Youngster with a footballing future who fell victim to UK's knife culture

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The Independent Online

Kiyan Prince was doing what he loved at 2.30pm on Thursday: playing football. After a quick game of knockabout with classmates he stood outside the gates of his school, chatting with friends in his sunglasses and carrying his trademark pink sports bag.

Within an hour, this tall 15-year-old who, as a hot tip for success as a professional footballer, had the world at his feet, was lying on a pavement fatally wounded ­ another victim of Britain's burgeoning knife culture.

Witnesses saidhe had intervened at the gates of the school, the London Academy, in Edgware, north-west London, to break up a fight involving a 16-year-old Somali pupil who had been suspended a month earlier.

Moments earlier, Kiyan had been harmlessly flirting with some of his female admirers. As one friend put it: "He was never short of a girl on his arm and a pair of big sunglasses or a really loud shirt."

Then, at 3.35pm, it became a murder scene.

Kiyan staggered a few yards after being stabbed by his attacker, before collapsing outside a block of flats. As he lay dying from two knife wounds, he said: "Please don't let me die."

A police sergeant from the Safer Neighbourhood Team, who was attending a meeting at the school, was alerted by teachers to the stabbing. The officer, who is in his 30s, gave first aid to Kiyan at the scene.

Yesterday, Kiyan had been due to receive an award for his season as a striker for the Queens Park Rangers youth side. But, despite the efforts of paramedics and an air ambulance, which airlifted Kiyan to the Royal London Hospital, a life of promise was declared over at 5.54pm.

Terry Foskett, 15, who had known Kiyan since he was three, said: "He was brilliant. He was always laughing and joking. He was so big and powerful but he wouldn't hurt a fly. He was going to make it as a footballer. But he always stepped forward to help. If someone was being bullied, he would help them."

Kiyan came from a loving but modest background. He had been brought up single-handedly along with his sister by his mother, Tracy Cumberbatch, after her relationship with Kiyan's father, Mark, a boxer, ended.

But it had seemed that success was beckoning. The Independent has learned that Ms Cumberbatch, a part-time teacher, was told last week she had been accepted to fulfil her long-held ambition to begin training as a paramedic and deploy the skills that were unable to save her son.

Kiyan was due to travel to Kaiserslautern in Germany at the end of July with the QPR youth team to play in a tournament to coincide with the culmination of the World Cup. As one of the club's most promising youth players, he was expected to cap a successful season with a hatful of goals, playing in the same country as the England team he hoped to play for one day.

Kiyan had been compared favourably with Theo Walcott, the 17-year-old Arsenal signing picked in the England World Cup squad. Gary Waddock, the QPR caretaker manager, said: "He was certainly one for the future ­ a talented lad who really wanted to go on and forge a career in football. He was fast and had good close control."

Scotland Yard confirmed that detectives were still looking for the 16-year-old involved in the altercation, described as coming from a " difficult family background". Officers continued a forensic examination of the ground outside Stamford Court, one of four tower blocks surrounding the school, where Kiyan collapsed. The suspect was seen running off towards an adjoining block of flats. Footage from security cameras in a branch of McDonald's was being examined.

The tragedy highlights the increasing presence of knives in and around Britain's schools. A survey by the Youth Justice Board in 2004 found that up to 60,000 children aged 11 to 16 claimed to have carried a knife in the past year.

But police said knife crime was not a particular issue in the London borough of Barnet, where knife-related crimes happen, on average, once or twice a week. A nationwide knife amnesty aimed at teenagers is due to begin next week.

Phil Hearne, the principal of the 1,260-pupil London Academy, denied suggestions that there was a gang culture at the school.

The academy serves some of the most socially deprived wards in Britain. More than half the pupils come from an ethnic minority background. Mr Hearne said: "This is a school community that's normally very exuberant. Today we've got children sitting in corners either in tears or comforting someone in tears."

Ms Cumberbatch and Kiyan's 17-year-old sister, Tanisa, were said to be " utterly devastated".

Two miles away, the grass clearing outside the London Academy was dotted with groups of red-eyed pupils as tributes were left outside the school gates.

The messages expressed affection for a classmate who, last week, turned up for a football match at his old Sunday league club, Watling Boys, wearing a pair of outsized white sunglasses, a fuchsia-pink shirt and white three-quarter length trousers. One message, from admirers calling themselves the Copthall Galz, said: "Ure' gonna be missed, u were luv'd by us. We'll always remember u by yr sexy body, ur jack ups 'n ur hot pink bag."

Chris Manning, secretary of the Watling Boys, said: "Kiyan joined us when he was 10. He was strong on the pitch, generous and valiant off it. If there was one out of the thousands of hopefuls we see who was going to get the success he deserved, it was Kiyan."