Two families clashed violently outside the Old Bailey on Monday after a 14-year-old boy from Hackney was sentenced to six years detention for accidentally killing his friend.
Furious with what they considered a lenient sentence, friends of Jahmal Mason-Blair, who died earlier this year aged 17, came to blows with relations of Michael Ematuwo, the boy jailed over his death.
Around ten police officers were needed to stop the brawl, with several people forced to take refuge in a nearby shop.
Among those outside court was Lynnette Brown, a close friend of Jahmal’s family. “That’s the last thing the parents need,” she said, looking on while the group fought with fists and umbrellas in the middle of the street.
Ematuwo was aged 13 when the flick-knife he brandished in self-defence severed an artery in his friend’s neck. Jahmal had placed himself between his killer and another boy to break up their fight over a stolen bicycle. The promising footballer, who had trials at Tottenham, Reading and Watford, bled to death on 23 May this year in Amhurst Road, Hackney. Earlier this month Ematuwo pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Ms Brown, known to Jahmal as “auntie,” said: “His mother has strong faith, and that’s something. But it’s hard to keep our faith in the law with sentences like these. Nothing will bring Jahmal back, but they put a value on a life in there: six years. It’s crushing.”
Nigerian-born Ematuwo struggled to lift his head throughout proceedings. He looked up toward weeping family and friends in the public gallery only once and had to steady his tiny frame as he stood to receive sentence.
Junior Launder, who suffered a minor blow as he helped bring the melee under control, had known Jahmal his whole life. The 29-year-old played football with him as a child and grew up on the same Hackney estate. “I know people who’ve been in gangs and have been stabbed,” he said, “and I can see why it happened to them.
“But Jahmal? Honestly, I don’t see why it happened. He was always the one to stop the fighting. I don’t know what to say to his family. All I can do is give them my love, my hugs and kisses.”
Sentencing, Judge Paul Worsley told the defendant he had “destroyed” the lives of two families – his own and the victim’s. “Jahmal was the bright star in the lives of his family. He was a decent, popular boy and a talented footballer. He was a boy who met his death trying to stop violence, not causing it.”
Lady Mallalieu QC, defending, spoke of Ematuwo’s contrition and reminded the court that her client had paid for his actions with more than his freedom. “This is a young man who has lost a friend,” she said.
The court heard how Jahmal’s father rarely sleeps and has been forced to quit his job as a bus driver because he no longer feels “emotionally strong enough to be responsible for the safety of other people.”
In a written statement, the victim’s family said: “We want the boy responsible, and the community as a whole, to realise the long-lasting and appalling effect caused by one boy choosing to carry a knife. Only by our communities looking out for one another will we be able to put an end to the needless deaths of our sons and brothers.”
City of London Police are investigating Monday’s incident.