image captionJeff, Helen, Xing and Alice Ding were murdered by Anxiang Du on 29 April 2011- the day of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
A family of four was murdered in their own home on 29 April 2011 by a killer eventually traced to Morocco after an 18-month manhunt. Ten years on, the permanent legacy of hope left behind by the Ding family can still be seen.
Visitors to Caroline Chisholm School are greeted by a sea of daffodils.
They were planted to celebrate the life of a former pupil who lit up the school with her hard work and talent.
Alice Ding was a Year 7 pupil when she was murdered on 29 April 2011, along with her sister and parents.
Anxiang Du killed Alice, aged 12, and her family – her sister Xing, 18, also known as Nancy, and their parents Jifeng “Jeff” Ding and Ge “Helen” Chui – at their home in Wootton, Northampton.
image captionDaffodils were planted at Caroline Chisholm School to remember Alice Ding, as yellow was her favourite colour
It took police 18 months to track down Du, who killed the family following a business dispute.
He was jailed for life with a minimum of 40 years in November 2013.
The daffodils are part of a legacy – yellow was Alice’s favourite colour – that includes a memorial and, more strikingly, a commitment to encourage the qualities she demonstrated in the pupils of today.
Alice’s head of year back in 2011 was Joe Rich, now the school’s faculty leader for PE.
“She was incredibly hard-working,” he says.
“Staff who were here with Alice will look for those qualities in students now.”
Mr Rich and Katherine Patterson, the school’s vice-principal both today and 10 years ago, stand in a small courtyard.
The daffodils are to their left and up a small bank to the right sits Alice’s memorial, consisting of a sapling planted after her death and a plaque which reads: “In loving memory of the Ding family. Shine Bright Alice.”
image captionJoe Rich was Alice Ding’s head of year in 2011, while Caroline Chisholm School’s vice-principal Katherine Patterson called her “a delightful student”
“Alice was an extremely dedicated student,” Mrs Patterson says. “She loved life and was very popular with everyone.
“She was just a delightful student.”
Mrs Patterson imagines a life at university where her former pupil could have excelled at anything from English to science, but with music at the forefront.
“Alice and her family were really talented musicians,” she says.
“I’m absolutely certain she would have gone on to a professional level and I would have seen her playing in orchestras. Maybe the Philharmonic, who knows?”
image captionAlice was in Year 7 when she was murdered, having attended Caroline Chisholm School since the age of six
Mr Rich remembers “a lovely young girl” who “would have gone on to achieve great things”.
“She was a pleasure to have as a member of the school. It was a tragic, tragic loss,” he says.
He remembers the days after the murders as “extremely tough”.
“Tragically some students lose their lives, but with the way in which this happened, it was uncharted territory,” he says.
“The impact of this grief was school-wide, community-wide and we needed to deal with that.”
Mrs Patterson agrees: “It’s the most shocking and tragic event I have experienced in my whole career.”
She remembers a memorial service and concerts, special assemblies taking place and a classroom where pupils could have some time for quiet reflection.
image captionXing, left, and Alice, right, pictured with their mother Helen, were talented girls with a bright future
“It was incredibly sad,” she says. “They were just a brilliant, wonderful family and we miss them very much.”
Mrs Patterson also remembers Helen Chui, who worked at the school as a part-time tutor teaching Mandarin.
“She was a really lovely lady and we often saw her at parents’ evenings.
“She was a real part of our school community.”
As the spring sunshine reflects on the daffodils, memories of Alice return.
“Her whole attitude to learning is something we would love for all our students,” says Mrs Patterson.
“To love learning and grab every opportunity. That’s what Alice was like.
“She was always at the forefront of it all, just enjoying life.”
