A vendor tragedy: five years on we remember Ian and Wayne

Five years after two Big Issue vendors were killed as they worked, we pay tribute and ask what's changed for homeless people since their tragic deaths

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.

After the shock and the horror came an outpouring of emotion. We were inundated by thousands of messages of condolence from across the UK and around the world, and the deaths have had a deep and lasting impact felt by all in The Big Issue family.

“Ian and Wayne were really great guys, which is one of the many reasons their deaths hit people hard,” says Becky Mitchell, who was regional manager in Birmingham at the time. “They were both fantastic but quite different. Ian was very outgoing and had a great sense of humour while Wayne was much more reserved and quiet but was truly a very sweet, gentle and thoughtful man. Both are really missed.”

Becky has strong memories of how the community rallied to remember Ian and Wayne, and support other vendors. Vigils were held and a memorial plaque erected in the city’s Peace Gardens.


“I will always remember how the city came around us and looked out for vendors and staff,” she says. “We had people turning up on the doorstep for weeks, an overwhelming amount of support that helped people get through the toughest of times. Vendors were checked on and looked after by other homeless services, the police, the public, businesses – everyone in the community.

Wayne and Ian are etched in the city’s mind

“I have such an enormous amount of respect for Big Issue vendors. They were, and are, really strong. They demonstrated a huge amount of resilience and strength in solidarity, as well as companionship.”

Wayne’s younger brother Jack wanted to do something in his memory and took part in a skydive, raising more than £1,000 for The Big Issue Foundation and saying: “My brother was a happy person and intent on putting his life back on track, turning to The Big Issue for the opportunity to earn his own money. Without organisations like The Big Issue people who are homeless can be seen as a burden to society and not treated as the human beings they are.”


One of the letters we received soon after the tragedy came from Kate Cotter, 45, who was on Union Street at the time of the attack. Here’s what she wrote:

“I just feel the need to email you. I am a nurse at the children’s hospital and I went to help who I now know as Ian. I held him and administered first aid, and stayed with him until the end. I am devastated it wasn’t enough to save him but pray he knew in these moments he was very much loved and cared for by people who didn’t even know him. I will never forget what happened that night and in time I want to do something in their memory – something good must come out of this tragedy.”

The deaths of Ian and Wayne reveal some of the ugly complexities of homelessness, but in Birmingham have helped pave the way to a brighter future for homeless people in the city.

Five years on, Kate is now making a difference to the lives of hundreds of homeless people in the Birmingham area and beyond, working for the charity Socks and Chocs, which provides the little essentials for homeless people that can prove to be life-changing.

“After it happened I started speaking to homeless people a lot more,” Kate explains. “I became more aware of how bad the problem was and it hit me hard. I might have walked past Ian and Wayne a hundred times and not even looked. To find out they were somebody’s son, one of them was a father, they become real people.”

Kate wanted to channel her emotions in a positive way so teamed up with the ‘busking bobby’ PC Ian Northcott, famous in Birmingham for donating socks and chocolates to homeless people in winter. In the summer of 2013 Kate decided to help, not realising that Ian had been on duty on the evening of the killings and had supported her at the scene.

“We now work all year round and all over the country,” Kate says. “We don’t just want to support living on the streets, we want to try to get them into centres or support networks, and there is a lot in Birmingham that help people.

Kate wanted something good to come from the tragedy

“It’s amazing how it’s grown from doing Christmas socks and chocolates to providing washing machines, cookers, starter packs for people moving into their own place.”

In 2017 Socks and Chocs provided 21,700 pairs of socks, gloves or hats, 3,638 boxes of chocolates and countless other pieces of clothing and useful items to homeless centres. And she has plans to meet the Big Issue team this month to find out how vendors can be supported.

“That to me is coming full circle and I’m really happy to be able to do that,” Kate says. “Everything I do, I do it for Ian and Wayne, and that’s not changed.”


The deaths exposed in the most brutal way how vulnerable those forced to live on the streets are. And there has been little change. A recent report from the charity Crisis revealed that rough sleepers are 15 times more likely to be assaulted – one in three have been physically attacked – while 79 per cent have been the victim of a crime or antisocial behaviour.

A survey of our vendors found that one in three had been mugged for their earnings and abuse is widespread. Almost every vendor you see will have a story of being subject to physical or verbal intimidation.

A statistic that cannot be repeated enough is that the average life expectancy of a homeless man in England is 47 and for a woman it’s only 43, compared to the national average of 79 and 83. In last week’s magazine we carried tributes to 14 vendors who died during 2017, one as young as 33, whose lives were shortened because of homelessness. And we also remember two vendors killed in 2009: Dundee vendor Paddy McDade and Ralph Millward, who was beaten to death in Bournemouth by a group of youths after turning down their request for cigarettes.

