In June 2020, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were murdered in a north London park. Two years after their passing, BBC documentary Two Daughters sees Stacey Dooley visit their mother Mina Smallman to find out what happened in the aftermath.
In June 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd sparked a worldwide conversation around institutional racism and police brutality, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were brutally murdered in a north London park after hosting a birthday picnic. Despite the police being alerted to their disappearance, it was only after family and friends mounted their own search party that their bodies were discovered.
As the second anniversary of their death approaches, their mother Mina Smallman has teamed up with Stacey Dooley for Two Daughters, a moving BBC documentary about her life since her girls were murdered.
Beginning at the Smallman’s family home in Ramsgate on what would have been Bibaa’s 47th birthday, the film introduces us to Mina, who was the first Black female archdeacon in the Church of England, and her husband Chris, who is Nicole’s father.
Their daughters, we hear, were loved by all who knew them. 27-year-old Nicole was an artist, animal lover and free spirit who Mina says should have been born in the 60s. 46-year-old Bibaa was a passionate, determined social worker specialising in child protection. She was also a mother and soon-to-be grandmother.
Recalling details about their daughters’ lives opens a window onto the devastating grief that has ripped the couple’s lives apart. The only way that Mina can cope with life, she explains, is to be “partially engaged with the reality of it”. Chris agrees that it’s easier, sometimes, to believe that “it’s not really happened”.
But when Mina feels the full force of her grief, it is as though a dam has burst. During her “meltdowns”, she says in one gut-wrenching moment, she longs to “join my girls”.
“I don’t want to be here,” she explains tearfully. “And it’s only because the girls have gone, and I know the pain it has caused, to lose someone you love… I couldn’t do it to Chris and Monique” (Mina’s middle daughter).
By midnight, Bibaa and Nicole’s friends had departed the picnic, and the pair continued their celebrations together. It was then that 19-year-old Danyal Hussein, in what was later described as an act of satanic sacrifice, repeatedly stabbed the pair to death and dragged their bodies out of view into nearby woodland.
The following day, the family grew increasingly concerned about Bibaa and Nicole’s whereabouts. But when Mina called the police 24 hours later to report their disappearance, there was no “sense of urgency”. By Sunday morning, Chris drove to London to search for the sisters, and friends who had attended the picnic mounted a search party alongside Nicole’s boyfriend Adam. Before long, Adam discovered the bodies of his girlfriend and her sister in undergrowth near the park, and delivered the terrible news to Mina. At that moment, there were still no police on the scene.
But while Bibaa and Nicole’s names should have been headline news when they were murdered, it was eighteen days later that the case gained national attention when two Metropolitan police officers, PC Deniz Jaffer, 47, and PC Jamie Lewis, 33, were found to have taken and distributed selfies beside the sisters’ bodies on WhatsApp. An investigation found that the pair left their posts guarding the crime scene in order to take the photographs of the sisters, who they described as “dead birds”.
“Any reserves we had were then cut off,” says Mina, who maintains that the apathetic police response to her daughters’ disappearances, and the sickening violation from the Met police officers who took photos of their bodies, were both influenced by their race.
When Dooley meets with a group of extended friends and family who searched for Bibaa and Nicole after their disappearance, Bibaa’s aunt Jacqui Henry asserts that the officers’ misconduct is indicative of deep-rooted institutional issues.
“They are the tip of the iceberg, I honestly believe that,” she says in one emotional scene. “There were 40 other officers that they sent those pictures to. When you send a picture, to 40 different people, you know those 40 people think the way you think, have done that before, would be accepting of the behaviour that came with those photographs. That’s scary. That’s just 40 that we know of.”
Jacqui also recalls the anguish at being told they could not pay their respects at the murder scene, only to find out later that the bodies had been horrifically desecrated by two serving police officers.
“Those two police officers did something worse than them being murdered,” she continues. “We can’t change that. But the dignity that they deserved them in their death, they took that from them, and I will never forgive them for that.”
In the midst of the family’s devastation, the documentary chronicles how religion has given Mina an invaluable source of strength. Without her faith, she explains, she would be a “very bitter and twisted” person. “Finding my faith has saved me on numerous occasions, and at times like this, you need it. You have to dig deep when the bad times come”.
Mina is also determined to honour the memory of her daughters through her activism. Since the girls’ murder, she has ploughed her energies into campaigning for Black Lives Matter and women’s personal safety, and wants to encourage people to “stand up for the other” when they encounter incidents of racism, misogyny and homophobia.
“As a Mum, I just want to go and curl up and die somewhere, really,” she says. “But what keeps me going is justice. Justice for all women who have been attacked and raped and murdered. We have to get this stuff sorted. In that, I find my strength.”
Mina’s resolve to drive positive change is indeed remarkable given the endless horrors that have emerged in the aftermath of her daughters’ murders. In one devastating moment, Mina receives the news that an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report into the Met’s handling of her missing person’s enquiry had concluded that the police response was not a result of stereotyping or biased assumptions about the sisters’ race or where they lived - even though a call handler had referred to one of the sisters as a “suspect”. The Met was “advised” to apologise for providing “unacceptable” service.
In one of the most harrowing moments in the film, we see Mina overwhelmed by rage and grief after receiving news of the findings.
“It’s just so frustrating,” she says tearfully. “You try to move forward; you try and move from the pain, but that report represents time in our lives where we were desperate for our children, that we had to put our own search party together, and the Met wants to offer us an apology? Are they mad? Sorry is what you say when you bump into somebody.
“This is me; Mum,” she continues. “This is the consequence. What happens is your energy levels go to the ground, and if you keep pushing, then I could back to being bed-ridden again. I just have energy to shower, that’s it. I haven’t even got energy to moisturise my body.
“But I thought it was important that people get to see all aspects of their story. Because normally when I’m like this, I don’t allow people to see me. I retreat, and just regain my energy. But I thought it was really important that people understand that on top of everything else, we still have our conditions and the toll that it’s taking on our lives.
“This is what a mother’s grief looks like,” she sobs. “And the sense of injustice makes everything ten times worse because you can’t move forward.”
Mina’s grief is a reminder that nothing will ever be the same for the Smallman family in the wake of such unimaginable loss. But the story of violence against women and girls, women’s personal safety, society’s neglect of women of colour, misogyny and racial injustice, is one in which we must all take collective responsibility.
“I want everyone to feel part of this story,” she says, urging people to “revisit the fire” from Black Lives Matter. “Things change when we challenge. Everyone can make a difference in their own vineyard”.
Mina and Chris are also determined that Bibaa and Nicole won’t be defined by the horror of their deaths.
“It’s really important to me that we remember how they lived, not how they died,” Mina says at the end of the documentary. “Bibaa the amazing social worker who battled to make sure that children were safe but families weren’t broken up.
“And Nikki, she was just a ray of light everywhere, and I know that will always be the way. And I think that’s what we need to do, we need to find the sunshine in the rain.”
Two Daughters is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.
Images: BBC/True Vision East/Jermaine Blake
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.