Damilola Taylor – Questions the Police Refuse to Answer

Letter to Sir John Steven with regard to the Damilola Taylor Murder Investigation Review.

Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
New Scotland Yard
8 Broadway
London SW1H 0BG

28 February 2003

Dear Sir John Stevens

Damilola Taylor Murder Investigation Review

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Griffiths has replied to me twice, on 22 January and 5 February 2003. Neither of his replies give specific answers to the specific questions I put to you in my letters of 22 December 2002 and 31 January 2003.

The vague, general response DAC Griffiths has proffered is inadequate. It is not unreasonable for OutRage! to request specific answers to specific questions.

DAC Griffiths letter of 5 February states: “I shall not respond further to enquiries on this matter”. In other words, he appears to be saying that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) refuses to answer the 21 questions I put to you in my letter of 31 January 2003.

My colleagues and I do not understand why the MPS appears to be so defensive and reluctant to answer factual questions. This apparent police resistance to openness is making matters worse.

Any assumption that we are pursuing some kind of anti-police agenda is misguided and false. We simply want the truth.

Together with other members of OutRage!, I initiated the first serious dialogue between the MPS and the lesbian and gay community in 1990. It was my proposal to the then CO24 that resulted in the present LGBT Advisory Group being established. I want to work with the police in a spirit of cooperation. That is not possible while the MPS withholds information.

I suspect the police may have made a number of errors in the Damilola Taylor murder investigation. New Scotland Yard has already told the Pink Paper (27 December 2002) that officers failed to record the homophobic attacks on Damilola as homophobic hate crimes.

Given that the anti-gay taunts, threats and assaults on Damilola were mentioned by his parents the day after his killing and reported in the media the following day, this failure is astonishing. It violates your own guidelines on the recording and investigation of homophobic hate attacks.

It would be better if you admitted your mistakes and revised your policies to ensure they do not happen again. That would win respect and restore confidence. The current stonewalling attitude merely arouses the suspicion that you have something to hide, corroding public confidence.

I assume DAC Griffiths uncooperative attitude is not official MPS policy, and that you will authorise answers to our questions.

Your point-by-point answer to each specific question below, A to H, will help clarify key issues of doubt and uncertainty.

These questions are matters of legitimate public concern. They are a simple request for police accountability. If any member of the public asks a reasonable question he or she has a right to an honest, straightforward answer.

Answers to our questions may help allay anxieties about aspects of the Damilola Taylor case, and will contribute to restoring public and LGBT confidence in the way the police dealt with the murder investigation. An unwillingness to answer these questions will have the opposite effect, arousing further suspicion and doubt.

The MPS says it is committed to transparency. This is not reflected in the lack of a detailed, concrete response to each of the questions posed by OutRage! I assume a full set of answers will be forthcoming soon?

My aim is to help establish the facts concerning the murder investigation and, if omissions or oversights are revealed, point the way to possible new avenues of investigation that may lead to Damilola Taylor’s killers being bought to justice. Alternatively, your cooperation and transparency may clear up our fears and concerns and result in the matter being closed to the satisfaction of all concerned.

DAC Griffiths letter to me, dated 5 February, states:

“There was no allegation of a ‘violent’ homophobic attack on Damilola in the days or weeks prior to this murder, despite your repeated and erroneous assertion that this was the case”.

Our assertion is not erroneous. The day after Damilola Taylor was murdered, his parents, Richard and Gloria, said publicly that their son had been subjected to homophobic assaults:

“Mrs Taylor said pupils had accused her son of being gay and had beaten him last Friday” (Independent, 29 November 2000).

This claim by Damilola’s parents was reported by several other newspapers over the following few days. For example:

“They used to beat him up.he was being bullied .he was being called ‘gay'”.

(Gloria Taylor, Guardian 7 December 2000)

If beating up a young boy is not violence, what is?

How can DAC Griffiths claim that “no allegations” of homophobic violence have been made?

There follows copies of seven different media reports, from the period 29 November to 7 December 2000, where Richard and Gloria Taylor are reported as saying that Damilolla was subjected to homophobic taunting, bullying and beating.

Is DAC Griffiths saying Damilola’s parents did not make these allegations? Is he saying their quotes were fabricated by the media?

Question A

After Damilola’s parents made their public allegations of homophobic taunts, bullying and assault, did police officers interview them about their claims? If not, why not? If so, did Richard and Gloria Taylor confirm these allegations? If so, what action was taken by your officers?

Question B

Why were the homophobic taunts, threats, harassment and assaults on Damilola not recorded and investigated by the police as homophobic hate crimes, in accordance with MPS regulations?

DAC Griffiths’s letter of 5 February says that the murder suspects were not pupils at Damilola’s school. OutRage! never said they were. It is mischievous for the police to wrongly suggest we have made that claim.

