Keisha McLeod will tell you that her son Corey Junior Davis, known as CJ, was extraordinary in so many ways. Of course she does. She is a mother mourning the loss of a child. A child who was shot dead by gang members on the edge of a playground not far from his home in east London.
But now an independent assessor has identified an aspect of CJ’s character that was truly exceptional. His bravery. From inside the wall of silence that surrounds gang activity, CJ found the courage to talk about the threat that he faced. But he was let down. A serious case review has found that he told social care professionals that he wasn’t safe, and then saw nothing happen.
At just 13 years old, CJ was groomed, threatened and then exploited by gang members. His mum had noticed that he was wearing new clothes and trainers that she had not bought him. At 14, CJ was spending nights away from home. He started carrying a knife.
And then Keisha received a phone call, and heard CJ’s terrified voice on the other end. The gang was forcing him to sell drugs. She went to pick him up and found him on his bike with a back pack full of small bags of heroin and crack cocaine. She took the drugs off him, brought him home and reassured him that everything would be alright.
The police had identified CJ as being vulnerable to gang exploitation six months earlier. CJ suffered from ADHD, so his local authority had moved him from mainstream education to a Pupil Referral Unit, because of the "low-level disruption" that his condition caused in class.
A schools officer at the PRU noted that he was "associating with trouble-makers". But the case review found that the unit didn’t have the resources needed to deal with the "gang-related risk". Keisha described the PRU as a "breeding ground" for the gangs.
Children’s Social Care workers became involved with CJ when his mum reported him missing after he had not been home for a week. Their records note that evidence pointed strongly to CJ being groomed by older young people for the purposes of selling drugs. In one meeting with social workers, CJ told them that he was in fear for his life. But the serious case review found that CJ’s voice was "rarely truly heard and even more rarely adequately responded to". He was not, according to the report, "seen through the lens of exploitation, but as an offender".
His mother told me: "Instead of this child being seen for his vulnerabilities and the fact that he's been exploited and is a victim, he's been criminalised. A child.
"Everybody failed him. He's not here. Everybody failed him. I even feel like I failed him and that's not a good thing for a mother to say."
Keisha was convinced that the only sure way to protect CJ was to get him away from the neighbourhood. She had applied to be rehoused, and to CJ’s delight, an offer of a new home in a different area was made in the summer of 2017. But that offer was then withdrawn, for reasons the review found "are not clear".
Two months later, CJ was dead. He was shot at point blank range in broad daylight by assailants who remain unknown. The police believe he may have been hit because of the people he was standing with. One theory has it that the gunmen were members of a rival gang seeking revenge for a stabbing carried out the previous week.
Detectives are still appealing for information, and a reward has been offered, but they say they have exhausted all avenues of inquiry. Despite CJ’s attempts to break it down, the wall of silence is as strong as ever.
Newham Council has told ITV News they will comment on the report following its publication on Friday.