How a Walthamstow killer escaped justiceThe case collapsed the day before the main suspect was due in court
After years investigating the death of a man stabbed outside his Walthamstow flat, police have conceded defeat.
Mere days after Jermaine Johnson died in Vallentin Road on 19th March 2018, police believed they had caught his killer. Months later, the day before their suspect was due in court, the case collapsed.
At the conclusion of his inquest on 5th October, east London coroner Graeme Irvine laid out in detail how a seemingly open-and-shut investigation came to nothing.
Jermaine’s grieving relatives said it was “scary” that his killer escaped justice despite “so much evidence and so much information”, including CCTV footage and five possible witnesses.
Read more: Our coverage at the time
Speaking for the family, Samantha Green said: “In our country, you can’t get away with murder. It might take time but I will keep the fight and I will stay strong.
“This [violence] is all we see on the news for our young black boys. For my 17-year-old son, I want there to be some form of justice.”
Police arrived at Vallentin Road that night after receiving calls from Jermaine’s neighbours about a woman who “appeared to be covered in blood”.
When they arrived, they found Jermaine in the courtyard below the balcony of his flat, with a stab wound to his upper thigh. The flat itself did not have “any extensive blood staining” inside.
The woman was Jermaine’s partner Sylvinna Thompson, who lived with him at the flat. Also living at the flat was her 16-year-old son, Korelle Thompson-Allen, who had a relationship with Jermaine the coroner described as “fractious”.
Coroner Irvine said: “Korelle was very much of the view that Jermaine was not his father and could not tell him what to do. There’s some incidental evidence of Korelle pulling a knife in previous arguments.”
At first, the evidence pointing to Korelle, already “known to police” because of his connection to a local gang, seemed undeniable.
At 9.24pm that night, Detective Sergeant Stephanie Watts explained, grainy CCTV footage appeared to show the pair fighting on the flat’s balcony before going back inside.
Not long after, Jermaine climbed over this balcony and lowered himself to the ground outside his flat for unknown reasons, the same spot he was eventually discovered.
Around the same time, his stepson was seen rushing out of the flat and “into the shadows underneath the balcony, to where Mr Johnson was”.
DS Watts told the court: “In the police opinion, it’s clear that he’s carrying a knife at this time. This is backed up by a sheath found in his bedroom without a knife inside, just on top of his belongings.”
Korelle was back there for “three or four seconds”, she said, and then ran away in the opposite direction. He was next seen being picked up by a friend and driven away from the area.
On 22nd March, the then-16-year-old surrendered himself to police custody, refusing to answer questions, and pleaded not guilty at the Old Bailey the next day. He was held in custody to wait for his trial.
However, five days later, on 27th March, officers who had continued to search the flat found something that threw a spanner in the works.
DS Watts told the court: “A blood-stained knife blade was found behind the headboard in the master bedroom… It was a kitchen knife.”
DNA analysis showed the blood on this knife was Jermaine’s and officers also found a snapped-off handle outside, close to where Jermaine died.
The DNA on this handle, however, was not a positive match to Korelle. It was instead a match to his mother, Sylvinna.
Coroner Irvine said: “Mr Thomspon-Allen could not have returned to the flat because it was a sealed crime scene, he would not have had the opportunity to return the blade.
“If we were simply to rely on DNA evidence, it would create a far more persuasive case that Ms Thompson was involved.”
At the inquest, coroner Irvine asked DS Watts several times if she felt “somebody else” could have “taken the blade back into the flat”.
DS Watts insisted she “could not make that supposition” but noted that the empty knife sheath found in Korelle’s bedroom pointed to another knife that was never found.
She also noted that, despite the lack of “extensive blood staining” found inside the flat, it was “possible Mr Johnson was stabbed inside”.
The court next heard evidence from Jermaine’s post-mortem, which concluded his fatal wound was “most likely” inflicted “by the type of knife most commonly found in a kitchen, with a single sharpened cutting edge”.
Asked for her opinion, DS Watts said she could not comment without “knowing what any other knife may have looked like”, adding that “all sorts of knives might be kept in a sheath” like the one found in Korelle’s room.
The autopsy further concluded: “Mr Johnson would have been capable of movement for some time prior to his eventual collapse due to blood loss.
“The [wound] would have originally collapsed on itself and the blood vessels, which are very deep, would have bled locally for a short period before the pressure was great enough to reopen them and for external blood loss to occur.
“This, in addition to initial absorption by his clothing, may have meant he could have moved some distance without leaving a blood trail initially.”
Coroner Irvine explained that, in the light of new evidence which “weakened the case” against Korelle, the Crown Prosecution Service “did not feel there was a reasonable prospect of persuading a jury”.
He said: “Consequently, after a period of reflection, they decided to discontinue the case on 12th June, the day before Mr Thompson-Allen was due in court.
“I do have reservations about the decision made. I think it’s appropriate for me to write to the director of the Crown Prosecution Service.
“Although criminal prosecution has not been effective thus far, it’s possible there could be a prosecution in future.”
In particular, he suggested five witnesses at the scene, some of who “provided false names” to police, may in future be called to give evidence again.
Jermaine’s death was recorded as an unlawful killing.