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article imageOp-Ed: Chindamo – the boy who was given a second chance

By Alexander Baron     Aug 24, 2011 in Crime
Today, 31 year old Learco Chindamo was acquitted of a street robbery, so why was he remanded in custody instead of being allowed to go home?
Chindamo and his two co-defendants were said to have extracted a sum of money from a teenager in the small hours of a November morning last year. The crime – to which we must now allude as an alleged crime – happened at a cashpoint in North London. David Sexton, the alleged victim, now 20, handed over a mere £10. A crime of that nature even though involving no actual physical violence would normally attract an immediate gaol sentence, probably of at least a few months, but perhaps considerably longer depending on the actual circumstances, and the antecedents of the perpetrator. One might ask though under what circumstances would a man acquitted of such a crime be sent to gaol anyway? Chindamo’s co-defendants Gregory Jananto and Saeed Akhtar walked free, but they are otherwise ordinary human beings; unlike Chindamo, they do not bear the mark of Cain.
In December 1995, when he was just 15 years old, Chindamo stabbed to death Philip Lawrence; he was parolled only in July last year. In Britain, when a convicted murderer is released, it is on life licence; offenders may be recalled to prison at any time if their behaviour gives cause for concern, as evidently Chindamo’s did.
At his recent trial, the prosecution claimed that he wore his conviction for that senseless murder like a badge of honour, and that he had used it to intimidate David Sexton into handing over £10, not exactly the Great Train Robbery. Chindamo’s defence was that the younger man handed over the money so he could buy a drink following a dispute. The incident was captured on CCTV, but whether or not the jury believed this implausible story, they decided to acquit. Where the protection of the public is concerned though – that means us – the authorities rightly err on the side of caution; it is quite likely Chindamo will spend another five or even ten years, perhaps longer, behind bars, before the Parole Board is prepared to give him a third chance.
Whether or not some people are born inherently selfish, bad, or simply evil, it is manifestly untrue that leopards never change their spots: Amy Winehouse wasn’t born an addict; Hitler was once a philo-Semite; gang member Nicky Cruz traded in his switchblade knife for a Bible; and perhaps most notably, convicted murderer Leslie Grantham turned his talents to acting, and made the transformation from real life villain to soap opera villain. Likewise, Chindamo had choices, and he made them.
Learco Chindamo was born at Milan, Italy in August 1980, but relocated to Britain at a young age with his Phillipino mother. Although he learned to speak English, he doesn’t appear to have learned anything else from the school system, probably because he spent so much time bunking off. He also became a gang member; the Wo Shing Wo styled themselves rather fancifully on a Chinese triad of that name. Whether or not he formed the gang, Chindamo was its leader, and in December 1995 he and his bunch of thugs went to St George's Roman Catholic Secondary School in London’s Maida Vale where they set about a 13 year old pupil with an iron bar. Philip Lawrence, the school’s 48 year old headmaster, witnessed the assault, and intervened on behalf of his young student. Chindamo punched him, then stabbed him once in the chest with a large knife; he died in hospital the same evening.
The story was massive news in both the local and national media, and Chindamo has been the subject of considerable attention over the years, particularly by the tabloids.
In October 1996, after the then 16 year old was convicted of murder and his name made public, the Sun newspaper reported that he had become “a Triad mobster” when he was just 13, and that his father was an Italian Mafioso known as the Acid Man. An article in the Times at the same time revealed how he earned that name; he was said to be serving 15 years in an Italian gaol for throwing sulphuric acid in a woman's face.
Learco Chindamo and his gang were also thought to have been behind a street attack on the husband of Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills.
Detained for Her Majesty’s Pleasure – the juvenile equivalent of a life sentence - Chindamo was held at the Feltham Young Offender Institution where it was said his day began with a 7.45am roll call, breakfast and work from 8.55 to 11.20am, or in lieu of work, studying or physical education.
In an interview with the Times published October 19, 1996, Frances Lawrence, the victim’s widow, said: “He not only destroyed my family, he destroyed his future. My heart goes out to him” adding “I felt a great sadness for him and his lack of values and the lack of anything that shaped his life. People say that some lives are beyond redemption, but I do not believe that. ”
In retrospect, this was an unnecessarily as well as extraordinarily charitable attitude; some people really are beyond redemption.
Two months later, she was not feeling quite so charitable when the Sun reported “FURIOUS MPs last night slammed the killer of hero head Philip Lawrence - after he claimed he prays for his victim.” This was also a curious statement for him to have made as he was still at that time both protesting his innocence and appealing his conviction. By this time too, Chindamo had been moved to Glenthorne Young Offenders Centre, Birmingham.
Five and a half years later, Mrs Lawrence was positively furious, because according to the Evening Standard of May 27, 2002, she was asked by the probation service to apologise to him after she criticised his lack of remorse. She was said at first to have thought this request was a hoax. After making a formal complaint, she received a personal apology from Home Secretary David Blunkett. A Home Office spokesman said a probation officer had been disciplined, adding: “This contact, which took place over six months ago, was entirely inappropriate.”
At his trial, Chindamo had blamed the murder on a fellow gang member. In November 1997, his appeal was dismissed by the Lord Chief Justice himself. The full judgment can be found here.
An attempt to deport Chindamo on his release was rejected ostensibly because it would violate his human rights. Much was made of this at the time, but it was really a storm in a tea cup. Although Chindamo was born in Italy, he had grown up in Britain, so nasty piece of work that he was and is, technically he is “our” nasty piece of work, and in view of the nature of his sentence, he should not have been released until he was considered to be no risk to the citizens of any country. That decision was soon to be made, and in December 2007, the Evening Standard reported that Mrs Lawrence was unhappy with her husband’s killer being released so soon; the same article reported that it was possible he would be given a new identity, but later he was described by Home Office officials as a "present and serious threat" to the public, and likely to re-offend.
Less than three years later, that prognosis had apparently been reversed, and it was reported that he had been released to a bail hostel in South London “until suitable accommodation, likely to be a council flat, is found for him.” He was said to be under a night time curfew.
It might have been wiser to move him to a different part of the country, but he made all the right noises at the time. In a statement issued through his solicitor, he said he had done “a terrible thing” and would “spend my life atoning for my crime”.
He was reported too to have offered to visit schools to warn children about knife crime, but only four months later he was arrested at Catford, South London on suspicion of the aforementioned robbery on November 13; this alleged offence was said to have been committed at Belmont Street in North West London.
Even if one takes Chindamo’s ridiculous story at face value – as the jury may have done – he should have known better than to put himself in such a situation. In the first place, he should not have been out at 3.30am with a “gang”; in the second place, if a tricky situation developed, he should have walked away.
Doubtless, there were other conditions attached to his life licence that he also breached. We may hear about those next time he appears in court, or when the Home Office issues a press release concerning his future.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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