A teenager who was killed in front of horrified shoppers at the Boxing Day sales died from a single stab wound to the heart, police said yesterday.
Seydou Diarrassouba, 18, died after a confrontation at a Foot Locker store in Oxford Street, central London, on the biggest day of the year for retailers.
Eleven suspects – two aged 22, five 19-year-olds, three 17-year-olds and a youth of 16 – were being held in custody at several London police stations last night in connection with the incident.
A fight, understood to be over a pair of trainers, started inside the shop before spilling out on to the pavement. Mr Diarrassouba, from Mitcham, South-west London, was pronounced dead at the scene by ambulance officers. He is the 11th teenager to be fatally stabbed in the capital this year.
The suspects were arrested at the scene at about 1.45pm. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Dunne, the senior investigating officer from the Metropolitan Police's homicide command, said Mr Diarrassouba's next of kin had been informed. He said two groups of youths appeared to have been involved in the killing.
Amateur video footage shot on mobile phones and posted on YouTube showed a tense stand-off immediately after the stabbing, with police pushing back angry youths as paramedics tried to save Mr Diarrassouba. One officer could be seen pulling out a Taser stun gun, but Scotland Yard insisted it was not deployed. Officers said a number of weapons had been recovered from the crime scene.
Photographs posted on Twitter showed a pool of blood and a folding knife on the ground, although it was unclear if this was the murder weapon. At about 6.20pm, a second stabbing took place nearby at Oxford Circus. The victim, aged 21, received a leg wound not considered to be life-threatening. Police said inquiries were continuing into whether the two attacks were linked.
Detective Superintendent John Sweeney asked for witnesses from among the crowds of people who were in Britain's busiest shopping area at the time to make themselves known.
"Our sympathy goes to the family of the victim at this time and we are appealing for witnesses to come forward," he said. "We know there were a number of people filming the incident inside Foot Locker who may have captured the incident or its aftermath and we are appealing for these people to contact us."
One of Mr Diarrassouba's school friends, Munawar Shaikh, 20, said he and the victim had grown up in the same area, both attending Rutlish School in Merton Park, which counts the former Prime Minister John Major among its alumni.
"It is devastating. He was such a big personality and a person everyone in Mitcham would know," he said. "He was just a good kid who always had a smile on his face. Everybody will be cut up about it."
Mr Shaikh, a broadcast journalism student in Leeds, added that he was unsure whether the killing was gang-related or just a "misunderstanding ".
Mr Diarrassouba was on bail at the time of his death, reportedly for robbery and assualt. He appeared at the Inner London Crown Court on 19 December to enter a plea, according to court listings.
Last night, a Facebook page called "RIP Seydou" was carrying tributes to Mr Diarrassouba, who went by the nickname "Nutz". One message, posted by Justin Osei, said: "It's not gonna be the same not seeing you around. You were almost like a monument to Mitcham."
Another, Errol Patterson, left a note calling for an end to knife violence, and for those with information on the murder to speak to police. "When Allah/God looks down and asks you 'Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution,' what will you say?" he wrote. Richard Dickinson, chief executive of the New West End Company, which represents stores in the area, said it was shocked by the stabbings, adding that such incidents were "extremely rare". He said the company had called for a meeting with the Deputy Mayor of London, Kit Malthouse, to ensure that similar attacks were not repeated. Oxford Street was re-opened to pedestrians yesterday, although a cordon remained in place around the crime scene, where bouquets of flowers had been left.
An escalating crisis? Knife crime in the capital
Seydou Diarrassouba is the 11th teenager to be fatally stabbed in London this year, two more than were killed in 2010 but fewer than the 22 teenagers who died in 2008.
That peak prompted several initiatives but the threat of tougher jail terms for knife-wielding criminals has been criticised as wrongheaded by the father of one victim. Barry Mizen, whose 16-year-old son Jimmy Mizen was murdered in Liverpool in 2008, urged British authorities to adopt a more holistic approach to knife culture. He called on the Government to abandon the American template for tough sentences, after the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced plans to extend mandatory jail terms for knife crimes to 16 and 17-year-olds. Mr Mizen said anti-knife crime tactics were failing and called for earlier intervention to prevent violent deaths like his son's.
"We are still waiting for the shift from retribution to deterrent. Why are we using the US as our template for tackling inner-city crime? Their crime rates are worse than ours. Jailing these young people should not be the default answer."