Parents despair after teenagers are acquitted of Damilola killing

Defendants had string of convictions and were accused of sexually assaulting young girls
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Two teenage brothers were cleared yesterday of the fatal stabbing of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor, leaving the parents of the schoolboy in despair and one of the country's biggest murder inquiries in ruins.

Richard and Gloria Taylor stared ahead in silence as the seven men and four women returned a not-guilty verdict against the two 16-year-olds. Moments later Mr Taylor slumped forward in his seat at the Old Bailey.

The brothers wept after the jury foreman delivered unanimous verdicts clearing them on charges of murder, manslaughter and assault with intent to rob.

Following the acquittal it was revealed that the two defendants had been part of a gang accused of sexually assaulting girls aged 10 and 12, but that the case collapsed after a legal blunder.

It can also be disclosed for the first time that potentially crucial evidence from a social worker who said she heard a tearful confession from one of the brothers was never put to the jury after being ruled as unreliable.

Damilola bled to death on a stairwell in a housing estate in Peckham, south-east London, on 27 November 2000.

Counsel for the prosecution said he had been returning home from a computer club when he was stabbed in the thigh with a broken bottle during an attempted robbery by a gang of bullies. Defence counsel said Damilola had cut himself accidentally.

Damilola had arrived in Britain with his mother from Nigeria only two months earlier.

The murder caused a national outcry and provoked a debate on bullying, youth crime and inner-city deprivation. It also prompted a massive inquiry by the Metropolitan Police.

But with yesterday's not-guilty verdicts, which followed the earlier acquittal of two other defendants, aged 15 and 17, police and the Crown Prosecution Service came under fire for bringing such an apparently flawed case to court. There now seems no prospect of anyone being convicted over Damilola's death.

The brothers, known throughout the trial as "Boy A" and "Boy B" to protect their identities because they are under 18 years old, had a notorious reputation and a string of convictions for stealing, assault and criminal damage.

The brothers, who are of Mediterranean origin, and the 15-year-old defendant, were among a gang of five youths who were accused of sexually assaulting two girls, aged 10 and 12, at a park in south-east London. The brothers were charged with indecent assault, common assault and criminal damage. But the case was thrown out in May 2000 – six months before Damilola died – after a judge at the Old Bailey ruled that it should have been dealt with by a lower court.

Richard Taylor, 56, and his 50-year-old wife Gloria, who had sat in court throughout the 13-week hearing, looked stunned and in despair as they were driven away from the Old Bailey yesterday.

Their solicitor Neil O'May said: "Today's verdict has come as a shock to them. Sadly, they feel that the court proceedings have brought them no nearer to the burning questions that continue to torment them. They know their son was murdered. They don't know who did it or why it happened but they know he died at the hands of others."

Earlier the mother of the two acquitted teenagers said: "My boys ain't no angels but they never killed a little boy."

The brothers' solicitor, Christopher Hartnell, said he still maintained Damilola died as a result of an accident. He said: "The police felt themselves under pressure to deal with the shadow of Stephen Lawrence. They simply felt they had to produce someone and produce someone they did – it was the usual suspects." Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor, added: "It needs to be asked how the CPS has allowed such an important case to fall apart in this way.

"I will [also] be asking the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens about the quality of murder investigations."

The prosecution's case began to fall apart when their star witness, a 14-year-old girl, was exposed in court as a liar and fantasist. Other evidence included mobile phone records that showed calls were made from the brothers' handsets about a mile-and-a-half away from the stabbing only minutes later, making it impossible for the defendants to have been at the murder scene.