Stephen Lawrence murder: jurors did not know about Gary Dobson and David Norris's violent past
DURING five weeks of testimony, the Stephen Lawrence murder trial jury spent much of its time listening to detailed scientific evidence which formed "the heart of the case" against Gary Dobson and David Norris.
The forensic evidence – blood fibres and hair found on the clothing of the two men in the dock – was crucial, they were told.
But what the jury was not told was just as crucial in building a picture of the criminality, violence and racist nature of the two defendants and their gang of friends.
The jury did not know, for example, of multiple other attacks, some of which were racist, that Dobson, Norris and the other suspects were involved in.
They were not given the accounts of other witnesses who put Dobson, Norris, and others in the frame for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
They were not told that David Norris’s father was a renowned gangster who had been suspected of paying off witnesses in other cases against his son.
And that he is suspected of having coached some of the suspects ahead of their police interviews.
And while the jury was made aware of the names of the other suspects – the brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight - they were not aware of the violent past that each has.
They also did not know that, far from leaving his life of crime behind him, Dobson is currently in jail for drugs offences.
In 1999, the Macpherson report was published. Memorably it labelled the Metropolitan Police as “institutionally racist”, but it also provided telling detail about the five suspects in the case.
How the five became suspects
The jury heard that Dobson and the Acourts were arrested on 7 May 1993, 15 days after Stephen was murdered. David Norris was not at home when police arrived to search his house and he went to the police station three days later. Luke Knight was arrested nearly a month later on 3 June.
But no mention was made of how the police alighted upon the men as suspects.
Far from facing the wall of silence that features in many gang murder cases, the police had intelligence almost immediately suggesting the names of the men who murdered Stephen.
It is thought that 26 different people had put their names to the police as responsible for the murder within the first 48 hours.
On the day after the murder an anonymous woman rang police and suggested that "two boys who call themselves the Krays" could be responsible.
The following day police received two anonymous letters. One left in a telephone kiosk said: "The people involved in last night's stabbing are: Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, David Norris and Gary Dobson.”
It added: “These b*****ds are definitely involved and must be stopped because they keep getting away with it. Approach these sh*** with care. Do us a favour and prove it. Good luck.”
Another with the same names was left under the windscreen wiper of a police car. It read: “Be careful when you arrest them. The house is full of knives."
While another note named those responsible as a “group of youths on the Kidbrooke Estate who always carry knives and threaten people”.
The violent gang
The Acourts were considered prime suspects because they were the leaders of the gang. There were the two who referred to themselves as ‘The Krays’, as suggested in one of the notes.
Between them they were alleged to have taken part in a handful of other attacks, some of which involved Dobson and Norris, and many of which happened in the same area where Stephen was murdered.
In May 2001 Norris and Neil Acourt were involved in a racist attack on a black off duty police officer.
The pair drove at PC Gareth Reid, shouted n***** and threw a drink at him. They were both jailed for 18 months in June 2002.
But their violence preceded that.
In 1991 Lee Pearson was stabbed outside a kebab shop in Well Hall Road, the same street Stephen was killed. The Acourts were the police’s main suspects, but Mr Pearson refused to sign a statement implicating them.
In July 1992 an Asian boy, Rohit Duggal, was stabbed to death by Peter Thompson, again on Well Hall Road. Thompson was named as a member of the Acourts’ gang in the anonymous calls to the police the day after Stephen’s death.
In November 1992 a black youth named Kevin London said that Gary Dobson threatened him with a knife after challenging him over the fact he had a white girlfriend. Dobson denied it and no charges were brought.
Norris and Jamie Acourt were also suspects in the stabbing of Darren Witham in Chislehurst in 1992. Both were charged, but the charges were later dropped.
A month before Stephen’s death, in March 1993, David Norris is alleged to stabbed a man named Stacey Benefield with a miniature sword after he tried to calm an argument Norris had with a friend of his.
Norris and Neil Acourt were suspected by police of being involved in the attack. Only Norris stood trial and was acquitted.
The same month Gurdeep Banghal, 22 was stabbed by a white youth while working in a Wimpy restaurant in Eltham. His attacker is said to have called him a “P*** b******”.
Information received by the police suggested those responsible for the Lawrence murder were also responsible for the stabbing of Mr Banghal.
However the attack appears to be referenced in the secret recordings made by police of the gang in Dobson’s flat in December 1994.
Relaying the story, Dobson says: “He said ‘The f****** black b****** I am going to kill him’. I cracked up laughing. I went ‘what black geezer?’. He went ‘The Wimpy one, the f****** black n***** c***, f****** black b******. I went ‘What, the P***?”.
