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Wall of silence scuppered murder trial’

PUBLISHED: 16:57 11 November 2009 | UPDATED: 09:43 12 August 2010

DETECTIVES will relaunch an investigation in to the stabbing of 16-year-old Ben Hitchcock more than two years ago, after a fourth teenager was cleared of his murder.  Royston Thomas, 19, of Hazel Grove, Lower Sydenham, was found not guilty on the directio

DETECTIVES will relaunch an investigation in to the stabbing of 16-year-old Ben Hitchcock more than two years ago, after a fourth teenager was cleared of his murder.

Royston Thomas, 19, of Hazel Grove, Lower Sydenham, was found not guilty on the direction of an Old Bailey judge last Thursday after prosecutors offered no evidence against him.

Thomas was due to stand trial for the murder alone later this year but police investigating the case were forced to throw in the towel after facing a 'wall of silence' from witnesses.

Ben was knifed in the back during a brawl involving up to 60 youths armed with knives, bottles and sticks on June 23, 2007.

The pitched battle started after Ben's 'Green Borough' group spotted some of their rivals from the rival 'Blue Borough' outside a house party in Beckenham.

Ben, a pupil at Kelsey Park Sports College, suffered a fatal wound to the kidney.

A jury acquitted Andre Lawrence-Bennett and Mitchell Elliot, both 19, of murder while the charge was earlier dropped against Olatunji Ololu, 18, due to insufficient evidence.

Thomas was said to be a 'secondary party' in the gang attack that led to Ben's death and was not suspected to be the knifeman.

Last Thursday, prosecutor Ed Brown QC said there was no longer a 'realistic prospect of conviction' against Thomas and offered no evidence against him.

Judge Gerald Gordon QC formally entered a not guilty verdict on the invitation of the Crown.

Mr Brown said the reliable evidence against Thomas had 'evaporated'.

"The police came up against very great reluctance even from uncontentious witnesses," said the prosecutor.

"And on occasion they have more recently come up against downright refusal."

After the hearing the officer leading the investigation, Detective Inspector Stewart Kingston said the case remained open.

A new witness appeal will be launched this month in an attempt to gather further evidence.

He said: "Justice has not been served for Ben or his family and we want to put that right."

Thomas has been in custody and will be released.

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