Page last updated at 01:23 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

Does black British 'supergrass' case represent a failure?

By Chris Summers
BBC News

The second of two murder trials involving Britain's first black "supergrass" ended recently at the Old Bailey. But should it be seen as a breakthrough or a failure?

As he was led away in handcuffs having given evidence at the Old Bailey, Darren Mathurin had the look of someone who knew he would forever be glancing over his shoulder.

People know who the culprits are but whether they share it with the police is unlikely. The police are almost irrelevant
Suzella Palmer

Mathurin, a 29-year-old drug dealer with the street name Spider from the Stonebridge estate in Harlesden, north-west London, testified at two trials.

The most recent ended this week with the acquittal of a man, Romain Whyte, accused of conspiracy to murder Jahmall Moore in January 2005.

Another man was convicted - based largely on the evidence of another witness who picked him out in an identity parade.

Supergrasses - beginning with Bertie Smalls in 1974 - have always negotiated deals while in custody awaiting trial.

What makes Mathurin's case unusual - aside from his ethnicity - is that his deal came after he had been convicted, in December last year, of murdering Jahmall Moore and been jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 22 years.

Jahmall Moore
April 2004 - Romain Whyte's girlfriend's home is burgled
January 2005 - Jahmall Moore (pictured) is shot dead
May 2006 - Romain Whyte and another man convicted of Moore's murder, but later cleared on appeal
December 2009 - Mr Whyte is cleared of conspiracy to murder. Second man convicted.

He subsequently did a deal with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and his sentence was reduced to eight years. In return he agreed to give evidence at several trials.

Suzella Palmer, a criminologist at the University of Bedfordshire, said there was a reticence to help the police in many black communities.

"There is no grassing culture. If you grass, the repercussions are very serious," she said.

Ms Palmer, who was also brought up on the Stonebridge estate, said: "In nine out of 10 cases the community knows who is responsible. Names go around. People know who the culprits are, but whether they share it with the police is unlikely. The police are almost irrelevant."

Gus John, a professor of education who has worked with gangs in Manchester and Birmingham, said: "There has been a wall of silence going up across the country as far this type of crime, and this represents a dent in that wall.

"You can see why the police and the judiciary would decide to make a gesture in reducing his sentence."

Life of crime

In May this year, 28-year-old Shakah Anderson was acquitted after an Old Bailey jury rejected Mathurin's evidence.

Stephen Batten QC, prosecuting, admitted to the jury Mathurin "had a history of a life of crime" but said the alternative to offering him a deal was "murderers may go free".

The Hillside hub on the Stonebridge estate
Over 100m has been spent regenerating the Stonebridge estate

But a second trial ended this week with Romain Whyte's acquittal.

Mathurin claimed he was only the getaway driver in the killing of Jahmall Moore in January 2005 - naming Romain Whyte and a second man as the gunmen.

In May 2006 Mr Whyte and the second man were convicted and jailed for life for Moore's murder but their convictions were later overturned on appeal.

The background to the killings starts in April 2004 when the flat of Mr Whyte's girlfriend was burgled while he was in hospital. She suffered broken legs when she jumped out of a window to escape.

There has been a wall of silence going up across the country as far this type of crime and this represents a dent in that wall

Professor Gus John

Tensions rose and a series of tit-for-tat shootings broke out between Mr Whyte's friends and another group, who included Jahmall Moore.

In January 2005 anonymous typewritten letters were sent to Whyte and several other men.

The letters read: "MURDERER 23/05/04 at 22.20

"I know what you did on this date at this time.

"What you do in the dark will come out in the light and everyone will know what it is that you did. If it don't come out the people that matter will still know!!!


Mr Moore's friend, Sean "Fusey" Cephinis, who was acquitted in 2001 of murdering a man at the Notting Hill Carnival, was allegedly the intended target of the second shooting but he left a house in Harlesden shortly before the gunmen arrived. They shot 24-year-old Mr Moore instead.

Mr Whyte was also acquitted of the attempted murder of Mr Cephinis.

Mr Moore's girlfriend, Sasha Newcastle, gave evidence from behind a screen but she admitted lying in previous trials and said she could remember very little about the shooting or what she had said to police.

New identity

Unlike some supergrasses - such as Michelle Hogg, who gave evidence against the Securitas robbers - the shaven-headed Mathurin, wearing a grey prison sweatshirt and biting his lip nervously, was not disguised and was not protected by screens.

But Mathurin will be offered a new identity and relocated to another part of the country when he is released from prison.

It is thought his family have also been rehoused.

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