How the Stephen Lawrence case led to many changes in society

The dawn of 2012 signalled the culmination of 18 years of heartbreak and disappointments for all those involved in the Lawrence case. From the catalogue of failures made by the Metropolitan Police, a failed private prosecution and a change in the double jeopardy law; two suspects have now found their way behind bars for their involvement in the teenagers’ murder in 1993.

Who was Stephen Lawrence?
Stephen Lawrence was an 18-year-old A-level student from South-East London. Whilst walking to a bus stop at about 10.30pm with his close friend Duwayne Brooks, a group of six white males were allegedly heard shouting abuse at Stephen. Duwayne with his back to the gang began to run, catching glimpses of the attackers, he thought he saw his friend being attacked by a metal bar. Urging his friend to run on, Stephen and Duwayne managed to flee before finally Stephen collapsed, bleeding on the floor on the road. On a dark April night in 1993, Stephen died watched by his friend.

The names of the suspects, Gary Dobson, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris were tipped off to the police by several phone calls and letters weeks after the murder. The police have been criticised from the first day of the murder investigation for ignoring several tip off’s, treating key witnesses extremely questionably and generally being lack-luster in their response of this very serious crime. It was two weeks before initial arrests were made and this coincidentally took place after Nelson Mandela made a visit to the murdered teenagers parents, Neville and Doreen.

After other failures, a trail was unable to be launched against any of the suspects due to lack of evidence. In 1994, the Lawrence’s decided to launch a private prosecution – the first time this had been done for 150 years in the UK.  The outcome was disappointing and led to the suspects being acquitted. They thought this was the end of it the original suspects walking free, getting on with their lives. In 1999 the Macpherson Report – a public inquiry- was launched into how the police handled the case. This report uncovered systematic and wide-reaching failures and led to the Metropolitan Police being branded as institutionally racist, a term which suggests that at every level, the police acted in ways that racially discriminated against victims and perpetrators of crime.

It wasn’t until the double jeopardy law was changed – meaning that an individual could be tried for the same crime twice – and the presentation of new forensic evidence that a re-trial of two of the original suspects Gary Dobson and David Norris could commence. The prosecutions main evidence focused on a tiny fragment of Stephen’s blood found on one of the suspects clothing. This lead to the suspects being found guilty of manslaughter.

This case, iconic for many reasons has been a long journey for all involved. For the Lawrence family, it has been painful and arduous and for the police, embarrassing and exposing. It took a failed private prosecution, the London Metropolitan Police being labeled as institutionally racist, a change in the law and several policy changes for a hint of justice to be done. Lets hope that the memory of Stephen is not forgotten, a poor victim of a heinous crime.