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The Murder of Stephen Lawrence
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The Stephen Lawrence Case

Background | Chronology | Map




Background

The Murder of Stephen Lawrence tells the riveting true story of a murder and the subsequent struggle for justice by the parents of the victim, black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

On the night of April 22, 1993, Stephen, a high school senior with a history of scholastic merit, and a friend were waiting for a bus in Eltham, southeastern London. In a brief and sudden attack, Stephen was violently stabbed by a group of young white men, one of whom shouted "Nigger!" Stephen sustained a gash to the chest, which sliced through two major nerves, a large vein and an artery before it pierced a lung. A second strike to his left shoulder severely damaged another vein and an artery. Stephen staggered to his feet and managed to run 130 yards before he finally collapsed. He died shortly thereafter of massive blood loss.

Within hours the police had received tips suggesting the same group of suspects, but it would be two weeks before any arrests were made. And no one was actually tried for the crime until 1996, when Stephen's parents felt compelled to bring a private prosecution, only the fourth of its kind in Britain in 130 years. None of the five men widely suspected (and publicly accused) of the crime has ever been convicted.

The murder, its investigation, and the public scrutiny given the case by the persistent struggle of Neville and Doreen Lawrence embody the most important series of events in the history of contemporary British race relations. The Stephen Lawrence case exposes a police force grappling with denial and folly, a floundering system of justice, and a corrupt culture of institutional racism and violence.



Chronology

1993

April 22
Eighteen-year-old Stephen Lawrence is stabbed to death by a gang near a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London.

April 23
Early in the afternoon, the Eltham police receive an anonymous call from a man who says he knows of a gang of young men in the neighborhood who carry knives and intimidate residents. He provides two names -- Neil Acourt and David Norris -- and an address a short distance from the site of the murder.

April 29
An inquest opens and is adjourned.

May 6
Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, meet with Nelson Mandela in central London.

May 10
David Norris is arrested.

May 13
Neil Acourt is charged with murder.

June 3
Luke Knight is arrested.

June 23
Knight is charged with murder.

July 4
Stephen is buried in Jamaica.

July 29
Declaring "insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction" the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) drops murder charges against Neil Acourt and Knight. A subsequent review of the investigation, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Barker concluded that 'the investigation had progressed satisfactorily and all lines of inquiry had been correctly pursued.'

August 6
A £5,000 reward for the killers of Stephen Lawrence is announced by police and local community leaders.

September 13
The Lawrence family marks the day that would have been Stephen's 19th birthday with a vigil at the bus stop where he was killed.

December 21
After it is announced that "dramatic" new evidence has been discovered, the inquest into the murder is adjourned, pending further police investigation, The Lawrence family's legal team had received a report of a confession by Luke Knight; the report, however, proves to be untrue.

1994

April 15
The CPS declines to prosecute because of its "unavoidable conclusion ... that there is no prospect of a jury convicting on the evidence available." The Lawrences consider a private prosecution.

Mid-June
Detective Superintendent William Mellish is named senior investigating officer as a second inquiry begins.

August 19
Jamie Acourt stabs a man in a fight at a Greenwich nightclub; he is arrested and held for trial. (He will be later acquitted.)

December 6
Audio and video bugging devices are placed in Gary Dobson's apartment in Eltham.

1995

April 22/23
The Lawrence family initiates a private prosecution on the second anniversary of Stephen's death. A memorial plaque is unveiled at the site where he fell.

April 24
Neil Acourt, Knight, and Norris are arrested and appear, charged with murder, at Greenwich Magistrates Court. (Jamie Acourt is already in jail on a previous charge.)

August 29
Gary Dobson is charged with murder.

August 23
During a committal hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the cases against Neil Acourt and Norris are closed due to "lack of evidence."

1996

April 16
The private prosecution trial of Neil Acourt, Luke Knight, and Gary Dobson begins at the famed London courthouse, the Old Bailey.

April 24
After the judge rules that essential eyewitness evidence -- the identification of suspects by Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks -- is inadmissible, the Lawrences' case disintegrates.

Charges against the others -- Jamie Acourt and Norris -- are dropped before trial. (Since not-guilty verdicts are entered, no case against them can be tried in the future.)

1997

February 10
The five prime suspects appear at a reopened coroner's jury investigation before Sir Montague Levine at Southwark Coroner's Court. All five exercise their right to remain silent.

February 13
The jury returns a verdict of "unlawful killing," saying that Stephen had died "in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths." But the jury does not name names.

The Lawrences register a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) about the management of the investigation.

February 14
The tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail runs a huge headline reading "Murderers," accompanied by the names and photographs of Norris, the Acourt brothers, Knight, and Dobson. The copy reads: "The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us."

The paper will later be cleared of contempt of court by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General.

July 31
Home Secretary Jack Straw announces the formation of an autonomous judicial investigation, led by the former High Court judge Sir William Macpherson, into the police handling of the murder. The Macpherson team is charged with identifying mistakes made in the Lawrence case and with developing broad goals for future prosecution of racist crimes. The inquiry will be able to call the five suspects previously acquitted.

December
The Macpherson investigation is denounced by the PCA who, nonetheless, note "significant weaknesses, omissions, and lost opportunities during the first murder inquiry."

