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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
The toughest case
Damilola Taylor
Damilola bled to death in a stairwell in south London
test hello test
Jon Silverman
BBC home affairs correspondent
line

Prosecutors regard the Damilola Taylor investigation as a "damned if we do, damned if we don't" case.

Speaking off the record, a CPS source said on Friday: "In a murder such as this, knowing that we had both an eyewitness and a cell confession, how could we have justified not bringing charges?"

On the other hand, the decision to prosecute was balanced on a knife-edge and at least one senior Treasury counsel - the barristers who review the evidence before recommending a prosecution - is said to have expressed deep reservations about going ahead.

Having gone ahead, though, the first critical point was the judge's decision to throw out the evidence of the girl, witness 'Bromley', as unreliable.

Damilola Taylor's parents
Damilola's mother and father say there has been "no justice"
The defence seem to have formed the view that if this were to happen, the Crown would abandon the prosecution.

Whether serious thought was given to such a course is not yet clear but the Crown pressed on, taking the view that if the case passed the "halfway" mark, it stood a fair chance of being put before a jury.

And since that was its goal in the first place, it was a logical position to take.

However, the prosecution strategy is still open to question. It must have been obvious that witness 'Bromley' could come unstuck in court. Was there a contingency plan, if that happened?

Why, as the judge pointed out with some force, did the Crown not try harder to counter the potentially damaging alibi evidence about the use of the two brothers' mobile phones only minutes after the death of Damilola?

And did prosecuting counsel, Mark Dennis, do his utmost to secure protection for witness 'Bromley' as she came under ferocious forensic attack from the defence ?

Unpromising hand

Even so, some of the reflex criticism of the police and prosecution barely stands scrutiny.

For example, defence QC, Courtenay Griffiths, attacked detectives for referring evidence to the CPS even before a decision had been taken to charge.

But he knows that this has become routine practice, even in far less high-profile cases than this.

Imagine the obloquy which would have been heaped on the Metropolitan police if it had not involved the CPS at an early stage.

The plain fact is that this was always going to be the toughest of challenges for the prosecution.

It was dealt an unpromising hand from the start and although it might have played it more skilfully, convictions were probably the least likely outcome.

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