Thursday 14 December 2017

Stephen Lawrence killers found guilty 18 years after racist murder

Mark Hughes and Martin Evans

GARY Dobson and David Norris have been found guilty of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, the first convictions in the case since the black teenager was stabbed to death 18 years ago.

The pair were convicted today and will be sentenced tomorrow.

The conviction comes after a five-week trial during which forensic evidence linking the two to the murder was shown to the jury.

A spot of Stephen’s blood was found on the collar of Dobson’s jacket, while hairs belonging to Stephen were found on Norris’s trousers.

Dobson and Norris were part of a gang of white youths who racially taunted Stephen before stabbing him to death in a 10 – second attack in Eltham, south-east London in 1993.

Mark Ellison QC, prosecuting, said a gang had forced the A-level student to the ground at a bus stop before the fatal knife attack, after his friend Duwayne Brooks managed to flee the scene.

"Stephen Lawrence did not manage to get away," Mr Ellison told jurors at the Old Bailey." The group quickly surrounded him," he said. "One witness described that he was swallowed up by the weight of numbers and forced to the ground."

The prosecution claimed Stephen's murder was inherently racist and pointed to evidence from secret recordings of the pair.

Norris was recorded boasting he would use ‘two submachine guns’ in a plan to ‘skin a black ****’ and ‘blow their two arms and legs off’.

Then, he said, he would tell them: ‘Go on, you can swim home now’. He added: ‘They would be bobbing about like that.’

Dobson was also recorded recalling a time when he threatened a black colleague with a knife.

The pair had claimed they were not involved in the murder. Instead Dobson said he was at home at the time while Norris said he could not recall exactly where he was. His mother told the court he too would have been at home.

But, after three days of deliberation, the jury rejected their defences.

Dobson and Norris were two of the original five suspects arrested by the Metropolitan Police at the time of the murder. Two brothers, Neil and Jamie Acourt, and their friend Luke Knight were the others.

But, back then, there was not enough evidence to charge them.

Stephen’s family pursued a private prosecution against the five. The case against three of the suspects – including Dobson – went to court, but later collapsed.

The murder brought the issue of race relations in Britain into sharp focus.

Failure to have anyone convicted had haunted the Metropolitan Police who were fiercely criticised at a public inquiry for their handling of the case.

The Macpherson Report, in 1998, branded the force “institutionally racist”.

The fresh prosecution case against Dobson and Norris was launched following a forensic review which began in 2006.

The police had to go to the Court of Appeal to have Dobson’s private prosecution acquittal quashed so that he could be tried a second time.

Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police acting deputy commissioner, praised the Lawrence’s family, admitting that the prosecution could not have happened without them.

She said: “I think everybody acknowledges the extraordinary effect that the constant campaigning of the Lawrences had during the 90s.

“It is because of them frankly that we ended up with a public inquiry which has had the most massive impact on policing and beyond. I think it is perfectly possible we would not be exactly where we are today without the work they did.”

The officer said that it was important not only for the police, but also for society that the case was solved.

She added: “All murder cases are absolutely dreadful, but this case for reasons you will all understand is extremely important, not just for the Metropolitan Police, but for society at large.

“It is a very important murder case. The views surrounding the first investigation and subsequent public inquiry of course damaged the Metropolitan Police’s reputation.

“But the Met does persevere and continue with investigations. From our point of view this was a case that we wanted, of course, to bring people to justice.”

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