1998

March 8
The memorial to Stephen Lawrence, near the bus stop in Eltham where he was killed, is vandalized.

March 24
The public inquiry finally opens in south London but, when the Lawrences' legal team request an immediate meeting with the Home Secretary, it is adjourned for a week. A newspaper report had noted a previous insensitivity to racial issues by inquiry chairman Macpherson.

May 27
The senior police officer in charge of the case, Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden, admits mistakes were made early in the investigation.

June 30
After police scuffle outside the building with demonstrators from the Nation of Islam, the public inquiry is adjourned for several hours.

Ultimately, the five key suspects all proclaim innocence; Macpherson warns them against committing perjury. Immediately after the last of the group finishes testifying, the five distribute a statement denying any involvement in the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

July 20
The inquiry's first phase, which has lasted 56 days, ends.

August 2
The five suspects are prohibited from attending home games by their local football club.

September 17
The public inquiry resumes amid accusations of police racism and professional ineptitude.

October 1
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon concedes the force has "not done enough to combat racist crime," but he disputes the charge of "institutional racism." The Lawrences urge that he be relieved of his office.

November 13
After further hearings, the inquiry ends. A final report is anticipated in February 1999.

1999

January 13
The PCA exonerates all officers of racism; four who would have been charged have already retired. Only one officer, Detective Inspector Ben Bullock, will face disciplinary charges on "neglect of duty."

January 14
Bullock announces his retirement, thus avoiding an appearance before the disciplinary panel.

January 19
Bullock withdraws his plan for retirement and will dispute the PCA's accusations of "neglect of duty."

January 29
Detective Superintendent Albert Patrick, the head of Scotland Yard's current investigation (its third), is fired following a complaint by the Lawrences' legal team and an investigation into alleged corruption. Patrick is replaced by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, head of a taskforce on racial and violent crime.

February 18
The ITV docudrama The Murder of Stephen Lawrence airs in England, and is soundly criticized by police. The Lawrences support the "factual dramatization."

The mothers of the five suspects defend their sons in a radio interview claiming, "They are not bad boys; they are good boys."

February 21
Details of the highly anticipated Macpherson report are leaked to the press. Home Secretary Straw places an injunction on publication but he ultimately allows excerpts already in the public domain to be published.

February 24
The Macpherson Report is officially released. It includes an in-depth analysis and censure of the Metropolitan Police's investigative nonperformance and it specifically singles out Sir Paul Condon for blame. The report concludes that London's police service is riddled by "pernicious and institutionalized racism" and makes dozens of recommendations involving sweeping changes to the law as well as guidelines for race-awareness education.

March 29
Neville Lawrence and Michael Mansfield QC (Queen's Counsel) form the "National Civil Rights Movement" to actively fight racism and to aid and advocate for victims.

April 8
The five key suspects in the murder are interviewed on an ITV current affairs program. They all deny any involvement in Stephen's murder.

April 14
Scotland Yard proposes to the Lawrences a payment of at least £50,000 in damages for police errors during the investigation.

April 20
Norris and Jamie Acourt are charged with a burglary in Swanly, Kent. They plead guilty and are fined.

April 22
The Lawrences begin civil proceedings against the five suspects and the police commissioner just before the legal time limit on civil actions runs out. It will later be revealed that they are suing the Metropolitan Police for more than £500,000, claiming psychological damages, funeral costs, and the cost of their efforts to achieve justice.

July 9
Neville and Doreen Lawrence divorce after 28 years of marriage. Mrs. Lawrence says that the split is unrelated to her son's murder.

July 13
DI Ben Bullock, facing charges for "neglect of duty," is cleared of almost all, thus dodging any serious disciplinary response.

August 24
Duwayne Brooks sues the Metropolitan Police and the CPS for their abusive and racist treatment after the murder.

December 22
The Lawrences sue 42 police officers involved in the unsuccessful criminal investigations, including Commissioner Condon.

2000

February 7
Jack Straw, reveals that the Macpherson inquiry has cost £4.23 million.

March 21/22
Three people are arrested in connection with the murder. Informed sources claim the development is "significant."

July 10
The marble memorial plaque to Stephen is vandalized for a fourth time.

September 7
Charles, the Prince of Wales, announces the creation of a £70,000 architectural scholarship for minority students in recognition of Stephen's life.

October 13
Scotland Yard approves a payment of £320,000 in damages to the Lawrences and, in December, they will agree. Under the terms of the "full and final" settlement, there is no admission of negligence by the police.

2001

February 18
Two women are arrested and questioned and detectives investigating the murder search their homes.

July 27
In an interview on BBC radio, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says he knows who killed Stephen Lawrence.

September 14
Pauline and Stephen Dobson -- parents of Gary Dobson, one of the key suspects, -- and two others are arrested on "suspicion of perverting the course of justice." The arrests are believed to be connected to Dobson's alibi. He had claimed he had been at home on the night of the murder. His parents and two friends had confirmed this claim.

October 3
Doreen Lawrence introduces plans for a £9.2 million college of architecture in memory of her son. The Stephen Lawrence Technocentre, in southeast London, will be for students from deprived areas.

December 4
A man is arrested on suspicion of murdering Stephen Lawrence. Police detectives say that the 27-year-old man from southeast London is not one of the original five suspects.

...



Map

View a diagram of the Eltham neighborhood where the murder occurred.

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