STEPHEN MADE US LOOK AT OUR­SELVES AS A SO­CI­ETY

On the 25th an­niver­sary of the killing of stephen Lawrence, could a new BBC doc­u­men­tary pro­vide the key to fresh ev­i­dence? Amy Ig­gulden in­ves­ti­gates…

Grazia (UK) - - News Feature - ‘ Stephen: The Mur­der That Changed A Na­tion’, is on BBC One on Tues­day 24, Wed­nes­day 25 and Thurs­day 26 April at 9pm

A black teenage boy stabbed at a Lon­don bus stop. A griev­ing mother de­mand­ing jus­tice. And a po­lice force un­der in­tense pres­sure to act. Two and a half decades since 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was knifed to death by a mob of white racists in Eltham, the facts of his mur­der are still fright­en­ingly fa­mil­iar, echo­ing through the killings that con­tinue to stain Lon­don. ‘ Black lives are still cheap,’ says Im­ran Khan, the lawyer who has fought along­side Baroness Doreen Lawrence for jus­tice for her son since the be­gin­ning. ‘If you had 50 white peo­ple dead in the last few months, there would be ab­so­lute up­roar.’

This week, to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of Stephen’s mur­der, an emo­tional doc­u­men­tary reignites the de­bate that con­tin­ued for longer than the hand­some young A-level stu­dent was alive: have the lessons of this vi­cious at­tack, near Well Hall Road round­about on 22 April 1993, re­ally been learned? In Stephen: The

Mur­der That Changed A Na­tion, told on BBC One over three episodes, ac­claimed film-mak­ers Asif Ka­pa­dia and James Gay-rees tell the de­fin­i­tive story of that night and the seis­mic waves it trig­gered. The frank and mov­ing tes­ti­mony of al­most every­one in­volved, from Lady Lawrence to the po­lice of­fi­cers who in­ves­ti­gated the killing, re­veals that far from heal­ing the pain caused by this racially mo­ti­vated at­tack, the pas­sage of time has left wounds still des­per­ately raw.

Sixty-five-year-old Lady Lawrence, for one, states,

‘My son was mur­dered and peo­ple seem to think that I may have moved on, that I may have got over it. I haven’t. I don’t think I have moved out of the other end. All I want to do is get jus­tice for Stephen. Those id­iots that mur­dered my son had more rights than him.’

Dr Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s fa­ther, es­tranged from Doreen since 1998 and who now heads a com­mu­nity knife crime task­force for the Met Po­lice, breaks down on screen as he re­calls the last time he saw his son alive. ‘I was look­ing out of the win­dow at peo­ple go­ing to work and he saw me look­ing and said, “Dad, are you all right?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “OK Dad.” I watched him walk out of the house and turn down the al­ley. That was the last time I saw him alive.’

And Duwayne Brooks, who was with Stephen the night of the mur­der, re­mem­bers bit­terly how po­lice re­fused to be­lieve that one of the at­tack­ers had shouted ‘ What, what, n****r?’ He says, still strug­gling with the mem­ory of the at­tack af­ter all these years, ‘ We were just at a bus stop in Lon­don. We were at­tacked at a bus stop in one of the great­est cities in the world.’

The as­sault took place just af­ter 10.30pm on the night of 22 April, as Stephen and Duwayne waited for a bus to take them home af­ter an even­ing play­ing video games at Stephen’s un­cle’s house. Wit­ness Alexan­dra Marie, an au pair work­ing in Wool­wich at the time, re­calls, ‘ They were chatty, joy­ful, lively, they were do­ing dance steps on the pave­ment.’

But then a group of white youths ap­proached the boys on the op­po­site side of the road, ‘en­gulf­ing’ Stephen, stab­bing him in the right col­lar­bone and left shoul­der. He man­aged to stag­ger away and ran af­ter Duwayne, shout­ing, ‘ What’s hap­pened to me, man?’ He col­lapsed 130 yards later. In the doc­u­men­tary, a sob­bing Duwayne, now 43 and a former Lib Dem coun­cil­lor, re­calls, ‘ The po­lice were be­ing un­help­ful. Stephen was ly­ing there and bleed­ing to death; when they turned him over he was soaked in his own blood.’

Within days, the com­mu­nity was cir­cu­lat­ing the names of Stephen’s killers, but the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion was, in the words of Lady Lawrence, ‘in­com­pe­tent and racist’. Po­lice were so slow to act that vi­tal ev­i­dence was never re­cov­ered and, when ar­rests were fi­nally made fol­low­ing an in­ter­ven­tion by Nel­son Mandela,

the Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice de­cided there was not enough ev­i­dence to se­cure a con­vic­tion. The sus­pects were re­leased.

