by Mikey Powell Campaign
Originally published 12th October 2004
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On 22nd April 1993 18 year old Stephen Lawrence was murdered because of the colour of his skin. No one has ever been punished for his murder. In 1999, an inquiry decided that the police force in London made too many mistakes in their investigation. Stephen Lawrence went to Blackheath Bluecoat School in the morning as usual. After school he spent that afternoon in Lewisham, looking around the shops before taking a bus to Plumstead to see an Uncle. His friend, Duwayne Brooks, joined him and they played computer games till it was time to go home.
At about 10.30pm as Stephen began to cross the road to see if the next bus was coming, his friend saw the group of five or six white youths on the opposite side of the road. One of the youths called out ‘what, what nigger’ and with that the group came across the road and literally engulfed Stephen.
CAUTION: some graphic scenes!
Stephen was stabbed to a depth of five inches on both sides of his chest and when he became free of the youths, he managed to run over 100 yards with Duwayne before collapsing. Three witnesses were at the bus stop; and all of them said the attack was sudden and short but none were able to later identify any of the suspects.
Duwayne tried to stop cars for help but no one would stop. Eventually a passing couple, Mr & Mrs Taaffe, stopped to help. Duwayne ran to call an ambulance and James Geddis, an off-duty police officer, stopped his car and covered Stephen with a blanket. The officer did not give first aid because he claimed “I assumed others were seeing to it.”
Louise Taaffe put her hand on Stephen’s head and whispered in his ear, ‘You are loved, you are loved.’ Those may have been the last words Stephen heard. An ambulance got him to hospital by 11.05pm, but he was already dead on arrival.
Doctors later claimed that first aid would not have saved him. One of the key failures in providing assistance to Stephen was that the first two duty police on the scene, whilst checking to see whether Stephen was alive, did not check what his injuries were.
No log or record was made of what had happened in those first critical moments of contact and it later emerged that police did not make house-to-house searches in the area where the youths ran off to. The reason that they had given for this is that they thought it was too late to wake people up. Over the next two days, detectives received 39 tip offs. Many of them included the same names, those of Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, David Norris, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight. They were said to be members of a local gang that carried knives.
It has been argued that they could have been arrested immediately and put into identity parades while the memories of witnesses were still fresh. But they were not arrested until a fortnight after the murder.
Officers were then advised to look for knives under the floorboards in their houses, but failed to do so. Attempts to gather information from other young people in the area were unsuccessful. Many witnesses were anxious, and most refused to cooperate. Some of their parents even threatened to sue the police for harassment. The investigation subsequently ran out of steam, and in July 1993 all charges against the five suspects were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen, were told this whilst they were burying their son in Jamaica. They say the officers who visited them later gave them no information about the progress of the murder inquiry, but they were ‘keen’ to ask questions about Stephen’s background and character.
This gave the impression that they thought he might have provoked the attack. The police involved in the case did not seem willing to admit that the attack had been simply because of Stephen’s race.
Charges against two of the youths, (Jamie Acourt and David Norris), who first appeared in court in June 1993 were dropped the following month. The Crown Prosecution Service insisted that there was insufficient evidence to continue with the prosecution.
Nelson Mandela met Doreen Lawrence and told the nation that the injustice of Stephen’s case was worse than some of the atrocities committed under the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Lawrence’s were determined to gain justice and took out a private prosecution against the five accused in April 1994 once all other legal channels had failed them.
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