Knife victim, 15, ‘was failed by youth provision’

Friend says Romario Opia fell through teen gaps

Friday, 10th June — By Anna Lamche

Romario Opia

Romario Opia

A FUN-LOVING and creative 15-year-old boy was killed in a street stabbing after falling through the gaps of youth provision in the borough, a close friend has said.

Romario Opia died after being attacked close to Highgate Hill Academy’s school gates in Elthorne estate in January 2020.

O’Neil Cameron, 19, was found guilty of manslaughter at the Old Bailey on Wednesday. A 17-year-old boy who was present on the night of Romario’s death had earlier pleaded guilty to possession of an offensive weapon.

CCTV from the day of Romario’s death showed Cameron stabbing Romario in the chest before running from the area.

Police say Mr Cameron had been wearing “slider” flip flops despite the cold weather and the presence of snow on the ground. As he ran, one of his sliders fell off. He later sent a friend to retrieve the slider from the crime scene.

But detectives found the slider in the washing machine at Mr Cameron’s home, along with the other shoe and two socks, one of which was noticeably dirtier because he had run from the scene without a shoe on one foot.

The killing has been labelled gang crime, but according to one of Romario’s friends, the story is more complex.

Tyler Clancy, 18, launched “Living Romario’s Legacy” this year along with a friend, a project aiming to link up youth services across the borough.

When the Tribune spoke to Mr Clancy in March – a time when commentary on the circumstances could not be published due to the legal proceedings – he said: “We feel like a major part of Romario’s death was that he had to leave Cornwallis adventure playground.”

Adventure playgrounds act like youth clubs for children aged between six and 13 years old, with space to play outdoors and a main hall for indoor activities, all supervised by play workers.

Having exceeded the age limit, Romario had to find a new space to spend time after school, Mr Clancy said. He briefly attended Timbuktu adventure playground in Finsbury Park but before long, he was forced to move on as he was told he was too old for the service.

Mr Clancy said that because there was “no clear procedure” to transfer Romario from the adventure playground to a youth club for older teenagers, he “congregated out on [the] road” with “another group of boys”.

He added: “We like to think of Mario as ‘Bike life Romario’, when he was all about getting on bikes and going on ride-outs around the city and doing really positive things like music. He was always really creative. Once he met this new crowd [of boys], it changed. That lifestyle enticed him sadly, because he had nothing else to do.”

The Living Romario’s Legacy project is “primarily based on connecting these hubs and figuring out a way that they can stay in contact”, Mr Clancy said.

He said he did not find out about Platform Youth Club, where he now attends, “until after Romario passed”. He said: “ I think if Romario had known about Platform, there almost definitely would have been a different outcome.”

Cllr Michelline Ngongo, Islington’s executive member for children, young people and families, said: “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Romario at what must be a very difficult and distressing time.

“The safety of our children and young people is our number one priority and at the heart of everything we do. We have a detailed five-year plan for how we, with partners including the police and the voluntary sector, will continue to build on progress already made towards tackling knife crime and other areas of youth safety.

“While we continue to see important reductions in youth violence and knife crime injuries in the borough, there remains a strong need for early intervention to help steer those most at risk of falling into violent crime towards better choices and reaching their full potential.”

Mr Cameron will be sentenced on July 22.

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