The killing of Damilola: 'a gratuitous assault, born of cruelty and bullying'

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The Independent Online

Their sadness was palpable, their horror complete. If mourning a son left dying in a run-down housing estate was not enough, the parents of schoolboy Damilola Taylor were yesterday forced to confront the casual brutality of his killing.

Richard and Gloria Taylor sat tightly together for the opening of the trial of four teenage boys accused of stabbing their son during an attempted robbery before leaving him to die in a concrete stairwell.

In a specially converted court room at the Old Bailey, designed to make it less intimidating for the defendants, aged from 14 to 17, they heard how their son was crying and "jumping up and down in pain" while one of his alleged killers pushed a marble into his mouth during the attack. The court heard it was "an assault prompted by the motive of robbery, but culminating in an act of gratuituous violence, born of cruelty and bullying".

The teenagers, who will be for the weeks to come as A, B, C and D, allegedly stabbed the 10-year-old with a broken bottle in a manner designed to cause maximum injury.

Some later boasted about it while being held at young offenders institutions for unrelated offences, the court heard.

One allegedly said it had been "done for a laugh". That boy, one of two 16-year-old brothers accused, is claimed to have said it was done because Damilola had "ignored them'" or had been "getting mouthy''.

A copy of some song lyrics found at the home of child B read: "I went mad when I hear he was 10"', but added the warning to "never fuck around'' with someone like him.

The court heard the prosecution's case against the four boys largely depended on the evidence of a vulnerable 13-year-old girl who allegedly saw the attack while hidden crouched behind a car.

Weeks after the attack, she came to the police and said she recognised three of the boys, including the brothers and another, child C, now aged 14. She will give evidence at the trial.

The killing happened only three months after Damilola came to Britain from Nigeria.

He arrived with his family so his sister, Bemi, 23, could get medical treatment unavailable in Nigeria. The family moved in with relatives on the North Peckham Estate.

At 4.30pm, on 27 November, 2000, a closed circuit camera outside the library where Damilola had been attending a computer club caught him walking home without a care in the world, the court heard. The walk should have taken only 10 minutes but Damilola, wearing his silver jacket, proved to be an "irresistible target" for the four boys to rob, the jury of seven men and five women heard. He was stopped, surrounded and trapped.

He did not normally carry any money and was not known to have a mobile telephone.

Child C, now aged 17, is alleged to have fetched a bottle from rubbish nearby and, as two stood guard, Damilola was stabbed in "what can only have been a deliberate and controlled act of violence", said Mark Dennis, the counsel for the prosecution as he opened the case against the boys.

Damilola's parents looked bewildered as they saw photographs shown to the jury to illustrate the killing. The court heard that, months after the killing, while three of the boys were being held on remand, child A allegedly spoke to other inmates of wanting Damilola's trainers and, on another occasion, of wanting his jacket.

Child A, one of the brothers, is alleged to have said they "cut him" when Damilola was unable to give them what he wanted. He said one of the boys stabbed Damilola and then "twisted" before withdrawing the weapon so it "leaves the wound open".

While being held at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, his brother, Child B, complained that Damilola did not have any money on him, the court heard.

As Damilola lay on the pavement crying for help, the four allegedly ran off and none showed any concern for the dying victim, Mr Dennis said.

Damilola was eventually able to get up and staggered 30 yards to a stairwell on a block of flats at the council estate.

He was only able to reach the third flight of stairs before he collapsed and fell into semi-consciousness. A carpenter, Guillermo Casal, had already seen a trail of blood and found the boy in a terrible state at the top of the steps.

Mr Dennis said: "The only words Damilola was to utter thereafter were 'I'm okay, okay', words indicative of a rather plucky and brave young boy. He was, of course, far from okay."

Mr Casal called 999 and the first policeman to arrive repeatedly tried to revive Damilola but found his airway was blocked, the court heard.

Damilola was taken to hospital and pronounced dead within an hour of the attack. The marble was discovered during a port-mortem examination.

The four defendants were arrested on a number of occasions, the first time 17 days after the killing, but repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder. The prosecution claims they tried to agree an alibi while they were being held at a police station. First A, B and C claimed they had been at someone's house all day but later changed their story. At the time of the murder, A said that he had been in Bermondsey, South London, trying to sell stolen Sky Digital boxes.

While being held on remand, Child A allegedly boasted they were going to "get away with it'' because the police had nothing on him. He said he was confident because his mother had burnt his clothes, the court heard.

Mr Dennis said C also indicated to an inmate he thought what had happened was "funny''. He said Damilola had been killed for his jacket and "people have been stabbed for less", the court heard.

The four defendants have denied the three charges of murder, manslaughter and assault with intent to rob.