The Murder of Stephen Lawrence: Update
Although this film was completed in 1998 (and originally aired in the United Kingdom in February 1999), the story of Stephen Lawrence's murder and its aftermath has continued to unfold. Investigations and court actions are still under way, and it remains to be seen what long-term impact the Lawrence case will have on the British legal system.
Shortly after the film first aired, the Sunday Telegraph leaked details of Sir William Macpherson's report on Stephen Lawrence's death, an inquiry requested by Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and established by British Home Secretary Jack Straw. A devastating critique of a Metropolitan Police rife with "pernicious and institutionalized racism," the report urged fundamental reform of race relations in Britain. In addition to analyzing and condemning police failure to investigate Lawrence's murder, it contained 70 recommendations that would subject the police to greater public control, enshrine victims' rights, extend the number of offenses classified as racist, and abandon the "double jeopardy" principle that prevents retrial in murder cases even if new evidence emerges.
Although the British government remained publicly committed to these changes, the Police Federation soon became hostile, openly rejecting many of the report's conclusions. Shortly after the report was published, two of the leading detectives on the case, former detective chief superintendent William Ilsley and detective superintendent Ian Crampton, appeared on the BBC's Six O'Clock News, claiming the police were scapegoated and rejecting criticism that they should have made arrests earlier. Police commissioner Sir Paul Condon retired early in 2000, complaining that Macpherson had made policing more difficult.
That April, the five white men accused of murdering Lawrence -- Neil and Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight, and David Norris -- were interviewed on television, answering questions for the first time about the stabbing of the black teenager six years earlier. As expected, they denied any involvement, but the Acourt brothers did admit that they'd carried knives before the murder -- a fact they denied at the public inquiry -- and made racist comments. Many people, most conspicuously the Lawrences, felt it was irresponsible of ITV to grant the five such a platform, while the suspects themselves complained that producers had denied them an opportunity to make their case. Soon after this television appearance, Imran Khan, the Lawrences' lawyer, filed for damages against the five suspects and the Metropolitan Police. The Lawrences asked the police to pay more than £500,000 (approximately $750,000) in psychological damages, as well as to cover the cost of their son's funeral in Jamaica and the price of their campaign to achieve justice for him. After protracted talks, the Met agreed to pay the family £320,000 (approximately $480,000), but did not admit negligence in its handling of the inquiry or its treatment of Stephen's parents. In addition, the Lawrences accused 42 police officers of discrimination on the grounds of color under Section 20 of the Race Relations Act. Duwayne Brooks, who was with Lawrence when he was murdered, also brought suit against the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, alleging racist treatment in the aftermath of his friend's death.
As 1999 wore on, the Lawrence family continued to feel repercussions from the 1993 murder. In May Doreen and Neville Lawrence divorced after 28 years of marriage. Doreen, however, stressed that the breakup was not caused by the aftermath of her son's stabbing or the strain of the family's six-year struggle for justice.
In March 2000, Stephen's parents joined the head of the Metropolitan Police's racial and violent crimes task force on the BBC's Crimewatch to appeal for new information about their son's murder. That same night, three men were arrested in relation to the case. At the time, sources close to the investigation said that the development in the long-running saga was "significant," but nothing came of the arrests.
Later that summer Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Stevens told BBC Radio 5 Live that he knew who killed Stephen Lawrence. He said that the police would carry on the investigation in the hope that charges could be brought. This claim was followed by the arrest, in September 2000, of Pauline and Stephen Dobson, parents of prime suspect Gary Dobson. Along with two family friends who had supported Dobson's alibi, they were held on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. Although Dobson's parents were released on bail the next day, police have continued to pursue the case. As recently as December 4, 2001, they detained Darren Davies, cousin of prime suspect David Norris, at his workplace in south London and questioned him about the 1993 incident. He had not been arrested in connection with the murder before.
In October 2001, as efforts to bring her son's killers to justice continued, Doreen Lawrence presented plans for The Stephen Lawrence Technocentre, a £9.2 million architectural college in memory of her son, who aspired to be an architect. Located in southeast London, it will serve students from deprived areas.
While Stephen Lawrence's murderers remain unpunished, the case has succeeded in raising awareness of racial injustice among British citizens, forcing the media to become more alert to race issues, and fixing the concept of institutional racism in the British national consciousness.
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