It was 9:30AM on an uncomfortably hot Friday morning, and in the gallery of Court 10 at the Old Bailey Antonitza Smith sat alone. Below her, flanked by guards and wearing the navy-blue suit she had delivered to him at Belmarsh Prison, was her only son, Damon. The 20-year-old’s curly hair had been cut short. They were both waiting to learn the sentence that the judge, Richard Marks QC, would hand down that morning.
Three-and-a-half weeks earlier, on the 3rd of May, 2017, Damon had been found guilty of leaving a homemade bomb packed with ball bearings on a Jubilee Line train. Marks knew that whatever decision he made would come under renewed focus after the deaths of 22 people in the shocking and senseless suicide bombing in Manchester just four days before. A few minutes after starting proceedings, he announced there would be a short break and cleared the room.
Outside the court, Antonitza steeled herself for another unbearable stretch of minutes spent worrying about her son. His lawyers had already told her that it would be “a miracle” if he got anything less than ten years. “He needs help, not prison,” she told me.