Case is not a rap, says judge

by Ali Nobil Ahmad

Four minors accused of stabbing and throwing petrol bombs at an 18-year-old man must not be presumed guilty on the basis that they are gang members, a jury was advised at Inner London court yesterday.

street-gangsAll four of the teenagers, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted being present on at least one of the two separate occasions the man was set upon last February. But they plead not guilty to five indictments: two counts of grievous bodily harm, causing an explosion, robbery and violent disorder.

The victim (V), 18, was assaulted on two separate occasions in a single week in the Brixton area by a gang of youths targeting him for reasons he said were unclear.

The first incident took place outside a kebab shop in Tulse Hill on Februrary this year,  when around ten youths got off a bus and approached him. V was punched and then stabbed in his left thigh by an assailant he alleges is defendant A. Some of the mob then threw five petrol bombs at him, two of which struck him on the waist and bounced off. The owner of the kebab shop confirmed that all the Molotov cocktails burst into flames.The second attack took place just six days later while he was waiting for a bus on Brixton Hill. Again, around a dozen youths got off a bus and confronted him. V was surrounded, punched and stabbed in the arm. He managed to run away but was chased and stabbed again in his buttock, a deep wound that kept him in hospital for two weeks and caused long term nerve damage. 

V was interviewed by police and later identified the defendants in a series of line-ups. He said defendants B, C and D, known to him by face and gang name alone, were among those responsible for the second attack. He had, however, had a tense relationship with A: “I didn’t really get on with him.” 

The case rests on whether the defendants – one of whom was just 15-years-old at the time of the attack, can be proven to have planned and participated directly in the violence, or whether they merely stood by and watched. All four defence barristers sought to cast doubt on the ability of V to positively identify his assailants in the confusion, and pointed to inconsistencies in his testimony. They also questioned the reliability of independent witness, Mr Lal, who observed the second incident from a stationary bus. He was described by a barrister as ‘prone to hyperbole’ and ‘one of life’s story-tellers’. 

Judge Mervyn Roberts, in the first half of his summing-up, called for jurors to leave aside any prejudice: ‘You must not draw adverse conclusions merely on the fact that they’ve admitted being in gangs’. Defendant A, he pointed out, was ‘a man of good character prior to this event’ insofar as he has no previous convictions. 

However, he also reminded the jury that police found a kitchen knife hidden in A’s house just days after the event, together with lyrics to a rap song penned by the teenager which referred to a knifing someone ‘twice in one week’. The prosecution argues the phrase amounts to an admission of guilt and a propensity towards violence.

Roberts read out the verse: ‘When I shanked him… I felt the adrenaline’, and told the jury, now in deliberation, that it was up to it to decide whether these were merely ‘ramblings’, artful poetry or indicative of guilt. A verdict is expected next week. 

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