A 16 year old youth from east London has been convicted of murdering 18 year old Salum Komboin a knife attack in Bromley-by-Bow last December after an eight day trial at the Old Bailey. The convicted defendant was only 15 at the time and was reacting to an exchange of insults posted on the social networking site Facebook. He has been remanded for background reports until 22 June. He faces a sentence of youth custody for life. The jury returned its verdict after more than a day of deliberation (Wednesday 26 May).
The prosecuting QC David Jeremy outlined the background to the case at the beginning of the trial:
“A young man has lost his life by being stabbed following a petty dispute and a perceived loss of face by the perpetrator. In the days leading up to December 20 there had been a trade of insults and threats between these two boys both directly and on Facebook. At one stage the boy who died called (the defendant) a pussy. That insult appears to have particularly incensed him. It was the combination of a silly argument, (the defendant’s) over-sensitivity about his own dignity and status, and his own willingness to carry a knife that led to the events of December 20.”
Salum Kombo died a few yards away from his east London home after receiving one fatal stab wound to the upper chest. He was a well regarded, popular and talented art and design student at Tower Hamlets College.
The stabbing incident was not caught on CCTV cameras, but the movements of the victim and defendant before and after the murder were.
Salum was described by one of the boys to be speaking to the defendant and moving his hands as though he were explaining something along the way, although what was being said could not be heard. The defendant was described as quiet and calm, with both hands in his pockets. Salum was also seen putting his arm around the defendant.
Two of the boys told the jury they saw the defendant with a knife moments after Salum Kombo was wounded, and two described actually seeing the accused stab Salum in the chest.
According to one witness, Salum and the defendant had a quarrel outside a youth club on the Friday before Salum died. There was a verbal exchange where Salum was heard to have said, “He doesn’t like me, he’s acting childish”.
One witness referred to a text message Salum had previously sent the defendant that had been perceived as an insult.
All five witnesses said that Salum was never known to carry a knife, though when giving evidence in his defence the accused boy said he had seen Salum carrying a knife previous to the evening of the stabbing.
The accused, who is from Bow in East London, admitted stabbing Salum in the chest but he argued that he had acted in self defence and without any intention to kill:
“When he put his arm around me, I couldn’t see his hand, so I stabbed him. I stabbed him because I thought he was going to stab me.”
During cross-examination the young man broke down in court soon after having said:
“I remember shouting because I messed up my life and I lost my friend. I thought to myself that what I did was messed up. It felt wrong and I regretted it. When I did it I thought “What did I just do?” After I did it, I didn’t know what I did.”
Detective Inspector Joe Daly of the Metropolitan Police said after the jury’s verdict:
“The tragic events which unfolded that night were the culmination of a combination of factors – a trivial argument, the defendant’s over-sensitivity about his own dignity and status, and his willingness to carry a knife. As a result an 18-year-old has needlessly lost his life and a 16-year-old is now set to spend his young life behind bars.”
Mr Kombo’s tragic killing just before Christmas 2009 was marked by a memorial site set up on Facebook and the publication of an image published by some of the national media. The judge at the Central Criminal Court has legal discretion on whether to lift the reporting restriction imposed under section 39 of the Children Young Person’s Act 1933 that prohibits the media from
publishing anything that could identify the accused or the school he attended.
Additional reporting by Katherine Godfrey.