Eighteen years ago on April 22, 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was the victim of a heinous crime. While the Londoner was waiting for a bus, he was viciously and randomly stabbed by a gang of youths who were passing by. According to reports, one of the men yelled “what what nigger” before stabbing Lawrence twice and severing two arteries. The teen never provoked the attack.
Although the case wasn’t very complex, at the time, justice was not served. Despite having several tips identifying the suspects, police collected evidence only after the Lawrence family held a press conference deriding them for their inaction. Apparently, the authorities in London were dragging their feet because Stephen was black.
The BBC reports:
Tip-offs initially led the police to brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and their friends, Gary Dobson, David Norris – the son of a then feared south London gangster – and then to a fifth youth, Luke Knight.
They were all said to harbour violent racist views – allegations that featured heavily in the public inquiry.
Arrests were made and clothing was seized – but only after the Lawrence family had held a news conference attacking the police for not acting.
Neil Acourt and Luke Knight were initially charged but the Crown Prosecution Service halted proceedings when it concluded that there was insufficient evidence.
Furious with the police failures, the family decided to go it alone with a private prosecution but the case failed in 1996. The eyewitness evidence of Duwayne Brooks was ruled unreliable and Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight were formally acquitted.
That appeared to be the end of the road because nobody at that time faced trial twice for the same crime. But this was not the end of the story.
Luckily the quest for justice for Stephen did not die. The Daily Mail posted an inflammatory cover accusing the five white teens of murder, a new home secretary, Jack Straw, ordered another public inquiry, and two Acts of Parliament–the Race Relations Amendement Act 2000 and Criminal Justice Act 2003–paved the way for justice.
And finally, after 18 years of delays, false starts, mishandled investigations, institutional racism, and a family that never gave up, two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers–Gary Dobson and David Norris–were convicted of murder.
Although Stephen’s father, Neville Lawrence said he was “full of joy and relief” that two of his son’s killers were brought to justice, Stephen’s mother, Doreen Lawrence, said the verdict was a long time coming.
“Had the police done their job properly, I would have spent the last 18 years grieving for my son rather than fighting to get his killers to court.”
Despite today’s verdict, the Stephen Lawrence’s case is still open. Police have a list of at least nine remaining suspects and are continuing to investigate the case.