The jury was also told that, when interviewed by police in 1993, Gary Dobson named the Acourts as his best friends and also mentioned Luke Knight. He also told police he associated with youths named Charlie Martin and Danny Caetano.
What the jury did not hear was how the pair were not around the night Stephen Lawrence was killed because they were awaiting trial for a knife attack on a rival gang member who according to the prosecution they had quite literally tried to skin alive. A surgeon said he had never seen such wounds and the pair were convicted.
The Clifford Norris factor
In the same police interview Dobson, despite offering the names of many of the other gang members, denied knowing David Norris. He told the court that he did not want to get anyone else in trouble.
But perhaps a more plausible suggestion is that he did not want to tell the police that he was friends with the son of one of south-London’s most notorious gangsters – someone he would later visit in prison.
In the eighties Clifford Norris ran much of south London’s drugs trade.
During the trial, the jury was given glimpses and clues which suggested that David Norris’s upbringing was blessed with more wealth than his friends, but it was never explicitly explained why.
The court heard that, rather than living near Dobson and the Acourts, on the Brook estate in Eltham, Norris lived in relative luxury in a mansion in Berryfield Close, Chislehurst.
When officers arrived to search the house they were forced to ring the intercom to gain access to the mock tudor gated mansion in which the Norris family lived.
In his own evidence Norris made reference to his family’s wealth.
Shown a photograph of his younger brother wearing what appeared to be the clothes the prosecution allege Norris was wearing on the night of the murder, it was suggested that perhaps they were hand-me-downs.
Norris said that his family were not in the habit of recycling clothes. “Not in my house, sir,” he said. “We had quite a bit of money so we didn’t need to.”
When they were children, Norris did not catch the bus to football training like his friends. Instead his father would drop him off in the Porsche 911 sports car he had bought using cash pulled out of a carrier bag.
At the time of Stephen’s murder Clifford Norris was on the run after being sought on drugs charges, having been so from 1988 until he was arrested in 1994.
The fact that Clifford was not arrested until 1994 has led to suggestions that he influenced the police investigation into his son. David Norris was the only member of the gang not at home when officers arrived to arrest them early on May 7 1993.
It was alleged that Clifford “schooled” the suspects before their police interviews, leading to most of them giving “no comment” answers.
Clifford has previous for allegedly interfering in cases which concern his son.
Shortly after charges were brought in the case of Stacey Benefield was approached and taken to meet a man, presumed to be Clifford Norris, who gave him £2,000 to drop the case, which later collapsed.
The story is an example of Clifford Norris’s malign influence which, it is alleged, later spread to the investigation into Stephen’s murder.
Two officers were investigated amid claims that they were corrupted by Norris, but the allegations were never substantiated.
The other witnesses
Clifford Norris’s presence is also thought to have scared some witnesses into coming forward, fearful of making an enemy of the infamous Norris clan.
However, many did. But, fearful of confusing the jury by taking the focus off the crucial forensic evidence, their testimony was never put before the court.
Particularly telling was the evidence of Matthew White.
White was near the scene on the evening of the murder and, hearing rumours that the Acourts may have been involved, visited their house. He told police that when they opened the door one of the gang had their shirt off and told him "it weren't us".
The Macpherson report adds that other versions of his story include the suggestion that members of the gang were washing their hair, or that they had been washing knives.
Another witness, known only as Witness B, said that he saw Norris and one or both of the Acourts near the scene at the time of the murder. Norris claimed he was not even in Eltham on the night.
The holes in their stories
Neither White nor Witness B were called to give evidence. Norris and Dobson, however, did testify at the trial.
But what they told the jury conflicted with previous accounts.
Dobson told the court that he had been at home all evening. His parents had been at home with two of their friends and provided alibis for him.
He said he left home after his parents’ friends had left and after his parents had gone to bed to visit the Acourts to smoke a joint and borrow a CD and had returned within half an hour.
However, this conflicted with a version of events he gave to TalkRadio in 1999. Then he said: “I left my mum and dad indoors with their friends, I then went round to visit the Acourts round at their house,.”
Norris told the jury that he did not know where he was on the night of the murder, but that he was sure he was not in Eltham. His mother made a similar assertion, telling the court that her son “would have been at home” as he had a 9.30pm curfew.
In an interview with Martin Bashir, also in 1999, Norris said that he thought that he was at his girlfriend Cheryl’s house in Eltham.
But in court he claimed he did not know a Cheryl.
Transcripts of the surveillance footage taken at Dobson’s flat, however, show several of the gang members mentioning Cheryl’s name, suggesting that he must have at least been aware of her.