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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 23:25 GMT
Inside Old Bailey's Court 12
Old Bailey
Inside the Old Bailey, Court 12 has been made informal
By BBC correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti at the Damilola Taylor murder trial

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Court 12 of the Old Bailey is how unlike a court it looks.

Judge and barristers are without gowns and wigs, and the four young defendants are not in the dock but sitting in rows at an angle to the bench, next to their lawyers and members of their family.

But the atmosphere in court on Wednesday was entirely consistent with what you might expect in a case as harrowing as this.

Tears

As the prosecuting counsel Mark Dennis laid out his case, everyone present was silent and sombre.

Richard Taylor, Damilola's father, appeared calm and listened intently to every word that was said, leaning forward in his chair to catch every word.

His wife Gloria, who was seeing the four defendants for the first time, appeared more vulnerable, seemingly on the verge of tears at one stage, shaking her head in grief at others as she heard some of the agonising details of her son's last moments.

The defendants themselves blend into the courtroom much more than if they had been in the dock.

Richard Taylor
Damilola's father Richard was in court on day one
The prosecution, mindful of this, took the trouble to point out to the jury the four accused right at the beginning of the trial.

All four defendants, some of whom had previously appeared in casual clothes, were today in suits and ties.

The language used in court is supposed to be clear and simpler than in an adult court, to make allowances for the fact that they are minors. It was hard to tell if the right balance had been struck.

Strenuous

The jury, of seven men and five women, were left in no doubts about the magnitude of the case right from the outset.

Along with the usual questions put to potential jurors, about whether hospital appointments or holidays might interfere with them sitting, and whether they know anyone connected with the case, they were also asked if they had children who had been the victim of violent crime, and, given the already intensive coverage of the case, whether or not they lived in the London borough of Southwark.

The judge, Mr Justice Hooper, also warned them that a case of this length - possibly up to three months - was physically strenuous.

The youth of the defendants means that many of the prosecution witnesses are also underage - not least the key witness, the girl who was 13 at the time of the alleged killing.

She will give her evidence in court, but shielded from the defendants and the press by a heavy curtain, making her visible only to the judge, the jury, and the barrister questioning her.

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


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