Retrial 18 years after brutal racist murder

By Terri Judd

Stephen Lawrence was fatally stabbed after being attacked by a gang of white youths in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. Photo / Supplied
Stephen Lawrence was fatally stabbed after being attacked by a gang of white youths in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. Photo / Supplied

The brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence on April 22, 1993, and the failure to convict those responsible opened Britain's largest police force to accusations of "institutional racism" and transformed race relations law.

Yesterday, after an 18-year search for justice, Stephen's parents listened as a judge ordered that two of the original five suspects - Gary Dobson, 35, and David Norris, 34 - must stand trial for murder.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said: "The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man of great promise, targeted and killed by a group of white youths just because of the colour of his skin, was indeed a calamitous crime."

He said new evidence was sufficient for him to order a fresh trial but cautioned "the presumption of innocence continues to apply".

An 18-year-old Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks were waiting at a bus stop in Eltham, Greater London, when a gang of white youths attacked them.

While his friend managed to escape, Stephen Lawrence was stabbed twice.

Frustrated by the failure of the original police investigation, the Lawrence family took a private prosecution in 1996 against Dobson, Luke Knight and Neil Acourt. However, after identification evidence was declared inadmissible, the case collapsed and all three defendants were found not guilty.

In 1999, an inquiry headed by Sir William Macpherson examined the original Metropolitan Police investigation and concluded the force was "institutionally racist". He made 70 recommendations that would have an impact on race relations inside and outside the police and court system. His report also recommended a change in the law relating to double jeopardy.

Quashing Dobson's acquittal, Judge said he had seen new forensic evidence relating to a bomber jacket and multi-coloured cardigan linked to Dobson.

"It does not and could not demonstrate that Dobson wielded the knife which caused the fatal wound, but given the circumstances of the attack on Stephen Lawrence, that is a group of youths in a violent enterprise converging on a young man and attacking him as a group, it would be open to a jury to conclude that any one of those who participated in the attack was party to the killing and guilty of murder, or alternatively manslaughter.

"If reliable, the new scientific evidence would place Dobson in very close proximity indeed to Stephen Lawrence."

Stephen's mother, Doreen, said perhaps "we will finally get justice for him".

- Independent

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