Estate's wall of silence broken down by deals

JAMIE ROBE'S murder was shocking. The teenager was lured into an ambush down a quiet, dark street in south-east London by a gang of youths. The blows that killed him were so ferocious that some of the weapons shattered.

Nobody disputes Jamie was drunk or that he had been in an argument with two of the boys who killed him. But when he followed them down Tawny Way into the Osprey estate, Rotherhithe, he was met by a gang for whom his life was worthless.

The police were under tremendous pressure to solve the case in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. But the inquiry hit a wall of silence, and incentives were offered to witnesses. This led to criticism of the area's MP, Simon Hughes, who brokered some of the deals.

In December 1997 a tabloid newspaper offered a reward of pounds 10,000 for information leading to the conviction of the killers. The murder was also the subject of a Crimewatch reconstruction. But for a year the police could make no progress. In the midst of this was Mr Hughes, trying to find witnesses to testify. The way he went about it led to accusations of naivety by the defence.

The prosecution case rested largely on three people who said they saw the murder and who all benefited from the witness protection programme. Traci Broughton, now 19, was first persuaded by the MP to meet police on 13 January 1998. Her account, however, changed over time. She told detectives she had seen Jamie in the Surrey Docks area where they flirted with each other. This led to a fight between one of the convicted men, David Huggins, and Jamie, which the latter had won.

She also told police she was picked up from a pub by her boyfriend, Russell Eveling. Mr Eveling denied this; he is a bus driver and records show he was working that night.

Ms Broughton then said she would provide a witness statement in return for relocation away from Rotherhithe. She claimed Danny Huggins, brother of David Huggins, was present at the murder. But hospital records show he was with his girlfriend, who had been admitted for treatment. Ms Broughton changed her story and suggested another name.

The Crown Prosecution Service was unwilling to proceed on the evidence of Ms Broughton alone and dropped the case in March 1998. At the end of that year Mr Hughes met three Turkish brothers, originally called witnesses C, D and E. They owned and worked in the Surrey Kebab opposite the crime scene.

The three said they would only give evidence if one of them - D, an illegal immigrant - was given indefinite leave to stay. The Home Office initially refused but was persuaded by Mr Hughes to reverse its decision. A second condition emerged; all three insisted on being relocated. Mr Hughes brokered a pounds 20,000 loan with a local bank manager to allow them to open a new kebab shop elsewhere.

In January 1999 all three made statements and the five youngsters were charged. In court, the defence lawyers successfully argued to remove screens shielding the Turkish witnesses in court. Witness E withdrew from the case. The two remaining Turks were given pseudonyms Mehmet and Hassan, but their character was questioned in the case.

Mr Hughes defended his actions yesterday, saying: "In terms of doing my job, using my network in the community, that is one of the jobs MPs have to learn to do. You have to take risks sometimes."

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