We pay tribute to much-loved vendors who died in 2017

The week before Christmas, 38-year-old Paul Williams died in freezing temperatures while sleeping rough in Birmingham city centre, just two minutes from where Ian and Wayne were killed. The rise in the number of rough sleepers – and of hidden homeless – is a terrible indictment of the failings of society. The statistics are appalling: 9,000 sleeping rough in England at any one time – up 134 per cent since 2011; more than 79,000 households with 120,000 children in temporary accommodation – a 65 per cent rise since 2010. This is a consequence of policies that do not do enough to prevent people being forced into homelessness.

Ian and Wayne were killed by 23-year-old John Ward who is, in many ways, another victim. Ward had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia but had fallen through gaps in the support system and ended up homeless in London. He travelled to Birmingham on January 10 and the next morning, knowing no one in the city, approached Ian and Wayne as they sold their magazines. The pair befriended him. Later that day came the motiveless attack, with Ward arrested by the police within minutes.

At his trial in October 2013, Ward pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility via videolink from Ashworth Hospital. The judge sentenced him to a minimum of 12 years but told him he may never be released.


Speaking afterwards, Detective Sergeant Mike Griffiths said: “This was a truly horrific case in which two men died following a random and senseless attack. Sadly, they were victims of circumstance.

“Their work as street vendors led them to becoming acquainted with John Ward and while we’ll never really know why he killed Wayne and Ian, the chilling reality is that because of his mental illness, anyone could have been a target on that day.”

Why did it take the deaths of two people before someone suffering from serious mental health problems was given help?

“Ian and Wayne died because no one seemed to know that there was a very sick, homicidally intent man on the loose in Birmingham that day,” says Big Issue founder John Bird. “A more effective mental health system might well have helped us avoid that terrible tragedy.

“When Thatcher’s government ‘modernised’ Britain by emptying the mental health beds, it was soon noted that the streets filled up, along with the prisons. We have been fighting a rear-guard action against that disastrous cost-cutting decision from over 30 years ago.

“And it is against this background that we must understand that what happened to our two much-loved vendors in Birmingham was not some isolated act. It was a part of government policy come back to haunt us.

“Secure places need to be readily available when someone gets violent and dangerous towards others. The overstretched mental health service cannot cope with the people it needs to help.”

The amount of people not getting the support they need is in the thousands. Homeless Link surveyed more than 2,500 homeless people in 2014, finding that 80 per cent had some form of mental health issue. Almost half had been given a formal diagnosis – and this is leaving aside the fact that 73 per cent of homeless people also report a physical health problem, 41 per cent of those being long-term complaints.

The deaths of Ian and Wayne reveal some of the ugly complexities of homelessness, but in Birmingham have helped pave the way to a brighter future for homeless people in the city.

In the aftermath, Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley spoke passionately about how the incident should encourage the community to see homeless people as their brothers and sisters. Today he believes that, while Birmingham still has one of the country’s highest rates of homelessness, the right steps are being taken to tackle the problem.

The vigil on Union Street moved many to tears

“The whole city was shocked and saddened to hear of the brutal killing on an ordinary Friday night of two men who were familiar faces to those in the passing crowds,” Archbishop Longley says. “Sadly those problems are still very real today, with Birmingham having one of the highest rates of homelessness. Yet Birmingham is also blessed to have a number of dedicated organisations seeking to make a difference to the city’s homelessness statistics.

“A recent meeting of faith communities with the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street identified the issue of homelessness as one of our region’s four top priorities. We can and should work more closely together to support those who are trying to tackle the causes of homelessness as well as offering help when a crisis arises.”

Becky Mitchell, who now heads up volunteering at the University of Birmingham, believes their memory has created a positive legacy. “It had a huge impact on the city and is etched in people’s minds,” she explains. “What happened is mentioned to me on a fairly regular basis, especially when I meet new people and say I worked for The Big Issue. Every time it happens I feel like I’m being knocked sideways. It’s great the lads aren’t forgotten.”

Five years ago, our hope was that out of those darkest of days, some light would come. We encouraged other readers to celebrate the positive impact vendors have made to countless communities. The hashtag #celebrateyourvendor became a way to channel the goodwill at a difficult time, and we encourage you again to shout about and share stories about your local vendor.

Ian and Wayne live on in our memories because they embodied the spirit of the hundreds of men and women who sell The Big Issue. No one knows more about dark days than our vendors, but no one knows better than them how to turn a bad situation around. If we want to find hope, we need look no further than our vendors; beacons on the streets lighting the way towards a better future.