Damilola witness 'was manufactured by police'

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The Independent Online

Police investigating the murder of Damilola Taylor were accused yesterday of "cynically" turning a "disturbed and damaged" teenage girl into an eyewitness because they did not want another unsolved black death hanging over them.

A defence barrister told the Old Bailey that, during a series of police interviews, the girl had been pressured into changing her account and claiming she witnessed first hand the fatal stabbing of the 10-year-old schoolboy in Peckham, south-east London.

Courtenay Griffiths QC, one of the barristers defending the four teenagers accused of stabbing Damilola, told the jury that the Metropolitan Police had felt compelled to find a witness because of criticism it received over the handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder in south-east London in 1993.

Mr Griffiths, setting out his case, said: "What I am going to suggest to you is that in the post-Lawrence world of policing, the Metropolitan Police and officers involved in this murder investigation could not afford to have another unsolved black death in south-east London. By January 2001, your officers were desperate and, I suggest, you were sent in to manufacture the eyewitness.

"I am going to suggest that you quite cynically took advantage of a disturbed and damaged young girl and turned her into an eyewitness."

Mr Griffiths criticised Police Sergeant Carolyn Crooks over her interviews with the girl, 14 who the prosecution says is the only witness to Damilola's killing. He said she had failed to research the girl's family background, and revealed to the court that her mother had convictions for selling drugs.

The lawyer suggested that the girl had been motivated by a reward of £50,000 offered by a tabloid newspaper. He said: "Someone coming from that type of background might be motivated by money – why didn't you carry out checks on the family background?"

Sgt Crooks answered: "It didn't seem relevant. If someone is a witness in a serious incident it makes no difference to me." Under cross-examination, Sgt Crooks admitted she had formed a "good relationship" with the witness but denied being "taken for a ride" by her.

During nine hours of taped police interviews between Sgt Crooks and the teenager, which have been played to the jury, the girl claims she did not see the killing but was told over the telephone by her friend. But she later claimed witnessing the stabbing while hiding across the street on the North Peckham Estate where the attack took place, on 27 November, 2000.

The taped extracts show Sgt Crooks accepting she realised the teenager was lying about her account. The officer is heard to explain to the girl how important she is and how much it would mean to Damilola's family and "everyone in the country" if she told the truth.

Yesterday, when accused of trying to "engineer" the witness, Sgt Crooks told the jurors: "All I wanted her to do was tell the truth ... and I wanted her to realise the importance of telling the truth." Last week, Mr Griffiths claimed in court that the witness was a liar and a publicity-seeker who had fabricated her version of events.

The jury has also been shown a video tape in which she talks of a Spanish holiday paid for by the police and looks forward to receiving the reward money of £50,000 offered by a tabloid newspaper, when she turned 18.

Two brothers aged 16, their friend, 17, and a 14-year-old youth deny murder, manslaughter and assault with intent to rob. The case continues.