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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Damilola trial: What lessons can be learned?
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says lessons must be learned from the investigation and trial that followed the death of Damilola Taylor.
There have already been calls for an inquiry into the police investigation, after two teenage brothers were cleared of the schoolboy's murder.
Ten-year-old Damilola met his death among the tower blocks of a run-down estate in Peckham, south London, while returning home from an after-school computer class.
More than 120 officers worked on the case at an estimated cost of £2.5m.
But the trial of the suspects was branded a fiasco by defence lawyers after the main witness was dismissed as a liar and two of the four defendants were acquitted on the orders of the judge.
What lessons can be learned from the case? Could the police have handled it better? Should there be an inquiry?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
If ever there was a case for introducing a verdict of "Not Proven" - this must be it. There have been may other instances where such a verdict would have been helpful in both seeking the truth and,ultimately, justice.
I think the Damilola case shows exactly what is right with our justice system: an unreliable witness was exposed as a liar, there was a trial that was able to be relatively unaffected by hysterical press coverage, and shoddy police/CPS work was demonstrated, which will help them do their job better in the future. Of course it is upsetting for the parents, but the courts have nothing to be ashamed of.
I am a first aider and I know that virtually anyone could have saved Damilola's life. Bleeding, even arterial bleeds, can be stopped enough to ensure that the person gets to hospital in time. May I plead to everyone to go on a basic first aid course? This is not a death that needed to happen.
I think that the mishandling of this case goes much further than the police. The judicial system as a whole needs to face up to its flaws. Yesterday's verdict appears to have been at the expense of the victim. What kind of society allows this to happen? The same society that allows an underclass to form where children rule through violence. It all leads back to the same issue-class divisions. This whole case has been a reflection of society's divisions.
Chris Fountain, UK
Why have the police officers who bungled this been promoted? The police were under zealous with Stephen Lawrence and over zealous with Damilola. They need to get the balance right. It's called being professional.
The system and the Met did not fail Damilola: his community did. It is appalling that so few of his neighbours were prepared to cooperate with the police. Shame on you all.
Spend this money on safety measures instead. It is a shame but there a probably quite a few people out there who know who murdered the young child, but they are also too scared to come forward. I would as well if I was living in terror.
It's about time the law in respect of juvenile offenders was changed in this country. It's about time the parents were held responsible for their child's misdemeanours. Put the parents on trial and let them answer for the lack of upbringing and unruliness portrayed by their children.
The verdict was entirely predictable, especially after the collapse of the cases against the other defendants. The police should not be blamed for this debacle. The fault is entirely that of the CPS lawyers for pursuing this prosecution on the basis of flimsy evidence - the phrase "chancing their arm" comes to mind. The key lesson is the unreliability of reported confessions, which should from now on be deemed inadmissible evidence.
There is no point in blaming the police or the CPS for this lack of justice. The legal system defends the accused more than witnesses and the aggrieved families. We should be looking reforming the criminal judicial service to bring it more in line with civil courts and making prosecutions more achievable.
The real blame for failure to find and jail the killers does not rest with the CPS or the police, who did the best with what limited evidence they had, but those in Peckham who only answered police enquiries with silence. To continually blame the CPS and the police is naive and is an effort to absolve society of its responsibilities. It may also help if the judiciary - which is heavily weighted to the left despite its 'old boy' image - supported victims' rights instead of accused.
People say it was a bad result. If these boys are innocent it was a good result. It is sad that there has not been a conviction of those responsible but we must be careful we don't start demanding any result. What we want is the right result.
One important lesson to be learnt is to reduce the media frenzy associated with these trials. A ban on all media attention for any court case would go a long way to solve this problem.
Do the police have to made the scapegoat every time? It seems the easy bandwagon for the media and politicians to jump on - safe in the knowledge that they can hide behind the 'thin blue line'. Perhaps one should ask why the community in Peckham couldn't offer the support needed for the police to deliver. As it is the police had an uphill struggle in the face of stony silence - and all the while the politicians milk the event for all its worth!
James Wild, UK
I sincerely condole
the untimely death
of Damilola. I hope
that the media and
the authorities will prevent this
from becoming an issue
Neil Blair, Northern Ireland
It is the responsibility of the police to conduct the investigation and gather the evidence, while it is the responsibility of the CPS to determine if there is sufficient evidence to go forward to trial. While there is no doubt that the police were under a great deal of unrealistic and unwarranted pressure to "produce", almost entirely by the media, you cannot blame them for the attempt at prosecution.