Anxiang Du timeline
image captionAnxiang Du was captured on CCTV making his way from Coventry to Wootton, Northampton
- Anxiang Du, who lived in Coventry, murdered the Ding family on 29 April 2011
- They were the victims of a carefully planned revenge attack by businessman Du, who had lost a 10-year legal battle with his former partners Mr and Mrs Ding
- He drove to London, avoiding numerous number plate recognition cameras despite only having a provisional licence, and dumped the family’s car – which he had stolen – in St John’s Wood. Police later released CCTV footage of him travelling to and from the Dings’ Northamptonshire home
- Du boarded a coach to Paris on 30 April, travelled through France and Spain, and caught a ferry to Tangier in Morocco
- The Ding family were not found until a neighbour checked on them on 1 May
- Despite collecting nine parking tickets, the abandoned car was not found until 11 May
- In the summer of 2012, police announced Du had been found living and working on a building site in Morocco
- Du was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years in prison in November 2013
Alice’s sister Xing had an equally bright future – a Northampton High School A-level pupil, she had already secured a place at the University of Nottingham to study medicine.
image captionXing Ding (pictured right with sister Alice) was posthumously awarded top grades for her A levels at Northampton High School
In 2013, after Du was convicted, the school’s then head teacher Sarah Dixon described Xing as “so much fun”, adding “she was a lovely girl, she was both a serious academic and a really entertaining companion”.
She said: “She had so much going for her which made it feel particularly galling that such a dreadful thing could happen to such a bright spirit.”
‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything so horrific’
image captionGlyn Timmins, who initially led the investigation into the murders of the Ding family, said it was the one of the most horrific crimes in Northamptonshire’s history
Glyn Timmins led the initial investigation into the murders.
A decade on, he says the killings remain “one of the most horrendous crimes” the county has ever seen.
“I was an experienced murder investigating officer and I don’t think I’ve seen anything so horrific in my career,” says Mr Timmins, then a detective superintendent and Northamptonshire Police’s head of crime.
He remembers photographs of the house showing “a scene of total horror”.
After stabbing Mr and Mrs Ding to death, Du went upstairs where he stabbed Xing 11 times and Alice four.
“This is the one part of the investigation you try and laser-remove from your brain,” Mr Timmins says.
“It’s just horrendous. While that murder was going on they tried to ring the police and the screams from those calls – that’s going to haunt me until they carry me out in a box.
“They should be here telling an entirely different story and the way they were brutally wiped out doesn’t bear thinking about.
“For many months I lived it, breathed it,” he says. “It was my life.”
The case remained unsolved when he retired in 2012.
By the summer of that year, police had traced Du to Morocco. An appeal aired on Spanish television was picked up by the Journal de Tanger in Morocco, prompting a reader to come forward to say her son recognised the picture in the newspaper.
Du was extradited and, after admitting the killings, sentenced to 40 years in November 2013, concluding a case that had lasted more than two and a half years.
Vittorio Caprio shared an office with his friend Jeff Ding when they both worked as senior chemistry lecturers at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“I still sit in the same place and remember him sitting there,” he says.
image captionAn annual chemistry prize is awarded at Manchester Metropolitan University in honour of Jeff Ding
Jeff also worked as a hall warden, Mr Caprio remembers, living on the campus during the week and providing pastoral care for students.
“Jeff was a really nice, friendly bloke,” he says. “He got on with everyone and always had a smile on his face.”
Mr Caprio learned of his friend ‘s death while sitting on a train during the commute to work.
“I was looking through the Metro and there was a picture of Jeff and I read this story,” he says.
“I felt absolute disbelief. My mind said ‘it is not him’, even though his name was in the report.”
image captionKiller Anxiang Du was eventually tracked down to Tangiers in Morocco, extradited, and then jailed for a minimum of 40 years
When he arrived at work, the office they shared was surrounded by a police cordon with forensics officers inside.
“Everyone was in shock. No-one is made for that. We are insular academics,” says Mr Caprio.
“If someone gets run over, that happens, but something like that, with that butchery, it was horrific.”
As well as a memorial to the former lecturer, the university has started the Jeff Ding Chemistry Prize, awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding effort.
On the university’s website, Hannah Donohue, who won the prize in 2020, summed up Mr Ding’s legacy: “After reading how Jeff supported students, I am sure he would be extremely proud of the current team in the chemistry department.
“I hope to follow in Jeff’s footsteps and make him proud.”
Related Internet Links
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.