Five years on, Damilola's parents still wait for justice as brothers cleared of murder

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The Independent Online

The parents of Damilola Taylor expressed their "profound disappointment" after two teenage brothers were cleared of the schoolboy's murder.

The verdict at the Old Bailey yesterday meant that Richard and Gloria Taylor have had to sit through two trials and see seven men accused of killing their son walk free.

The teenagers, aged 17 and 18, who cannot be named because they were 12 and 13 at the time of the attack, were also cleared of assaulting Damilola with intent to rob. The judge discharged jurors when they failed to reach verdicts on whether the pair were guilty of manslaughter. Prosecution lawyers will meet the director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC, and announce tomorrow whether they will press for a retrial, on manslaughter charges.

On Monday, after nine weeks of evidence, a convicted armed mugger, Hassan Jihad, 20, was cleared of involvement in the Nigerian schoolboy's death. In 2002, four teenagers were cleared of his murder, when a key witness was discredited as a fantasist. The failure to secure convictions prompted criticism of the police investigation and the two subsequent trials. A senior Scotland Yard officer said the failure by forensic scientists to test a spot of blood on a shoe belonging to the younger brother had been a "crucial mistake". It was not until almost four years after the killing that the blood was found to belong to Damilola. The officer said: "This failure completely undermined the inquiry by sending it in a different direction."

Scotland Yard's former chief, Sir John Stevens, once described the failure to catch the killers as his biggest regret: "That was a case that haunts me in a way."

Damilola Taylor had only been in Britain for three months - sent with his mother, sister and brother to begin a better life - when he was killed on the afternoon of 27 November 2000, allegedly targeted by a street gang on his way home from the library. The haunting CCTV footage of him innocently skipping along, minutes from death, became ingrained in the public consciousness and exacerbated the horror many felt at his killing.

The prosecution alleged the killers tried to rob him and stabbed him in the left thigh with a broken beer bottle when he stood his ground. He bled to death in a dank, filthy stairwell on the North Peckham Estate in south London.

But there were no witnesses to the attack and jurors heard conflicting evidence from experts at the trial. The defence argued that Damilola might not have been attacked and could have fallen on to the piece of glass, and disputed the brothers had ever worn clothes bearing spots of Damilola's blood.

Richard Taylor, 60, held his head in his hands after the jury foreman announced the brothers had been cleared of murder. "What a mess. What kind of country is this?" he muttered. Mrs Taylor was comforted by relatives.

The two defendants stood impassively in the dock, but their mother wept uncontrollably in the public gallery, collapsing into the arms of a female companion. One officer close to the case admitted that the outcome was "a complete mess" and said it was "outrageous" that nobody had been convicted of the schoolboy's murder after five years. The Metropolitan Police has spent £3.9m on the investigation. Figures are not available for the cost of the two trials.

The Taylors' solicitor, Neil O'May, said outside court that the trial had been "a traumatic time for them because they have had to hear yet again the details of how their son died so tragically".

Mr O'May read a statement from the couple, who he said were too upset to speak: "Mr and Mrs Taylor and their family are deeply distressed and profoundly disappointed that the jury could not decide on who killed their son, Damilola.

"Damilola was only 10 when he was killed. A beautiful life was taken in a senseless way. [They] are praying that those involved in this terrible incident will be brought to justice swiftly."

He added that the family was "closely involved" in the Crown Prosecution Service's decision over whether to push for a retrial. They appealed for anyone with information on his death to come forward. "They are in shock and it will take some time to recover from today's events," he said. The family spent an hour composing themselves before emerging from the court to pause briefly for photographers.

The trial had descended into near-farce when the jury failed to agree on whether they had reached a verdict. Members first of all sent the judge a note reading: "After much deliberation, we have reached a stalemate ... We have not been able to come up with a majority decision and feel we can talk no more."

Mr Justice Leveson asked if this accurately reflected their decision. Some jurors nodded, but a tearful female juror piped up from the back: "No!" Mr Taylor shook his head in disbelief and wrung his hands. The judge sent the jurors back out to talk and resolve their confusion. They returned with the not-guilty verdicts.

The judge said: "Mr and Mrs Taylor have attended court assiduously, going through the pain of a second lengthy trial. However, it [Damilola's death] occurred, and in whatever circumstances, they have my deepest sympathy."

Case file

* 27 November 2000: Damilola Taylor dies.

* 2 December: Two brothers arrested and released without charge.

* 21 December: Hassan Jihad held and released.

* 26 June 2001: Four other youths held and charged.

* 30 January 2002: Trial against the four boys begins and relies on evidence from a 14-year-old girl known as 'Bromley'.

* 27 February: Judge throws out Bromley's testimony for being unreliable.

* 25 April: Two defendants cleared by judge. Jury finds two other defendants not guilty.

* 5 January 2005: Two brothers and Jihad charged.

* 24 January 2006: Second murder trial begins.

* 3 April: Jury clears Jihad of all charges.

* 4 April: Two brothers found not guilty of murder.