I believe that it all came down to the type of investigation that took place. Going back to the type of investigation that took place when Steven Lawrence was killed, it is clear that the Metropolitan Police have made no real improvements. What the Taylor family can hope for now is that the police get and immediate lead, which will hopefully resolve this case. I wish them well and hope that justice is done.
There needs to be serious questions raised as to whether or not offering rewards for witnesses to come forward will work. This could lead to the witnesses saying whatever they think the police want them to say as long as they get cash out of it.
Phil Jones, France
I think this whole fiasco is a complete disgrace. I don't know whose fault it all is, but what I do know is I feel for this young boy's family. Damilola Taylor was an innocent child murdered by children. I can think of no bigger sin.
If the case was flawed, then the decision was correct. Any inquiry, and subsequent action, needs to address the causes for this crime, and not just apportion blame.
I have followed this case on and off and whilst the death of Damilola was undoubtedly tragic. Am I correct in saying that there is no hard evidence that any crime was in fact committed?
I was surprised that the judge saw fit to proceed with the case once the evidence given by the key witness began to be brought into question.
To my mind it would have taken an exceptional prosecutor to sway a jury towards a guilty verdict - a decision which on the basis of the actual facts be almost certainly reversed at a subsequent appeal.
The police have done their best under difficult circumstances. You have to question what is wrong with society when witnesses like Bromley have so little respect for any authority that they treat a court with absolute contempt like she did. This coupled with Damilola's death is the real problem. Stop blaming police, courts, judicial system etc. Every individual has a responsibility to society and parents and kids should be taught this.
We are hypocritical in this country; John Prescott was caught on camera punching someone, thousands were spent on a police investigation but it never went to court. The Metropolitan Police investigate a suspicious death, millions are spent but there is no forensic evidence to link the accused to the crime and the only witness, now discredited, never claimed to have actually seen the stabbing only before and after. Yet this case goes to court. I know which one I would rather have prosecuted, yet no one will admit the truth, Damilola's case only came to court to satisfy the politicians, the same hypocrites happy to have "punchy John's" case swept under the carpet.
Well it's nice to know that our security forces can mobilise themselves to stop the anti-globalisation people but don't have the common sense to give a show of force in an inner London no-go area. Of course anarchists are easy to sort out but criminals are able to continue using the law as a shield.
Yet another superb blunder by the Metropolitan Police.
You can't blame the police. They were under a lot of pressure. Yes, they have wasted a lot of money, time and reputations, but we, the public, would have given them worse if they had done nothing. The people who are really to blame for this waste is the public who always overreact and the press, who claim to be the voice of the public. Remember the lynching following the Sarah Payne case?
It is conceivably possible that the two boys acquitted of the charge of murdering Damilola Taylor did not, in fact, murder him.
The general tone of media and police reporting is that the brothers were guilty. Perhaps we can dispense with trials in the future and assume that being charged with a crime is sufficient to be found guilty?
It would appear that the police did the best they could with the evidence available. They have faced a conspiracy of silence in trying to collect material for the case. Unless local residents are prepared to assist the police force in their neighbourhoods, cases like this will continue to occur.
The police themselves were under severe pressure to bring a prosecution and were forced into court with what looks in hindsight as very poor material. I guess they were in a lose-lose position.
In my opinion the system works - and this trial proves it. The police bring the suspects to trial - the CPS tries them - and decision is made based on the evidence. I think the police did their best - but what is really needed now is to sort out the root causes of this. It's simply not OK to say that these estates are 'just like that' and that some are no-go areas. The behaviour on some of those estates is simply socially unacceptable - and society's rules must be brought to bear on those who behave in a way that is unacceptable. Zero tolerance is the answer - look at New York.
I'm not surprised the jury wasn't convinced by the "evidence". The court did the right thing: it could only act on the evidence presented not on suspicion.
Peter from US, perhaps if people of your country cared as we do the world would be a better place. The justice and police system in this country are poorly funded and have very poor guidance. But the people of Britain care about its children, that is why we are not ignoring this.
Peter from US, have a heart, you wouldn't have liked it if we had said that about 11 September!
