“I know he must be dancing up in heaven now, proud of his big brother,” says Richard Taylor (Babou Ceesay) to his surviving son Tunde (Juwon Adedokun) at his university graduation at the close of this moving, quietly angry drama.
It took the viewers – and the Taylor family – a long way to get to this point, a final chink of light in a dark, sad involving story about the tragic loss of the young life of 10-year-old Damilola 16 years ago and the horrific impact on his family.
The Taylors had travelled to Britain to get medical treatment for their daughter, Gbemi (Juna Sharkah) who suffered from epilepsy and they were staying with a relative in a small flat in Peckham.
The sight of the young boy happily skipping away from his after-school computer club to the flat on the run-down estate where his family were living on 27 November 2000 is remembered by many from news reports of his death, captured on CCTV.
Because not long after these grainy images were shot, the little boy was left to bleed to death in a Peckham stairwell, his main artery severed by a broken bottle.
Even worse, the trial of various suspects collapsed leaving the family months of agonised waiting before two young brothers (Danny and Ricky Preddie who were just 12 and 13 at the time of the attack) were convicted finally of manslaughter. No-one was ever found guilty of murder: it could never be proved whether Dami died from the stab wound or fell on the bottle and bled to death.
We never got to witness a recreation of the killing here, (thankfully, I would suggest). We did see his likely assailants grinning menacingly behind hoods in earlier scenes around the estate. Because what this admirable drama focused on was the unimaginable impact of this random act of violence. It was Damilola’s story – and full marks to young actor Sammy Kamara whose ebullient portrait of an inquisitive, passionate, football-loving kid was hugely impressive.
Knowing what we did, each scene was loaded with poignancy – Damilola’s determination to go with his mother and two siblings to London (his father wanted to keep him in Lagos); equally too, his words as the plane takes off after he has persuaded his father to let him go – “Goodbye Nigeria, goodbye” – were heart-wrenching.
As “Dami” (as his family call him) comes to London, we see him looking happily around his new home, breaking into that same skip we saw in the CCTV footage.
After his death, the drama focuses on Richard, a stern patriarch whose grief, rage and sense of impotence at not being there when his son needed him are given full vent.
But he becomes transformed by his experience (like so many people blighted by tragedy) and is determined to salvage something positive from it.
For him, a man of strong principles with an unassailable sense of right and wrong, it was a bid to do something for the neglected youths with no parental control who lived in London. Richard had lived in the city in the 1970s and the transformed nature of the capital’s inner city is witnessed through his horrified, shocked eyes.
At times you feared for his safety, especially when he angrily confronts a gang and calls them “small little boys”; but of course being the father of Damilola Taylor leant him a certain immunity from the kind of treatment other people doing a similar thing would probably be given.
I was also struck by how he always gave his own family a polite “good evening” and “good morning”; it was a subtle touch which pointed to a man who clearly regards these everyday politenesses as important (as indeed they are). But Richard (who was involved with Levi David Addai’s excellent screenplay) also grew to realise his own inflexibility in dealing with his grief.
The 90-minute film didn’t pull its punches in the scene when he at first partly blamed his wife Gloria (Wunmi Mosaku) for the tragedy. Why did she buy the young boy such an expensive jacket, he wondered? And, he asks his elder son, why he was he not there to look after his little brother? It felt important that the drama told these difficult aspects of the story, that it didn’t shy away from the truth of what happened.
Richard has since been award an OBE for his work on behalf of disadvantaged youth – but neither his younger son nor his wife Gloria (who died of a heart attack in 2008) are with him. But while it would be impossible get over – or even through – the events he has suffered, this story still offers a semblance of hope that a tale of loss and cruel injustice can at least conclude with some sense of completion and a partial righting of terrible wrongs. It was really powerful stuff.