Friday, August 18, 2006

A ruthless armed robber has been jailed for 40 years for shooting dead a seven-year-old schoolgirl and killing the man she believed was her father

Steve Bird:

Joel Smith, left, shot dead Betrarm Byfield, centre, and then murdered Toni-Ann to silence the only witness

A ruthless armed robber was jailed for 40 years today for shooting dead a seven-year-old schoolgirl and killing the man she believed was her father.

Toni-Ann Byfield, Britain's youngest victim of Yardie gangland violence, was shot in the back as she ran screaming from Joel Smith after seeing him shoot Bertram Byfield, 41, a drug dealer.

Detectives believe that Smith murdered her to silence the only witness to the initial killing.

Smith, 33, who had gone armed to rob the Byfields’ home, later boasted to gangland friends: "I blasted a dad and his daughter, a little kid."

However, the shooting of a "bright and fun" girl shocked the underworld, prompting several hardened criminals to break their own code of silence and betray Smith to police.

Most gave evidence from behind a screen at the Old Bailey so they were shielded from Smith, and some were allowed to use false names. They are understood still to be in substantial fear of retribution.

Sentencing him to a minimum of 40 years for killing the schoolgirl and 33-years for murdering Byfield Mr Justice Gross said: "However grimly accustomed one becomes to violent crime there is a particular horror in the shooting in the back at close range of a seven-year-old girl - that is the hallmark of this case."

He said that Toni-Ann had died because by "tragic chance she happened to be there that night and was a potential witness to the attack". "The fatal shot was fired into her back. No doubt the intention was to kill. This was a cold blooded, simple and callous shooting," he said.

As Smith was led to the cells he stuck a finger up at one of the officers involved in the case.

Ms Richards later welcomed the verdicts adding that Smith had shown no remorse for killing her "bright and lovely" daughter. In a statement she said: "She had such a bright future, and seemed to take setbacks in her stride. Her love for life could not be dampened until she crossed paths with Joel Smith."

During his trial Smith, who grew up amid London’s violent street gang culture, insisted that he was innocent and tried to blame Tafari Dacas, who is already serving life for an unconnected murder.

Smith, an arrogant and volatile criminal, who was known as Cocaine or Caine, fled London for Liverpool following the shootings in Kensal Green, north-west London, in September 2003.

He was tracked down two years later while serving a prison sentence in Liverpool.

Bertram Byfield, who had survived a shooting in 2001, was shot twice. A third shot missed and a fourth hit the child.

Toni-Ann had been staying with Byfield, a crack-cocaine dealer, in a run down hostel for former offenders after a series of blunders by care workers.

After the murders, Birmingham social services came under severe criticism for allowing Toni-Ann, who was born in Jamaica, to live with a convicted criminal who had a history of drug dealing.

Officials looked into her background and found that in 2000 she arrived in Britain for what her mother thought was going to be a short holiday organised by a Kingston church.

In October 2001 Bertram Byfield was released from a nine-year jail sentence for peddling crack cocaine and decided he wanted to play more of a part in her life.

Toni-Ann was living with half sisters in Birmingham until September 2002, when social services took her into care after an investigation over concerns of physical abuse raised by her teachers.

She was placed with foster parents in the city. However, when that family went on an extended holiday, she was unable to get a passport due to difficulties establishing her immigration status. It was then that she was handed over to Byfield.

A catalogue of blunders in dealing with Toni-Ann were exposed in an inquiry into the case in 2004. Social workers, immigration officials and children’s care agencies were criticised.

Birmingham social services had failed to contact their counterparts in Brent, north-west London, or the Metropolitan Police to check Byfield’s background.

After their deaths, blood tests showed that Byfield, the man social services had been so eager to reunite with Toni-Ann, was not actually the child’s real father.

Outside court Detective Superintendent Neil Basu, of Operation Trident, said: "No-one won here today. Toni Ann will still never be eight years old.

"Christine Richards had her baby girl taken from her no fewer than three times, once in Jamaica, once from Jamaica to Birmingham and finally taken from her forever by Joel Smith. No parent can begin to imagine her agonies over the years. I hope today will begin to give Christine, and the rest of her family, some peace.

"By his own terrible hand, Smith has deprived his own children of their father, and I have no doubt, broken his decent mother's heart.

"No one knows what happened in that bedsit in the early hours of the 14th September 2003 except for certain, Joel Smith. Of one thing you can be sure - Toni Ann was a complete innocent who was executed in cold blood - shot dead with a single bullet to the back and she cannot have known what for.

"Smith has shown no remorse. I sincerely hope he spends the next 30 years searching to understand the man he has become, and at some future point has the decency to tell us all why he committed this most evil of acts."

He said that the investigation covered five countries and more than 2,000 people were spoken to.

In a statement read by her solicitor Toni-Ann's mother said: "Toni-Ann’s death has affected me in so many ways that I find it difficult to express.

"I look back and think about the way she spoke, and her mannerisms. She was a bright, lovely, respectful and talkative little girl.

"Everyone who knew her or spoke to her remarked about her charming character. She said of Smith: "I will never understand Joel Smith. A man who can shoot a seven-year-old girl in the back does not deserve to rejoin society. He has shown no remorse, maintaining his innocence in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him.

"He is in my view a dangerous man, capable of repeating such acts given the opportunity. That window of opportunity was slammed shut today."

Tragic life of Toni-Ann

Cold-blooded killer of Toni-Ann jailed for at least 40 years

Gangland killer gets 40 years for Toni-Ann murder


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