The failure of such a high-profile prosecution is a severe blow to the Crown Prosecution Service at a time when it has been trying to rebuild its reputation. Yesterday it was forced to defend the decision to bring charges against the four youths cleared of stabbing Damilola Taylor to death.
The prosecution's case has been widely criticised for being riddled with holes and far too reliant on unreliable witnesses whose testimonies were easily undermined in court.
In recent years the service has suffered from low morale, high workload, claims that its lawyers are frequently inferior to defence barristers and, more recently, accusations of institutional racism. An inspection of the CPS in London, published in December, found that about 1,800 defendants a year in the capital charged with serious offences including robbery and supplying heroin are set free by magistrates because the CPS is not ready to go ahead with their committals on time.
Since David Calvert-Smith was appointed as the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1998, things have started to improve. One of his biggest achievements has been to win the argument for better funding to allow the CPS to attract higher quality lawyers.
As in most high-profile cases, the CPS took advice from senior Treasury Counsel – independent senior prosecution barristers – before deciding to charge the youths with murder. On the question of why such an apparently weak case was ever brought to trial, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bill Griffiths, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Thinness is a value judgement. That's a judgement that other people make. We went to the Crown [CPS] with what we had."
The CPS said yesterday: "We considered that there was enough evidence to put before the court."Reuse content