Drug dealer gets life for murder of Toni-Ann

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A cold-blooded drug dealer who shot a seven-year-old girl in the back after murdering her adopted father was jailed for life yesterday.

The schoolgirl Toni-Ann Byfield was a victim of the violence and ruthlessness surrounding the trade in crack cocaine.

She was murdered by Joel Smith after she had watched the man she believed to be her father - another crack cocaine dealer - shot dead at the London flat where she was staying, a jury at the Old Bailey decided. The judge recommended that he serve a minimum of 40 years for the killing of Toni-Ann and 33 years for the murder of Mr Byfield.

The girl should never have been in the flat - situated in a hostel for ex-offenders - but ended up staying there following blunders by social services, whose care she was under.

The murder conviction is the final chapter in the life of the seven-year-old which has highlighted the murky world of drug dealing and gang rivalry.

Toni-Ann, nicknamed TT, was murdered just after midnight on 14 September 2003, in a crime that caused widespread revulsion and shock. The man she treated as her father, Bertram Byfield, 41, who had previously been jailed for nine years for possessing crack cocaine with intention to supply, was shot twice in the armpit and groin during the attack. Police believe the double murder was a robbery gone wrong.

The killer, Smith, 33, would probably have got away with the crime had he not later bragged: "I blasted a dad and his daughter, a little kid." The terrible nature of the crime also turned friends and family against him.

The case highlighted the plight of a young girl who had been pushed from one home to another.

Toni-Ann was born in Jamaica in 1997 to Roselyn Richards, who told Byfield she was his child. They already had two sons together.

Within six months, one of Byfield's girlfriends, Marcia Ashley, was taking care of her. She brought the four-year-old to Birmingham while Byfield, who was born in Kent, was serving a sentence in England.

Toni-Ann thought she was going on a church trip and would return, according to her mother.

By the summer of 2003, Toni-Ann was in the care of Birmingham social services because of concerns about her welfare.

Byfield was released from jail in 2001. He was shot six times in a dispute with another man, but recovered.

After Toni-Ann was placed in care, he was allowed to see her at weekends while she stayed with a foster family.

In 2003 she was sent to London to stay with another of Byfield's girlfriends, but ended up living with him as he peddled crack in Kensal Green.

A catalogue of blunders in dealing with Toni-Ann were exposed in an inquiry into the case in 2004. Social workers, immigration officials and children's care agencies were criticised.

It was during this inquiry that it was revealed that Byfield was not Toni-Ann's biological father.

After Toni-Ann's death, Roselyn Richards came to Britain to appeal for help in catching her killer.

Police said that Byfield had shown genuine love and care for his daughter and had been shopping with her to buy a school uniform on the day of the shootings. "She was so excited and kept talking about starting school," said a friend who went shopping with them. But a few hours later the girl and her father would die in a bedsit.

Detective Superintendent Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police said yesterday: "No one won here today. Toni-Ann will never be eight years old.

"No one knows what happened in that bedsit in the early hours of 14 September 2003 - except, for certain, Joel Smith.

"Of one thing you can be sure, Toni-Ann was a complete innocent who was executed in cold blood - shot dead with a single bullet in the back, and she cannot have known what for."

Following the shootings it emerged that Byfield's real name was Anthony Pinnock, but he bought a passport with the name of Byfield from a friend in Jamaica. He arrived in Britain in the mid-1990s using the false identity.

The man who carried out the murder made his living by robbing drug dealers.

With links to drugs gangs, he grew up in London and has previous convictions going back to when he was 16. His crimes include street robbery, assault, and weapons and drugs offences. He is serving a three-year term for slashing his mother's boyfriend.

Smith, who was known as Cocaine or Caine, fled London for Liverpool after the shootings in September 2003.

He was eventually tracked down two years later while serving a prison sentence in Liverpool. One by one, his former friends and acquaintances turned on him.

Most gave evidence in court from behind a screen so they were shielded from Smith, and some were allowed to use false names because they were in fear of retribution by the killer's friends.

But they, like the rest of the nation, had been appalled by the death of a child in such cold blood, the jury was told.

Toni-Ann's mother, Ms Richards, wept and rushed from court as unanimous verdicts were announced.

Smith showed no emotion as members of the jury convicted him on the fourth day of their deliberations.

Mr Justice Gross said: "However grimly accustomed one becomes to violent crime there is a particular horror in the shooting in the back at close range of a seven-year-old girl - that is the hallmark of this case.

"Drugs and firearms combine to make an evil mixture."