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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Tale of the untouchables
The North Peckham Estate, boarded up ready for demolition
The boys caused havoc on the estate

This is a tale of the untouchables - young teenage boys who did not kill Damilola but who were responsible for a reign of terror in this community.

It is a tale too of a welfare and criminal justice system which time and again failed to control them.

The North Peckham Estate can be a dangerous place - a 12-year-old girl was not far from home at the back of a block of flats when she was attacked by a gang.

Three of the boys accused of this vicious sexual assault were later to be charged with Damilola's murder. The attack left their victim suicidal.

"They ran off and turned round and said 'you can't touch us, we're the untouchables'," said the girl, who did not want to be identified.

"It came to the point where I decided I didn't want to live no more. I took an overdose and they rushed me to hospital - I ended up unconscious because I'd taken so many pills."

Case thrown out

But in a series of blunders the boys were never put on trial for that crime. At the youth court the magistrates decided it was so serious they sent it to the Old Bailey.

The doorway where Damilola died, sealed off by police tape
The doorway where Damilola died has now been boarded up
There, just months before Damilola was killed, defence lawyers claimed two of the accused could not understand what was going on.

In court they produced no evidence to support this, other than a four-year-old educational report on one of the boys.

But Judge Neil Denison was convinced, and ruled the case could go no further.

He said: "Those two defendants are unlikely to understand what is going on... So far as the other three are concerned... it would be totally wrong for them to stand trial, the others having escaped.. from a trial."

It was a decision that has caused some raised eyebrows in the legal profession.

Allan Levy QC said: "This throws the criminal justice system into disrepute. I think the judge's reasoning is very, very surprising."

He particularly criticised the judge for being "prepared to rely on a four-year-old report relating to educational matters rather than psychological matters."

Numerous convictions

For the gang the law was a joke. One court appearance followed another. They had convictions for theft, assault, and drugs.

They breached supervision orders - nearly all had been expelled from school - and left to their own devices they were out of control.

At a project on the edge of the estate youth workers do what they can. Some gang members went to Kids Club for a while, but violence among even the very young is growing.

Staff there were appalled but not surprised at what happened to Damilola.

One predicted "another killing" in the future.

Tackling youth crime effectively involves police officers, social workers and education staff working together with difficult youngsters.

Before Damilola's death the authorities admit that did not always happen.

The stairwell where Damilola collapsed, bleeding to death, is boarded up.

The whole block will soon be demolished as part of the rebuilding of the estate.

But the rebuilding of the criminal and welfare systems is likely to be harder to achieve.

Find out more about the Damilola Taylor murder trial

Not guilty verdict

The fallout





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

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