In April 1995, an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Lawrence fam­ily brought a pri­vate pros­e­cu­tion – the first in Bri­tish le­gal his­tory – against the ini­tial two sus­pects, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight, and three oth­ers: Jamie Acourt, Gary Dob­son and David Nor­ris.

While the charges against Jamie Acourt and Nor­ris were dropped be­fore the trial due to lack of ev­i­dence, the three re­main­ing sus­pects were ac­quit­ted of mur­der by a jury in 1996, af­ter the judge ruled the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion ev­i­dence given by Duwayne Brooks was un­re­li­able. An in­quest fol­lowed in Fe­bru­ary 1997, which de­liv­ered a ver­dict of un­law­ful killing ‘in a com­pletely un­pro­voked racist at­tack by five youths’. The Daily Mail named all five sus­pects as ‘Mur­der­ers’ in a now-iconic front page, trig­ger­ing a pub­lic in­quiry that re­sulted in a change to the cen­turies-old dou­ble-jeop­ardy rule that had pre­vented cleared sus­pects be­ing tried for the same mur­der twice.

Fi­nally, in 2012, orig­i­nal prime sus­pects Gary Dob­son, now 42, and David Nor­ris, 41, were con­victed when DNA and fi­bre ev­i­dence linked them to Stephen’s mur­der. The three other killers are yet to be brought to jus­tice. Neil Acourt, Luke Knight and Jamie Acourt still protest their in­no­cence.

For Stephen’s fam­ily, in­clud­ing his brother Stu­art and sis­ter Ge­orgina, the on­go­ing agony is so in­tense that Lady Lawrence has called for the Met to draw a line un­der the 25-year in­quiry, and to ad­mit pub­licly that its chances of solv­ing her son’s mur­der are now al­most nonex­is­tent. Lawyer Im­ran Khan, now a close friend, told Grazia, ‘I know Doreen is an­gry again. But she’s tired. She’s fa­tigued by it all. For me it was a job, for Doreen ev­ery time [there was a set­back] it was “not again, I can’t deal with this”. She needs to sur­vive.’

Mat Bick­ley, Stephen’s cousin, echoes the deep toll the mur­der took on the fam­ily. ‘It was re­ally hard to be around Doreen, be­cause it was so pal­pa­ble, the waves of grief were ra­di­at­ing off her; the pen­sive­ness. It’s not some­thing you can get used to.’

It’s an ex­am­ple of the ex­tra­or­di­nary can­dour ex­pressed through­out this land­mark doc­u­men­tary, which also shines a light on the fraught re­la­tion­ship be­tween Stephen’s par­ents and Duwayne Brooks.

Di­rec­tor James Ro­gan told Grazia, ‘ We don’t avoid any dif­fi­cult sub­jects and, to the credit of every­one in­volved, nei­ther do they. Every­one knew we were go­ing to talk about it hon­estly, so there will be pain that comes out of that, but peo­ple came to say how they re­ally felt.

‘ What makes this so rel­e­vant in terms of to­day is that, 25 years on, when you meet these peo­ple – Doreen and Neville and wit­nesses and fam­ily mem­bers – it is clear that they were pro­foundly trau­ma­tised. And the way they were treated af­ter­wards re­ally ex­ac­er­bated that – there’s a big les­son in that.’

And the other lessons learned? Stephen’s cousin Mat, who moved away from Lon­don to the coast and now has chil­dren of his own, told Grazia, ‘More than just be­ing the vic­tim of a racist as­sault, Stephen is a poster boy for in­jus­tice, a re­minder that you have to stand for some­thing. He has made us look at our­selves as a so­ci­ety.’

Se­ries pro­ducer Vic­to­ria Mus­guin-rowe told Grazia, ‘ There’s a whole gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who don’t re­ally know who Stephen Lawrence was. We want to show that, de­spite all the politics and the court cases and ev­ery­thing that came from it, it ul­ti­mately goes back to the fact that this young in­no­cent guy lost his life.’

And the Met Po­lice, once again in the spot­light over the deaths of black youths on the streets of Lon­don, last week is­sued a state­ment mak­ing a fi­nal plea for any in­for­ma­tion be­fore the in­quiry is shelved. Fol­low­ing Lady Lawrence’s com­ments that the force should ad­mit it can­not catch her son’s killers, De­tec­tive Chris Le Pere said, ‘ There is still the op­por­tu­nity for some­one who knows what hap­pened that night to have a con­science and come for­ward. I would say to you, it is never too late to do the right thing.’

Above: Stephen. Right: his fu­neral, and his par­ents (inset)

Above: Doreen Lawrence in the doc­u­men­tary and (inset) the iconic front page story

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