Why I’ll never forgive my son’s killers —Damilola Taylor’s father

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Mar 7th, 2014
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RICHARD Taylor (OBE), the father of 10-year-old Nigerian child, Damilola, whose murder in Britain some years ago generated global uproar, was cool and calm as he presented the best British-born Nigerian athlete, Christine Ohoruogu, to the Nigerian media in Lagos a few weeks ago. Ohuruogu was on a visit to Nigeria for the second time to support the Damilola Taylor Foundation established by Richard and his late wife, Gloria.

Expressing his excitement in bringing Ohoruogu, a former Commonwealth and Olympic champion, to her fatherland, Richard said: “I did not choose her; she volunteered. She said our trust is the best. She has got so much to give back. When she told me five years ago that she wanted to come to Nigeria, I told her that I would bring her. And this is an opportunity for her to give back to her society.”

Time, they say, heals all wounds. But that was yet to hold true with Richard when The Nation broached the issue of Damilola’s gruesome murder in a society believed to be much safer than ours. Damilola was allegedly killed by four unruly British youths on a council estate in Peckham, South London, in November 2000. In a shaky voice, Richard said the only choice he had was to fight on and keep the hope of his son alive through the foundation.

Life has been nothing but hell since he lost his son and later his wife, but he says he has found succor in the foundation. He said: “It is very sad for me that my wife had to tragically pass away as well. She was a rock behind this family. And since she passed on, we have always remembered her. We cannot do anything without her. We keep her memory in our minds and in the children’s minds. Tunde (Damilola’s brother) is here.”

Gloria had collapsed after suffering from high blood pressure triggered by Damilola’s death, saddling Richard with the arduous task of ensuring that Tunde is not weighed down by the loss of his mother and brother.

“I have had to make sure that everything I do, Tunde goes along with it, so that he will know his mum is being remembered. We have not forgotten about the mum, and we thank God that what you are seeing, I would never have dreamt that it would happen in my life. I thank God for making it possible for us to be hosted by the British High Commission to launch a memorable project of this nature with so much interest from people who want to be involved in the project. And I hope this is going to be historical in memory of both my wife and son.

“You must have read the story and the poem Damilola wrote about conquering the world. When we discovered that poem in his scrap book, it gave me the courage that I have to fight this fight. I have to do what he has left behind undone. That is why we have continued to make sure that before I die, I should be able to contribute to bringing the changes that he hoped to bring into the society as he put it in his poem. So, for the rest of my life, I am committed to this and I intend to carry on,” Richard stated.

If the killers of Damilola had expressed extreme guilt for hurting the Taylors and tried to make amends by apologising, the elder Taylor says he could have found the courage to forgive them. But they showed no remorse whatsoever, prompting Richard to declare that their forgiveness is a matter for the Almighty.

He said: “I can never forgive those that stabbed my son to death. I have always said it is only God that forgives. It is in the bible. They have never shown any remorse. How can you forgive when you have not confessed your sins? How can I say that I have forgiven them? There are other parents who have taken their own decision on forgiveness of those who killed their son or daughter. But for me it is something that you have to show remorse for first and say sorry for the devastation that you have created in the life of this family.

“The young man or boy who stabbed Damilola has been going from prison to prison. Every time they release him, he commits another offence and goes back to prison. So, for the rest of his life, I think he is going to live in prison. Those are parts of the punishment he will have to serve for the death of an innocent boy.”

Recalling the journey of the 10-year-old Nigerian boy to the United Kingdom about 14 years ago, with his mother and siblings for greener pastures, the father said he had remained in the country pursuing his career. He said: “I have my roots in Nigeria. When the incident happened, I had to rush down there to support. I was a successful civil servant. I retired in the Ministry of Defence as an Assistant Director. After spending four years outside the country, I retired voluntarily.”

Richard Taylor was, however, of the opinion that setting up a foundation in memory of his son must alienate crime and keep the environment conducive for the future leaders. He said: “The objective is to support young people to develop their potential. The government cannot do things alone in this part of the world. Even in the UK and America, there are NGOs and charity organisations that support government initiatives. Those who have shown the desire to be supported education wise, developing their talents and potentials, we need to create a safe environment for them.

