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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Damilola juror's forensic doubts
By Sue Mitchell
Producer, Damilola - A Search For Justice

As brothers Rickie and Danny Preddie are convicted of the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor, a juror from their first trial - at which they were acquitted of his murder - speaks of her doubts about the forensic evidence against them.

Damilola Taylor
Damilola bled to death in Peckham from a leg wound

A juror from the Preddie brothers' first trial says the actions of police officers during crucial searches in the early stages of the inquiry led her to doubt the forensic evidence on which the case was built.

Speaking exclusively on BBC Radio 4, the juror said she would have expected police officers involved in handling potential exhibits to have taken far more care with how items were logged and to have always worn protective clothing to avoid possible contamination.

The fibre and blood evidence on which the brothers' second trial was built was attacked by defence lawyers during the course of both trials.

The juror said she was staggered to hear police officers in the witness box give incomplete or incomprehensible answers to what she considered fairly basic questions about how exhibits had been handled and catalogued.

"In the witness box they kept saying: "I can't remember, I can't remember. But you would think that in such a high profile case they would know exactly what had been seized and exactly what had happened to it."

Jury doubts

It is highly unusual for a juror to speak publicly but the woman wanted to air her views about the case after sitting on the first jury earlier this year.

After acquitting the pair of murder, that jury failed to reach a verdict on a manslaughter case against the Preddies and were discharged, prompting the second trial, which has concluded at the Old Bailey.

The juror told Winifred Robinson, the presenter of a special documentary on the case - Damilola, A Search For Justice - she was not convinced by fibre evidence in the case.

I felt dreadful, I just kept going over and over what this would mean to the case but there was nothing I could do about it
Det Supt Nick Ephgrave

The prosecution found 13 fibres matching Damilola Taylor's school sweatshirt on Danny Preddie's clothing and further fibre links were made with his older brother, Rickie.

But it emerged during the court case that a replica school sweatshirt obtained by police for use in an appeal photograph had not been properly entered into the exhibits system.

The defence suggested that the officer who handled the replica sweatshirt could have transferred fibres onto Danny Preddie during his arrest.

Prosecution blow

This came as a blow to the man heading the police investigation, Det Supt Nick Ephgrave. He said: "I felt dreadful, I just kept going over and over what this would mean to the case but there was nothing I could do about it. It was an innocuous request from defence counsel that led to this issue becoming an issue.

"I wasn't heading that first police investigation but all I can assume is that in the early days of an inquiry like this you're literally dealing with hundreds of actions. This sweatshirt should have been properly entered into the exhibits system but it wasn't and because of this a lot of good evidence was lost."

The prosecution case against the two brothers had been based largely on forensic evidence. Items of clothing seized from Danny and Rickie Preddie had initially been tested by the Forensic Science Service but yielded nothing.

Damilola Taylor crime scene
A trail of blood led to Damilola's body

It was only when Det Supt Ephgrave sent them to a second laboratory, the Forensic Alliance, that two tiny spots of Damilola Taylor's blood were found - one on a training shoe belonging to Danny Preddie and the second on a black top belonging to his older brother.

The findings formed the basis of the court case against the brothers, although they were very unexpected, according to Det Supt Ephgrave.

He said: "My intention was simply to see if breakthroughs in DNA testing could help provide a lead in the case. It hadn't crossed my mind that evidence might have been missed. That was something I never considered.

"The first result we got back was a finding of Damilola's blood on an item that we'd submitted. And that was unexpected and very exciting news to receive because none of us really thought that we'd get something as positive as that.

"And it was just the best thing that could happen as an investigator, when you get something like that so unexpectedly turn up, it's what makes the job so compelling sometimes, you never quite know what's going to happen in an inquiry. So it was like a jigsaw coming together."

But during the first trial, that blood evidence failed to convince a jury that the boys were guilty of killing Damilola Taylor.

Damilola Taylor
Rickie and Danny Preddie were acquitted of Damilola's murder earlier this year

The defence also raised the possibility that police officers in the case might have planted the blood evidence - a suggestion strongly refuted by DS Ephgrave.

He said: "Luckily for us the training shoe was photographed when it first came into the laboratory, which was only a few days after Damilola's death and you can clearly see the stain in the place where the blood was found.

"It was a great thing to have that photo as otherwise people could make all sorts of assumptions."

The court also heard from witnesses who had been with the brothers in care homes and prisons. These witnesses proved difficult for the prosecution and most were dropped for the re-trial.

Only one witness implicating both brothers remained and he was extremely reluctant to appear at court. It took a warrant for his arrest to finally get him to the Old Bailey.

In the witness box the man, who can not be named for legal reasons, told the jury Rickie had confessed to killing Damilola after his brother Danny attacked the 10-year-old and tried to steal his coat.

For Damilola's parents, Richard and Gloria, the continued police investigation was a source of great comfort. They have always clung to the belief that one day justice will be done.

Mr Taylor said: "Because the boy that is hurt deserves to get justice. He is entitled to his life and somebody took it, somebody wounded him - that person has to be brought to book, someone stabbed him.

"And in the law of this country it says that thou shall not commit murder, if you commit murder there should be a repercussion for it and the police are doing all in their powers to get those who did it put to book."




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