Damilola’s parents were reported in the Guardian on 7 December 2000, as stating:

“Whenever he wanted to play, they used to beat him up”.

The use of the words “whenever” and “used to beat him up” suggest Damilola’s parents were referring to a series of assaults over a period of time, not a one-off incident. If they had been talking about a single assault their wording would have been different.

When his parents say “play”, where do they mean? At school? Outside his house? In the local park?

This unclear, ambiguous statement may indicate that the bullying and beating of Damilola was on-going and was not confined to his school. It may have taken place elsewhere as well.

Question C

Did police officers ask Damilola’s parents whether the bullying and beating was a one-off incident or an on-going pattern of abuse? And whether it took place only at school or elsewhere as well? Such as outside his house or in the local shopping centre? If not, why not? If so, what did Damilola’s parents say and what action did officers take as a result?

In his letter of 5 February, DAC Griffiths says:

“No allegations have been made, nor evidence ever obtained that the suspects had participated in any homophobic bullying of Damilola at any time”.

That may or may not be true. But the absence of such allegations or evidence might be because the police never publicly appealed for it. None of the police news conferences or public appeals for help made any mention of the homophobic bullying suffered by Damilola. They did not request that information or evidence.

Because the previous homophobic bullying of Damilola was not publicised by the police and not mentioned in police appeals to the public, people with information about the homophobic bullying of Damilola may not have realised its importance and therefore may not have come forward. If you don’t ask for specific information you won’t get it.

When investigating a murder, it is standard police procedure to examine and publicise any previous history of abuse, threats or assaults on the victim. A police appeal for public help will always seek witnesses who can attest to any pattern of violence or threats against the murdered person. Getting this information is considered a vital part of any murder inquiry, as it may point to the killers.

Question D

Why did public appeals for information by the police fail to mention the homophobic bullying of Damilola, and fail to urge people with knowledge of this bullying to come forward?

DAC Griffiths letter of 5 February states:

The suspects arrested and charged with Damilola’s murder were not pupils at his school.therefore all your questions.seek entirely the wrong emphasis”.

Again, this is blatant misrepresentation. We never said the murder suspects were pupils at Damilola’s school.

But this does not mean that there was no connection between the bullying of Damilola at school and his subsequent murder – as DAC Griffiths seems to imply.

This link may have been direct, in that the same people or their friends were involved or, more likely, it may have been indirect, involving different people who shared similar homophobic motives as a result of rumours about Damilola which began at his school and later spread around the local community.

It is entirely plausible that the school-yard accusations that Damilola was gay were repeated more widely in the local area. Some of the boys at Damilola’s school probably had older brothers and may have joked with them about the “gay boy”. These older brothers may have then talked to their mates about the “gay boy” and soon the homophobic jibes about Damilola would have spread all over the neighbourhood. In a situation where it becomes local gossip that a boy is allegedly gay, it is not unlikely that some older homophobic youths might hear this rumour and decide to go queer-bashing when they spot the “gay boy” in the street.

Perhaps this is what happened in Damilola’s case. Even if the killers were not from his school, it does not mean they had not heard the gay rumours about Damilola and were not motivated by homophobic hatred.

Question E

Can the police be sure Damilola was not homophobically bullied beyond the school gates by youths not attending his school? If so, what is the evidence for your certainty? Is it not possible that word spread from the school to the wider neighbourhood that Damilola was a “gay boy” and that this led other, older, homophobically-motivated boys to attack and kill him? What steps did the police take to investigate this possibility? What was the outcome of these inquiries? If no such steps were taken, why not?

It is, of course, possible that Damilola’s murderers were not the suspects who stood trial. They were, after all, acquitted. The police seem, however, to be focusing almost exclusively on these suspects. We are not discounting them, but also wish to consider the possibility that the murderers were people other than those who were prosecuted.

Question F

Do the police accept that Damilola’s killers may have been people other than the suspects who were put on trial? If not, why not? If so, what action is being taken to seek witnesses and evidence concerning other individuals? What public appeals are being made?

Question G

Were the homophobic taunters and bullies of Damilola at his school interviewed by the police in connection with his murder? If they were not interviewed, why not? If they were interviewed, were they eliminated as murder suspects? If they were eliminated as murder suspects, why were they eliminated?

Question H

Was Damilola’s murder investigated by the police as a possible homophobic hate crime? If it was not investigated as a possible homophobic hate crime, why not? If it was investigated as a possible homophobic hate crime and
discounted as such, why was this possibility discounted?

I would be grateful if you would respond to each of the above queries, point-by-point. A detailed point-by-point response will, I think, aid clarification and transparency, reassuring all concerned.

As ever, I am most grateful for your assistance.

Yours with best wishes,

Peter Tatchell, OutRage! – campaigning for lesbian and gay human rights