Richard Taylor, father of Damilola Taylor who campaigned against knife crime – obituary

Richard Taylor: 'The question of forgiveness is something I search in my heart for'
Richard Taylor: 'The question of forgiveness is something I search in my heart for' - Shutterstock

Richard Taylor, who has died aged 75, was a Nigerian civil servant thrust into the spotlight by the killing of his 10-year-old son Damilola Taylor in a concrete stairwell on a south London estate in November 2000.

Damilola had travelled from Lagos with his mother three months earlier. They were seeking treatment for his British-born sister Gbemi’s severe epilepsy. He was returning home from Peckham library when youths stabbed him in the leg with a broken bottle, severing his femoral artery. They also rammed a marble down his throat. He bled to death in the arms of a workman.

Taylor and his wife Gloria remained dignified throughout two police investigations and three Old Bailey trials. Only in 2006 did they achieve a modicum of justice when brothers Danny and Ricky Preddie, fledgling career criminals who were 12 and 13 at the time of the killing, were convicted of manslaughter and given eight-year youth custody sentences.

The contrast between the fresh-faced, hard-working immigrant boy with dreams of becoming a doctor and the feral depravity of his home-grown killers provoked a period of national soul-searching.

Damilola Taylor was fatally stabbed at the age of 10: he had dreamt of becoming a doctor
Damilola Taylor was fatally stabbed at the age of 10: he had dreamt of becoming a doctor

The Preddies had been arrested twice in the weeks after Damilola’s death, but released after forensic evidence was missed. For two years the police concentrated on other suspects, though in 2002 four youths were cleared after a witness was exposed as a liar. The breakthrough came when forensic evidence was re-examined. Even then the jury in the Preddies’ first trial failed to reach a verdict and they were only convicted after a retrial.

Though dismayed by the leniency of the sentences, the Taylors were determined that some good should come out of their tragedy. In 2001, with the support of the footballer Rio Ferdinand, who grew up in Peckham, they established the Damilola Taylor Trust, offering medical scholarships for students from poor backgrounds; it has since launched many other projects to help young people at risk of gang and knife crime. A year later they also started the Damilola Taylor Centre, providing sports and community facilities.

In 2016 the 90-minute TV drama Damilola, Our Loved Boy told the family’s story. At the time Taylor explained that he could not forgive his son’s killers. “For me, the question of forgiveness is something I search in my heart for. But because this tragedy... has been so painful and such a sad situation, even though we’ve moved on, the question of forgiveness is not there for me to decide on.”

Richard Taylor at the grave of his son in 2004
Richard Taylor at the grave of his son in 2004 - Shutterstock

Richard Adeyemi Taylor was born into a middle-class family in Lagos on October 28 1948. He came to Britain to study public administration at Harrow Polytechnic and was joined by his girlfriend, Gloria. They married at a Methodist church at Kensington in 1977 and settled in Uxbridge, where Gbemi and her brother Tunde were born, before returning to Lagos in 1982.

Taylor worked for the defence ministry, Gloria became a bank manager and Damilola was born in 1989. Because epilepsy care was less advanced in Nigeria, they sent Gbemi, a British citizen, to London. In August 2020 she was joined by Gloria and the boys, who lived with a relative.

Taylor’s request for leave was declined, but after Damilola’s death he flew here and was seen by television viewers collapsing in grief. He retired in 2008 and was appointed Gordon Brown’s special envoy on youth violence and knife crime.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in 2011 Taylor criticised plans by Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, to reduce prison sentences for offenders who plead guilty. In 2018 he spoke out after the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said it would take 10 years to end London’s knife-crime epidemic, insisting: “We must treat knife crime as an act of terror, unleashing every available resource to prevent further loss of life.”

Taylor was appointed OBE in 2011. Gloria died from a heart attack in 2008 aged 57.

Richard Taylor, born October 28 1948, died March 23 2024

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