Police investigating the death of Damilola Taylor arrested the wrong people while under huge pressure to solve the case, the Old Bailey was told yesterday.
The two defendants – 16-year-old brothers – were among the "usual suspects" and police tried to build a case against them, Baroness Mallalieu QC, representing one of the brothers, said.
She said that the teenager had not admitted his involvement in the death despite being "bullied and intimidated" during "disgraceful" police interviews. "Putting it quite bluntly, this case is a mess," she told the court.
Lady Mallalieu said nothing had been found to link the boys to Damilola or the road where the police said he had been attacked. None of the witnesses in the area had described the boys' distinctive appearance, she said.
Damilola died, aged 10, on 27 November 2000 in Blakes Road on the North Peckham Estate, south London, bleeding to death from a thigh wound. The prosecution says he was stabbed with a broken bottle, but the defence says the wound could have been caused accidentally.
The brothers deny murder, manslaughter and assault with attempt to rob. Two other youths have been cleared on the judge's direction.
In her closing speech, Lady Mallalieu said her client had been in trouble for a number of minor offences such as taking mopeds in the year before Damilola's death. But he had no convictions for violence and there was no suggestion that he carried or used weapons.
As the death drew ever more public attention, the Metropolitan Police wanted to restore confidence in its ability to keep the streets safe, Lady Mallalieu said. "The pressure on the police force must have been enormous."
Investigating officers had then gone along with a "deeply flawed" witness, a 13-year-old girl who had no compulsion about lying.
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