Four boys accused of murdering Damilola Taylor appeared in court for the first time yesterday, seven months to the day since the schoolboy bled to death in a stairwell in Peckham, south-east London.
The boys, aged 14 to 16 and the youngest standing just over 4ft tall, appeared in a small room in Hammersmith Youth Court in west London.
They sat flanked by solicitors and social workers facing district judge David Simpson, a youth justice specialist, in surroundings designed to be more like an office than a courtroom.
As the 90-minute hearing started just before noon, the judge asked the boys to stand and a court clerk asked them to state their name, address and date of birth.
Two 15-year-olds of Mediterranean appearance gave their details in a low, barely audible voices, while a 16 year-old, who is originally from Africa, stood with his arms folded as he answered the clerk.
They were then read the charge that "on 27 November 2000 at Blakes Road, Peckham, they did murder Damilola Taylor contrary to common law".
Nigerian-born Damilola, who was given his full name of Uluwadamilola on the charge sheet, died after he was stabbed in the leg on his way home from an after-school computer club in Peckham library. He managed to drag himself 100 yards before he died.
After the charge was read out, bail applications were made for the 14-year-old, of mixed race, who was represented by Greg Stewart, and the 16-year-old, represented by Sean Longley. About 30 people were present at the hearing in the 20ft by 30ft room, for which numbers were strictly limited. Space was so restricted that only one of two representatives sent by the Nigerian High Commission as observers was allowed to go in.
Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Shepherd, who is leading the investigation into Damilola's death, watched the proceedings along with members of his team.
The boys were accompanied by social workers, the Southwark and Hammersmith youth offending teams and designated "appropriate adults". Only one parent was present in the hearing, but other relatives waited outside the courtroom.
Clayton Yeo, for the prosecution, opposed the bail applications, and as discussions went on one of the 15-year-olds fiddled with a tissue and looked at a puzzle book.
The 15-year-olds, who were represented by Christopher Hartnell, sat together on one side of a line of desks opposite the judge, who wore a suit and tie rather than robes, and the other two were separated by their solicitors.
As debate went on the 15-year-olds occasionally smiled at each other and one of them smiled at the 16-year-old. When the hearing began to draw to a close the 14-year-old sat with his head on the desk.
Judge Simpson refused the bail applications and all four boys, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, were remanded to local authority care to appear again at the same court next Tuesday.