The Capital XTRA presenter Yinka Bokinni was 11 when Damilola died.
She was one of the last people to see him alive – but for two decades she did not talk about it and often pretended not to know him.
Then she made a documentary, Damilola: The Boy Next Door, for Channel 4, and contacted her friends from that time – and they finally opened up about it for the first time.
She said: “I think when people see Dami in his school uniform, when people see him with his half smile, they only see the victim.
“But the kid that I knew was always shouting and running and jumping and screaming and laughing. He was so carefree and fearless. He was like another brother to me.”
Yinka’s family was one of the last families to move out when the North Peckham Estate was demolished after Damilola’s death – many had already been scheduled to leave.
“I had had what I thought was an idyllic childhood,” she said. “I was one of seven, and all the kids on the estate went to school together, hung out at home together, ate together.
“Now an adult, I realise it was probably because a lot of the parents worked nights and everyone was looking after each other’s kids.
“But when I was younger, it was just a big, extended playtime.
“I didn’t know how poor we were. I felt loved.
“Dami was definitely the most fearless of our group – he would be the one riding his bike down the biggest hills or walking on the highest balconies.
“I remember our living room was lit up with blue and red flashing lights on November 27 2000.
“The next morning, Dami’s photo flashed up on the TV news. I remember being so confused, because I had seen him the previous morning.
“The police left the crime-scene tape blowing in the wind and I would run past it every day. No kid should have to walk past the spot where their best friend was killed for five months.
“Physically everything was the same but I couldn’t recognise it any more.
“It was like I wasn’t a kid any more. Once we moved, I didn’t go back.
“I thought ‘Put it away and deal with it later.’ But later is now, I guess.”
The film was cathartic. “I wanted to show his dad that he was loved and that his death wasn’t inevitable because of where he landed,” she said.
“Sometimes I think was he really my best friend? Did I really hang out with him every day? Did I really see him on the day he died? For a long time I pretended – ‘No, I didn’t really know him’. But it didn’t make it any less real.
“I tried to avoid anything to do with what happened, especially the CCTV of the last minutes of him leaving Peckham Library.
“When he was dying, I was just sitting at home – just 50 yards away.
“Terrible things happened there. It was a violent place. Long before we moved to North Peckham, a major tragedy was considered a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if’.
“It was notorious, with a reputation for violence and poverty. But we lived in a close-knit community where everyone knew each other.”
Yinka was actually interviewed in a Panorama programme about the killing days afterwards. “I felt angry,” she said – aged 11 at the time. “Cos I was thinking ‘how could someone do this? Taking a life. Why? But that question will never be answered, to be quite honest. It’s hard to get over it, really. But you’ve just got to try.
“We used to do play-fighting. Pokemon cards as well. He was funny. If he wasn’t funny, he would have got on my nerves.
“Everyone used to say he had a crush on me. He probably did really.”
She said at the end of the film: “When he died, we lost so much – our community, our home and our friend.
“For 20 years, I was ashamed of Peckham, and denied even knowing Damilola.
“When I was at university, I wondered what he would have studied – would he have gone on to be a doctor or a lawyer or another profession expected by our Nigerian parents? Would we have been close?
“Or would he just be someone on Instagram saying: ‘Hey, remember me?’ I don’t know if he would have been somebody I would have had a coffee with or someone I would have just bumped into.
“Those are questions we will never answer – and that is where the tragedy lies.
‘What if?’ kicks you in the gut.”
Pictured: Yinka Bokinni
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