“They have to live without the fear of being attacked on the streets. Those are the kinds of awareness we have in the UK. For instance, I go to No.10 Downing Street (UK Prime Minister’s official residence) at will. Here, I cannot enter Aso Rock (Nigerian president’s official residence). Even to meet with the chairman of a local government is a big task in this country. I can enter Buckingham Palace at any time on the ground that I have an appointment.

“In this country, we need to start doing things in a way that we can work with ourselves to get solutions. We are going to all the states, excluding the North East where there is a problem. Our project is to tackle child trafficking, child abuse and human trafficking abroad from here in Nigeria. This is a N500 million project that we are asking for donations for within Nigeria.

“We have spoken to the Governor of Lagos State to allocate land to us in Lekki so that we can build this centre and commence the project of fighting against or tackling the issue of child trafficking and child abuse, which is something that is creating too much problem in the UK, Italy and other parts of the western world. It makes me sad when I see or hear stories about Nigerian children, women or girls going into prostitution in the UK, Italy or Japan.”

According to Wikipedia, in 2002, four youths, including two 16-year-old brothers, went on trial at the Old Bailey over the murder of Damilola. The trial led to all four suspects being acquitted. Two were acquitted on the ruling of the judge after he said that the prosecution’s key witness, a 14-year-old girl, was unreliable. The jury found the other two not guilty. As well as questioning the reliability of the young witness, the defence presented evidence suggesting that Taylor’s wounds were consistent with his falling on a broken bottle and that he had not been the victim of an attack.

Despite the setback, police vowed to keep the investigation open. New DNA techniques led to a re-examination of the evidence obtained at the time of Taylor’s death. In 2005, fresh arrests were made, this time on charges of manslaughter. Those arrested were Hassan Jihad, 19, and two brothers aged 16 and 17, who could not be named due to their age. There was another suspect called Kevin Wilkins.

On January 23, 2006, Jihad (now 21 years old) and the two brothers (aged 17 and 18), not named for legal reasons, appeared at the Old Bailey to face charges of his manslaughter and assault before the start of their imminent trial. The trial commenced on January 24, 2006. In the trial Alastair Wilson, associate clinical director at the Royal London Hospital and one of Britain’s top trauma experts, testified that he thought that Taylor had died after falling on a shard of glass.

On March 29, the jury retired to consider its verdict. On April 3, Jihad was cleared by the jury of all charges in relation to Damilola’s death. The jury could not reach a verdict on the charges of manslaughter against the two brothers, so they were set free, but with the possibility of a retrial on those charges. On April 6, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that the two would be re-tried. The retrial of the two brothers began on June 23. The two brothers, then over 18, were named as Danny and Rickie Preddie, of Peckham, South London. Both defendants were very well known to police, being involved in multiple robberies.

On August 9, 2006, Ricky Gavin Preddie (born 1987, Lambeth, London) and Danny Charles Preddie (born 1988, Lambeth), after a 33-day retrial, were convicted of the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor. During the retrial, it was noted that while the police did follow procedure collecting evidence, lapses occurred in the prosecution. On October 9, 2006, an Old Bailey judge sentenced the Preddie brothers to eight years in youth custody for manslaughter.

Although it was widely reported in the media that Taylor’s parents were unhappy that the sentences had not been longer, the judge, Mr Justice Goldring, went to some length to explain the factors he was forced to take into account. These included the age of the offenders at the time (12 and 13), and that there was no evidence to suggest that there had been a plan to kill Taylor. In addition, the weapon used had not been carried to the scene of the crime, but was found lying on the ground.

Both brothers were set to be paroled in 2010 after serving half of their sentence. Ricky was released on 8 September 2010, subject to probation supervision, and subject to recall to custody if he breached the conditions or if his behaviour indicated that it was no longer safe to allow him to remain in the community. Danny was released in 2011. Ricky was recalled on March 13, 2011 because he was seen in Peckham and associating with gang members, both contrary to his parole conditions. He was released again on January 25, 2012. However, he was recalled to jail in February 2012 after a stolen motorbike was discovered at his bail hostel, thus breaching the terms of release.

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