cry. 'I cannot sleep. When I close my eyes I see Thusha lying on the ground covered in blood. Now I have to take sleeping tablets.'

Mr Ghanasekaram said his family have been left deeply disturbed by the tragedy and may never fully recover. He said: 'Our world completely changed on March 29. My daughter was shot in front of the whole family. She was almost killed. It was terribly distressing.

Guilty: Nathaniel Grant, 21, Kazeem Kolawole, 19, Anthony McCalla, 20. Judge Martin Stephens, QC, has said he is considering whether to jail the men for life or hand them indeterminate terms when they appear for sentencing

'My other children have been traumatised. They could not close their eyes without seeing Thusha lying there covered in blood. 'Now I want to make sure that those young men get the prison sentence they deserve. I don't want any other family to go through what we have gone through.

'We have lost everything. We have no money and we don't know what will happen to us in the future.
'Everyone is interested in the story of how Thusha was shot but for a year no one has been interested in helping us cope with the aftermath.'

The thugs who shot and paralysed little Thusha are 'laughing at the law', her family and politicians said last night. They condemned the soft criminal justice system that allowed two of her attackers to be free on bail at the time of her shooting.

They said it was only a matter of time before more dangerous gangsters were released on to the streets to destroy another life. Their comments came as ministers unveiled controversial proposals that will see thousands more criminals spared prison and punished with electronic tags.

Thusha's uncle Vicknes Mahadevan condemned the system that allows dangerous criminals to keep their freedom. Mr Mahadevan, who closed down his shop in Stockwell, South London, after seeing his niece being shot there, said: 'How many other gangsters are out free walking around? British justice is so soft to have let these people out.

'How can the police have let these dangerous people back on to the streets to hurt other people? It cannot be right that they are allowed out on the streets when my niece is condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.'

The three gunmen who mistakenly shot Thusha while trying to murder a rival crack dealer are all members of one of London's most dangerous street gangs. Gas Gang leader and gunman Nathaniel Grant, 21, was on the streets after being cleared of a murder in almost identical circumstances on a technicality. But it was the revelation that his accomplices, Anthony McCalla, 20, and Kazeem Kolawole, 19, were free on bail while waiting to appear in court that provoked outrage.

McCalla, who already had convictions for drugs and violence, was due to go on trial accused of violent disorder after a vicious brawl on a bus. He was also on licence after serving six months for stealing a watch, and probation staff considered recalling him to prison hours earlier because of his erratic behaviour.

Kolawole was wearing an electronic tag and had had to race home to meet his curfew after being caught carrying a knife three months earlier. He had escaped a prison sentence after pleading guilty to beating a schoolgirl in an unprovoked attack on a bus the previous year.

Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey said Thusha's case was a 'wake-up call' that must raise fresh questions about why dangerous people are given bail. 'There is something deeply wrong with the criminal justice system,' she said. 'It is time for people's first offences to be treated much more seriously.

'A lot of people in these gangs are simply getting away with it and laughing at the police and the law. And if the sentences in this case are not utterly draconian they will be laughing again.' McCalla faces a fresh prosecution over a violent scuffle in a corridor leading to the cells at the Old Bailey in which a prison guard handcuffed to the thug suffered a dislocated shoulder.

All three defendants worshipped the gangster lifestyle and posed for inflammatory photos and videos filmed on the Brixton estates they ruled. Grant, conscious that police were desperate to bring him to justice, always wore a mask in rap videos boasting of the Gas Gang's exploits. In one he is surrounded by other gang members with their faces covered as they rap about murdering people for money.

McCalla appears in videos under his street name Mad Antz. In one chilling video called Gunshot, he threatens to shoot someone in the 'neck and chin' to 'send them a message', to the sound of shots and screaming.

And he mocks a crippled survivor: 'Hit him in the chest with an automatic ... if he lives, then boy he lives as a cabbage.'

Judge Martin Stephens, QC, has said he is considering whether to jail the men for life or hand them indeterminate terms when they return to the Old Bailey on April 19.

Daily Mail, London

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