12-year-old stabbed to death in Covent Garden

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The Independent Online

A boy aged 12 was killed and his 15-year-old half-brother injured in a frenzied knife attack in Covent Garden, central London.

Passers-by, diners and staff from restaurants rushed to stop the attacker as the boys desperately tried to fight him off. Witnesses described how the younger boy was "peppered" with up to "30 or 40" small stab wounds. His brother, covered in blood, was standing over him screaming.

The man who carried out the knifing ran away, but was caught and held until police arrived. Scotland Yard said he was 52 years old, and knew the two boys, although he was not related to them. Local people said he had been seen with the boys in the past.

The dead boy, Diego Piniero, lived in the area with his father. His mother flew from Spain to London yesterday.

People who rushed to help after noticing the commotion just before 8.10 pm on Sunday at first believed the man was punching the two boys.

Two waiters from an Indian restaurant helped to wrestle the attacker to the ground. Anwar Khan and Sheikh Salim, who worked at the Sartaj Balti House, only realised a knife was involved when another member of the public kicked a bloodied seven-inch knife out of the man's hand. Mr Khan said: "We heard some screaming and shouting and went out to see what was going on.

"There was this younger boy with another boy being chased by this older man. The guy chasing them was making jabs at one of them from behind, trying to reach around to his stomach, it seemed.

"I saw one of the children on the floor and Salim was on top of the guy who was carrying out the knifing. Salim managed to pull him off. I went behind the guy and grabbed him in a headlock. I struggled with him for a minute and then pushed him to the floor and his face hit the ground. Someone then came and kicked the knife away.

"The guy did not say anything at all. When he was on the floor he was shaking and he had this strange look in his eyes. Even when the police came and took him away, he was silent."

Mr Khan, 24, from Hampstead, north London, described the injuries suffered by the two boys. He said: "The first child was very badly hurt. He was peppered with what must have been 30 to 40 jabs. There was blood all over his body."

Sara Meidell, 19, who works at Café Nero, opposite the scene of the stabbing on the corner of Earlham Street and Mercer Street, said: " I saw two boys running with an older man chasing them. I thought at first he was punching one of the boys. Then I noticed that he was stabbing him with a knife. The boy was trying to protect himself, but the man stabbed him 10 or 15 times. Then he threw the knife down outside our café and ran away. Two people caught up with him and then he was arrested. The little boy was lying on his back. He was in a pool of blood. The other boy was standing over him, screaming."

The younger boy died at 8.52 pm. His brother's injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Sharon Peppard, 31, recalled two children running towards her home shouting that someone was attacking their friend.

She said: "I ran up to the corner where he was and saw the paramedics thumping on his chest trying to get him going again. He was obviously dead already."

Floral tributes to the dead boy were placed in the area yesterday. Messages attached to bouquets of flowers read "You didn't deserve to die like this, we hope you are at peace now", and "Our sympathy".

Scrawled on a roundabout in a nearby playground in St Giles's churchyard was a note dated 2 November 1999. It read: "I'll always love you Diego. Please forgive me for everything. I couldn't stand the pain. One day you'll know how much you hurt me. How much I needed you. I'm sorry. And remember - always cheat others before others can cheat you - if they're clever enough. I wasn't, and I wouldn't want to be ... Bravo! Mi chico Latino."