One year on, Damilola's legacy is still one of fear

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The Independent Online

This was supposed to be the scene of the crime that shocked Britain into action, the place where a 10-year-old boy slowly bled to death, alone and frightened, in a dank stairwell. Yesterday, you could be forgiven for not knowing it.

One year ago today, Damilola Taylor was stabbed by a gang of youths and left to die in Hordle Promenade West, a dark rat-run on the derelict North Peckham Estate in south London. Yet where he fell, there is no record of the tragedy; not a picture, a note, a candle or a bunch of flowers.

Now, the hoped-for legacy, of enhanced safety for other local children, is under scrutiny. Cosmetically, there is a difference. Much of the notorious estate where Damilola's Nigerian-born family was living has been replaced by new houses. In 12 months, 505 flats have been demolished and 133 households created

At St Luke's Church, where the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury will come today to commemorate Damilola's brief life, the rusting fridges and mangled bikes have been taken away during the past two weeks and replaced by fresh turf and clipped shrubs. But, for the people who live here, the fear of mugging, burglary and vandalism remain a feature of daily life.

The police insist things have changed. Operational officers are now based in seven local schools, where they work for up to five days a week, investigating crimes reported by pupils. Rod Jarman, the Metropolitan Police borough commander for Southwark, said it has reduced robberies and assaults and increased reporting of minor thefts.

"We are starting things like volunteer police cadets and getting lots of interest. We are building up very different relationships," he added.

The teachers at the the Oliver Goldsmith primary school, where Damilola was a pupil, tell a different story. They say help has failed to materialise. The head, Mark Parsons, is declining interviews to avoid raising the political temperature. But in a brief exchange with The Independent, he said: "There are problems all over London with secondary schools, but the unusual thing here is that it is primary children. A lot of our children do not feel any safer [than when Damilola died]. We were promised wardens last year. Let me just say I'm looking forward to them."

Sue Frolish, a teacher at the school, was more forthcoming. "I can't see how the children could be any safer when none of the initiatives that were talked about have been implemented. There was a lot of talk last year about making things better for children, but it seems it was just talk, and it still is."

The problem of child intimidation is not confined to Peckham (an NSPCC report says today that 25 children had died in the UK from violence or drugs since Damilola's death) but this was the place where the fight against it was supposed to begin. Yesterday, there was clear evidence that the fight may be being lost.

In a letter to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, Mike Barnard, a local councillor, said that a 13-year-old boy was held up at knifepoint and robbed by a gang of 15 youths last week who talked about a repeat of the Damilola incident. There have been two robberies at gunpoint, he said, an attempted attack on a woman by a naked man and "numerous" instances of intimidation and vehicle crime.

But there is some good news. Under another police-run scheme, local retailers who sell knives to young people have been targeted. Police have also seized 229 knives since April, an increase of 54 per cent on last year and a higher figure than in any other part of London. Another project aims to give children "Safer Routes to School" by improving crossing patrols and placing CCTVcameras on buses.

At nearby Camelot school, teachers have stepped up their activities and facilities at lunch-time to reduce the risk of conflict between pupils. Two others, St Saviour's and St Olaves', have set up homework clubs for children who find it hard to study at home.

Peckham youngsters who avoid crime are to receive "reward cards" for positive behaviour. As part of the Peckham Partnership, a £670,000 scheme has been set up to provide seven uniformed wardens to patrol the area's streets 13 hours a day, seven days a week.

Today, the Damilola Taylor Trust will be launched to provide financial help for local youngsters and Peckam's Warwick Park community centre will be renamed after Damilola but some people have clearly been left behind, stranded as the community is literally demolished around them.

Bhadra Parmar, 37, is one of the few remaining tenants on the North Peckham Estate, living in a one-bedroomed flat with her husband Deepesh, 36, and daughter Tejal, 3. "We've been waiting to be rehoused for two years," she said. "When Damilola died, the cameras and reporters saw how we were living and the council seemed ashamed. But we are still here and things are no better. I didn't even know Damilola, but every day since he died I walk past the spot where he was found and it feels like he is part of me."

Annette Pallas, 52, said: "People don't go out at night; it can be terrifying. I suffer from diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and angina and I recently got a disabled parking space but I went out the other morning and one of the gangs had painted over the disabled wording and written, 'You are not f***ing disabled'."

The only shop left on the estate belongs to Egyptian-born Mohammed El-Nagdy, 65. Yesterday, he sat freezing because of three windows smashed recently by vandals. "I have metal shutters, but they prise them open," he said. "I have stopped repairing them now. They'll only get broken again." He wants to leave soon because he has few customers left. By 12.45pm yesterday, he had sold only one packet of chewing gum.

Even in the new houses, there is cynicism. Opposite St Luke's, Beryl Long, 62, said: "They've done it on the cheap. Without going into detail, I can hear everything the man next door does with his girlfriend. It's nice to see they've finally tidied up the churchyard for Mr Blair, but they wouldn't like him to see this place at night... It's very sad to say but, even after Damilola, nothing's changed."