One of the teenage boys accused of murdering Damilola Taylor was freed yesterday after the judge threw out the evidence of the prosecution's chief witness, describing some of it as "embellished lies", and scathingly criticised the police for the way they had obtained the unreliable testimony.
In the most dramatic day of one of the most high-profile and emotive Old Bailey trials in recent times, Mr Justice Hooper said the witness, a 14-year-old girl, was so discredited "no jury could be sure she was telling the truth about anything important". The evidence against the acquitted 17-year-old, had depended mainly on identification by the girl. He was left the court grinning widely after being found not guilty by the jury on the instruction of the judge. The trial of three others: a 15-year-old, and two brothers, both 16, continues.
Mr Justice Hooper gave his damning ruling on the 18th day of the trial to a packed and tense court 12. His 49-minute address to the jury was excoriating about the girl and her police "handlers".
The girl was described as someone with a "fertile imagination" who repeatedly changed her story, the officers were condemned for offering her "inducements" including a £50,000 reward which meant "the danger that she was persuaded to tell untruths is very real". The judge also criticised the police for breaching the Home Office's Memorandum of Good Practice in dealing with children, drawn up after the 1988 Cleveland sex abuse case. He said there was "concern" about officers allowed her access to information which helped buttress her evidence.
The girl was 12 when she made her statement to the police. She had given evidence at the court, behind a screen, for 15 hours and 11 minutes over six days, often erupting in angry exchanges with defence lawyers and storming out on several occasions. The court had also seen 10 hours of videotapes of her police interviews in which the girl repeatedly mentioned the reward. She was heard and seen singing, "I'm in the money".
The jury was told the girl and her mother had run up a £4,133 bill in a week at a hotel while staying under the witness protection programme. She had also been almost constantly in trouble at school and was described as having behavioural problems.
Damilola's mother, Gloria, who sat in the corner of the court, looked down as the freed 17-year-old was hugged and kissed by his mother, and refused to look up when he was led away.