To Peter in the US: Much as I hate to defend the British press, I think you should look at this news item from a different perspective. Rising crime in Britain is a big issue right now, and the public want to see how it is being handled. With local elections coming it is an especially big deal. And a lot of working-class parents identified with the Taylors. But it is also a very bizarre case; just look at that weirdo "witness" girl who laughed about the whole thing and demanded her reward money. And there was apparently no motive. We're used to gang action in LA and muggings in NYC but this is bizarre. From the British viewpoint this is big news indeed as it is symbolic of a big concern for them.
We have learnt that rewards for witnesses can only work if the witnesses are honest, mature and of strong moral fibre: qualities not often found in Feltham Young Offenders Institute.
Prevention and detection - that's what the police need to learn! The system failed Damilola!
Forget the politics, forget the finger pointing and yes, we should focus on why it happened, but let us not forget what happened. A child died. Black or white, council estate or manor born the fact of the matter is a child has died. And this in itself is a great loss, because Damilola was one of the brighter hopes for the next generation, whose future was all too quickly cut short by disaffected children not much older than him.
Why did this case ever come to court when the evidence was thin right from the word go? It would seem that nothing has been learnt from the sad Stephen Lawrence saga and yet again people have been accused on the principle of "They fit the bill and had it coming to them." We don't even know if it was murder or a tragic accident. Another £10m of public money wasted with no result. Innocent until proven guilty means no evidence, no case so why did the CPS proceed on a political agenda? They should explain their actions, not the police.
Reading and listening about this case today brings home the question of 'real evidence'. Many people living on the estate have remained quiet in fear of reprisals and the evidence being brought to court was just not seen as substantial enough in convicting the accused. The police have been under huge pressure to act on this case in finding leads to prosecute in not being accused themselves of a dereliction of duty as was in the Stephen Lawrence case. The boys who came to be charged and now acquitted leaves huge question marks over social services and the role of schooling in the local area.
Has everyone forgotten about the young boy who bled to death on a stairwell in Peckham? Rather than worry about who didn't do this and that and the failure of this trial shouldn't we be more concerned with finding out what caused the tragic loss of a young life and if someone has a case to answer then bring them to justice? Or would the community and the media rather just indulge themselves in further demoralising and denigrating another under resourced British institution? Let's leave the police to do their job and we might then see justice for Damilola and his family.
Tony Costello, UK
If the only witness was unreliable what are the police and the CPS to do? I think they did their best under difficult circumstances. A shift needs to be made from the reactive to the proactive. More bobbies on the beat might stop incidents from occurring in the first place, but that might be seen as provocative because of poor community relations with the police.
One problem with criminal cases that attract high profile media interest is that the police come under tremendous social and political pressure to secure a conviction at any cost. The result is that the CPS's case is sometimes cobbled together using shaky evidence which the defence promptly dismantles, bringing distress and a sense of injustice to all concerned. I think that while the police probably did the best they could under the circumstances, they should be wary about bringing people to trial simply because they fit the profile.
There was immense political pressure put on the police in this sad case. They had no option but to go all out for a conviction, leaving the case unsolved would have been unacceptable. But I feel the massive publicity has hindered the police's cause. It's impossible to say whether the investigation would have been more effective with less scrutiny of the police's every move but it can't have helped. It seems that police resources have been over-focused on this one case and other crimes have gone unchecked in the area. One has to wonder whether there would such an outcry if a white boy had been murdered? I have to say I don't think there would have been.
Regarding Jon Cooper's comments, there are many who believe that if Damilola had been white, whoever was put to trial would have been found guilty. We need to remove the bias of race from the issue and concentrate on making the streets safer again. I am not ashamed to say that I would rather the police ensure something like this never happens again than wasting more money trying to find suspects who may never be found.
The results of this trial further undermine public confidence in the police and their ability to do a job. Like most national bodies (including the railways, hospitals, local government and air traffic control) the police need to be told to get the job done efficiently and effectively. Excuses can no longer be accepted.
I think that the police and CPS were under pressure to come up with a result and they threw a case together. In my opinion the 'evidence' was a load of rubbish and the judge should not have even allowed the case to come to court. We should fire the person responsible for wasting so much of our money on an ill-conceived trial.
26 Apr 02 | England
Pressure grows for Damilola inquiry
25 Apr 02 | England
Brothers cleared of Damilola murder
25 Apr 02 | England
Damilola case dubbed 'farce'
25 Apr 02 | England
Sadness and frustration of Peckham people
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