Two of the racist gang members suspected of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence are to go on trial this November—18 years after his death.
His mother, Doreen, said last week, “All I can think about is Stephen and perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him.”
The circumstances surrounding Stephen’s murder remain shocking.
He was killed in Eltham, south east London—an area poisoned by the presence of the fascist British National Party (BNP) headquarters. There had been an increase in racist attacks and murders.
On 22 April 1993 Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks were waiting at a bus stop in Well Hall Road. They were attacked by a gang of local white youth.
Stephen was stabbed to death and left to die on the pavement.
Gary Dobson and David Norris will now be tried for Stephen’s murder.
They were known to the police for their history of racism and violence with knives.
The half-hearted investigation let the killers off the hook and revealed the racism and corruption of the police, who refused to treat it as a racist murder.
Despite tip-offs the police said they were meeting “a wall of silence”.
They took over two weeks to make arrests, by which time vital forensic evidence had been lost, concealed or destroyed.
Surveillance officers watching Norris’s house saw people carrying out clothes in black bin liners, but did not stop them or examine the bags.
In contrast, demonstrations called by the Anti-Nazi League, locals and other anti-racist organisations demanding justice were met with police violence.
In October 1993, a Unity March against the BNP headquarters saw demonstrators ambushed by a frenzied army of truncheon-wielding officers.
It wasn’t a surprise when the Crown Prosecution Service refused to charge the suspects.
They claimed that there was insufficient evidence.
The Lawrences were forced to take out a private prosecution of three of the gang—Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight.
But the 1996 trial collapsed due to the police contaminating the evidence of the principal witness Duwayne Brooks.
It was not until 1997, following a relentless campaign, that the newly elected Labour government sanctioned a public inquiry.
The establishment was forced to acknowledge the realities of racism entrenched in the institutions that hold up British society.
The police revealed themselves to be deceitful, lazy, uncaring and racist.
The inquiry was awash with rumours of collusion between police and notorious career criminals connected with the killers.
Met Commissioner at the time, Sir Paul Condon, was hauled before the inquiry. He denied racism or corruption, and was bailed out by then Labour home secretary Jack Straw who refused to sack him.
And still justice was not done. In 2005 the Labour government abolished the double jeopardy rule—a recommendation of the inquiry. This rule prevented a defendant from being repeatedly tried for the same offence.
A person can now be prosecuted again if “new and compelling evidence” comes to light. It is this that has been used to set aside the original acquittal of Gary Dobson.
The new evidence includes fibres found on Stephen that could have come from a jacket and cardigan belonging to Dobson.
It was not until June 1994, over a year after Stephen’s murder, that tests were first carried out in connection with the possible transfer of fibres between garments recovered from the suspects and the clothes and hands of Stephen Lawrence.
Let us hope that finally some kind of justice for Stephen and his family arises out of this new development.
It has been a long hard road. We must never forget the racism and injustice underlying the system that we discovered along the way.
Hassan Mahamdallie was a journalist on Socialist Worker covering Stephen’s murder and the campaign for justice