Wednesday 7 December 2016

Pair convicted of racist murder of black teenager

Mark Hughes and Martin Evans

Published 04/01/2012 | 05:00

It HAS taken 18 years of relentless campaigning, two failed prosecutions, a public inquiry, a change to Britain's ancient laws on double jeopardy and a new £4m (€5m) police inquiry.

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But yesterday the tearful parents of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence were able to voice their 'joy and relief' as two racist thugs were at last convicted of their son's killing.

It was at 2.39pm, after a 50- day trial,that Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of being part of a gang of "like- minded racists" who stabbed the 18-year-old to death in Eltham, south London, in 1993.

Over the intervening years the murder became notorious for the impact it had on race relations in Britain as well as for the police's repeated failure to solve it. Yesterday's unanimous verdicts were the first time anyone has been convicted in the case which has been a stain on the reputation of the British justice system for almost two decades.

But for Doreen and Neville Lawrence it was a bittersweet moment. The couple -- who have separated since their son's killing -- welcomed at least a partial victory in their quest for justice. But Mrs Lawrence, in particular, hit out at the "miserable failures" of the police in their bid to prosecute his killers.

And Mr Lawrence also appealed for the other members of the gang to now face court as well, calling on Dobson and Norris to name those responsible. Police still believe three other men -- Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight -- were involved in the attack.

"How can I celebrate?" Mrs Lawrence asked afterwards. "How can I celebrate when my son lies buried, when I cannot see him or speak to him? When I will not see him grow up or go to university, or get married or have children. These verdicts will not bring my son back."

She said that "this day could have come 18 years ago" if the police "who were meant to find my son's killers" had not "failed so miserably".

Neville Lawrence, via his solicitor, said: "My life was torn apart by the senseless murder of my son over 18 years ago. Unfortunately no one was brought before a court at that time.

"The loss itself, together with the lack of justice have meant that I have not been able to rest all this time. I am therefore full of joy and relief that today, finally, two of my son's killers have been convicted for his murder."

But, he added: "I don't think I will be able to rest until they are all brought to justice.

"I hope before the sentence is passed, they will talk and give the rest of these people that killed my son up."

Dobson and Norris will be sentenced today. But they face the prospect of a dramatically reduced jail term because they will be sentenced as juveniles due to their age at the time of the attack.

Dobson was 17 in 1993 while Norris was 16. It means they face a minimum 12 years rather than the 25 years an adult would face for a knife murder.

Until yesterday Stephen Lawrence's murder was Britain's most notorious unsolved killing.

The initial investigation into his death was riddled with errors, forcing attempts at prosecution to collapse. Stephen's family mounted a private prosecution in 1994, but that too was abandoned two years later.

Inquest

The inquest into Stephen's death found that he had been murdered in a "completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths" as he waited at a bus stop with his friend Duwayne Brooks.

The furore over the failure to solve the case led to a public inquiry. In 1999 the Macpherson report labelled the Metropolitan Police "institutionally racist".

Despite the Lawrence family's relentless campaigning, it appeared at various points over the past 18 years that no one would ever be convicted of the murder, especially when in 1996 Dobson, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight were acquitted at the private prosecution.

The law at that time meant they could never be charged again. But in 2005 a chink of light emerged when the double jeopardy rule was abolished, meaning the men could be re-tried.

In 2006, following DNA advancements, the police began to look again at the forensic exhibits in the case, leading to new charges being brought against Dobson and Norris. A tiny drop of Stephen's blood was found on a jacket belonging to Dobson. Two strands of his hair were found on jeans belonging to Norris.

The defence argued that the forensic evidence had been contaminated over the years since police first examined them. But the jury were not convinced and found both men guilty.

Dobson is currently in prison for drugs offences, while Norris, whose father has gangland links, has a previous conviction for racism.

Irish Independent

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