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A Week in the Life of a Criminal Solicitor – Wednesday

Between April 2018 and March 2019 there were 4,500 recorded knife and weapons offences committed by children in London.

This is the third blog in a five-part series documenting a week in the life of Darrell-Ennis Gayle, a Senior Associate in Hodge Jones & Allen’s Criminal Defence team, representing youths in police stations and courts across South East London. The names have been changed, but the cases are real and represent a true reflection of the impact of knife crime and the experiences of youths in the criminal justice system.

To read the series from the beginning, please click here.

Day Three – Wednesday

I get the call from Tyrone in the early hours of the morning. It takes me a while to place him. He tells me I represented him a few months ago at the police station for being in possession of a knife and subsequently at court when he was sentenced to a Youth Referral Order. He goes on to say that I had told him I never ever wanted to see him again after the hearing and that he is sorry to bother me at this late hour, but he really needs my help. He explains that the police are looking for him and that he wants to surrender to his local police station with me this morning. He says that the police want to talk to him about the murder of the 18 year-old boy outside the sixth form college in South East London yesterday.

I arrange to meet Tyron in a café near to his local police station at 9am.  He is accompanied by his father and elder sister. Tyrone is seventeen years old. His parents are second generation Jamaican and had separated when he was eight years old. Tyrone lives with his mother, but she could not attend today due to work commitments so his father has accompanied him to act as his appropriate adult. Tyrone is studying for his A-levels at college. It is the same college where the incident is said to have occurred yesterday afternoon, which had culminated in an 18-year-old male losing his life. Tyrone is the main suspect for his murder.

Tyrone is one of the most straight talking youth clients I have ever dealt with. He does not beat around the bush and tells me straight away that he was involved in the incident. However, I make it very clear to him that before he goes into any more detail I would need to hear what the police have to say and that it would be best if we first go and surrender him at the police station before we discuss matters further.

I take some time to explain to Tyrone what will happen next. I tell him that when we get to the police station he will be arrested and detained for interview. I explain that there will probably be a series of interviews and that, because the allegation is murder, the interview process will take some time and could even last a few days.

When Tyrone confirms he is ready, and with his permission, I call the police and confirm that I will be accompanying him to the station at 10am. Tyrone then readies himself, says goodbye to his sister and then he, his father and I make the short walk over to the police station.

We are met at the station by two detectives and things move very quickly from here on in.  Tyrone is immediately handcuffed and arrested. One of the detectives reads him his rights and entitlements and he is then taken through to the custody suite. His father is brought through with him as he must be present while the police take Tyrone’s fingerprints and a DNA sample.  The detectives take my number and tell me they will call me as soon as they are ready to conduct the first interview. They indicate that they should be ready to do this in about an hour or so I go and find a nearby café where I peruse the news websites for any information about the incident.

It is around noon when I get the call from the police requesting that I return to the station. I am met by one of the detectives from earlier who takes me through to a consultation room to give me the first wave of pre-interview disclosure. As is commonly the case with the most serious offences, there will be a series of interviews. Usually in a murder investigation the expectation is that the police will give you piecemeal information outlining certain aspects of the case they want to ask the client about. They will not necessarily give much information, usually just enough for a solicitor to advise the client sufficiently. There will then be more disclosure followed by another interview. And so on. The police will rarely show their full hand in a murder investigation. You will only really get to know the full extent of the evidence they have against the client in stages.  This is known as drip fed disclosure.

The first disclosure the officers provide is quite straightforward and is more or less what has been reported in the news articles I had read earlier.  The victim, Maxwell, an 18-year-old black male, had left his six form college in South East London that afternoon with a group of friends. Whilst waiting at a bus stop near to the college an argument had developed involving his group and another group of boys. The argument became heated and one of the second group of boys produced a large “zombie style” knife. Maxwell was stabbed three times – one of the wounds proved fatal and he died at the scene. A large style “zombie knife” with blood on it was found metres from the scene. The police know Tyrone attends the six form college and they want to ask him about his movements at the time in question.

As expected, the officers refuse to answer any of my questions, which generally amount to me enquiring as to how and why Tyrone is their main suspect. They will not disclose at this stage what evidence they have that indicates why they believe Tyrone is involved.

Tyrone is brought into the consultation room. Firstly, I take him through the procedure and explain that he will be interviewed under caution and what this entails. I then remind him of my duty of confidentiality towards him. Tyrone has a full understanding as to how serious the situation is and what is to follow. I had sensed that there was some tension between him and his father earlier and this is confirmed to me when Tyrone instructs that he does not want his father to be present during our consultation.

Tyrone explains that earlier in the week, on leaving the college one afternoon, he was approached by a boy who had aggressively asked him what area he lived in and that, after a few hostile words had been exchanged between them, the boy produced a knife and threatened to stab Tyrone. He said he was with his friend yesterday afternoon when he recognised the same boy standing by a bus stop outside the college with another group of boys.  They approached the group and Tyrone’s friend asked the boy why he had threatened Tyrone. An argument quickly developed which culminated in the boy who had threatened Tyrone producing a knife and then Tyrone’s friend producing a large “zombie style” knife which he handed to Tyrone. The victim, Maxwell, then got in between Tyrone and the boy and then attacked Tyrone, which resulted in Tyrone stabbing him once in the arm in self-defence. Tyrone was adamant that he only stabbed Maxwell once in the arm and denied inflicting the fatal wound to his chest. He said that some of the other boys present also had knives and one of these boys must have also stabbed Maxwell, causing the fatal injury.

I take a detailed record of what Tyrone has told me and get him to sign a note of his instructions. My advice to him is clear, I do not want him to answer any questions at this stage. Although he has given an account which amounts to self-defence, I simply do not want him answering questions until I know more about what evidence the police have against him.  Tyrone agrees with my advice and we spend a few minutes practising how he will answer “no comment” when questions are put to him in the interview. When Tyrone confirms he is ready I notify the officers that we can start the interview.

The first interview lasts about forty-five minutes. Tyrone is asked very straightforward questions such as asking him to confirm his whereabouts on the day in question and who he was with. As advised, he answers “no comment” to all of the questions. At the conclusion of the interview the officers confirm that, after a break for lunch, they will provide further disclosure and will interview Tyrone again.

There are several more interviews throughout the day that run well into the late evening.  The full police disclosure amounts to the fact that a number of eye-witnesses had named Tyrone as the person who had stabbed Maxwell. Some witnesses had even stated that they had seen him stab Maxwell three times, including once to the chest. There was also CCTV footage of the incident which showed a suspect believed to be Tyrone stabbing Maxwell and telephone cell-site evidence that placed Tyrone’s mobile phone in the vicinity of the incident.

All the evidence connecting Tyrone to Maxwell’s murder is put to him in the interviews and, in accordance with my advice, he answers “no-comment” throughout. After the last interview, the detectives confirm that Tyrone will be bedded down for the night and that tomorrow there will be an identification procedure where a number of the eye witnesses have been scheduled to attend the police station in order to see if they can identify Tyrone as the person who stabbed Maxwell. The detectives also confirm that there will be at least one more interview tomorrow at the conclusion of the identification procedure.

I speak with Tyrone for a good while before I leave the police station that night. He appears calm, but is clearly upset and scared. He knows he is in a lot of trouble and is not surprised when I explain to him that, given how strong the evidence appears to be against him, the process will almost certainly result in him being charged with Maxwell’s murder and remanded into custody. It is not an easy conversation to have, but Tyrone seems to appreciate my honesty.  I assure him that I will be back first thing tomorrow morning and that he can call me at any time during the night if he wishes to speak with me.

Click here to read Thursday’s blog