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Monday, June 29, 1998 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK


Violence disrupts Lawrence inquiry

Police form a barrier across the foyer of the inquiry building

Police used CS spray to help them control a demonstration at the inquiry into the death of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

The hearing was suspended as several members of the black militant group, the Nation of Islam, tried to get into the inquiry.

The inquiry has now resumed.

One of five men who were charged with, but not convicted of the murder, was giving evidence when the disturbance happened.

BBC Radio 5 Live reports from the inquiry
Members of the Nation of Islam group confronted policemen, shouting: "You are stopping the public from coming into the inquiry. You are disrespecting black people."

They were leading a demonstration of over a hundred people who had not been allowed into the inquiry room and had gathered in the foyer of Hannibal House, the building in which the inquiry is being held.

Only 250 people were allowed into the room due to health and safety regulations.

It is reported that the inquiry authorities have asked for the media to rig up an 'audio feed' of the inquiry so that those outside can hear proceedings.

The demonstration outside the building was both loud and volatile.

As tensions rose, scuffles broke out with police and one CS spray canister was discharged after several police officers were knocked over, and one was kicked.

Several members of the Nation of Islam broke through police barriers and went up in the lift to the fourth floor where the inquiry was being held.

They strode into the chamber and denounced it as a sham just as one of the five principal suspects was being questioned.

BBC Correspondent Peter Hunt reports the scene of the disruption
Jamie Acourt, who was being questioned on the stand was rushed out of the chamber by police.

One man, apparently not connected with the Nation of Islam, was bundled over as he attempted to confront Mr Acourt.

The dead teenager's mother, Doreen Lawrence, took the inquiry microphone and pleaded for calm "for the safety of everybody" and to allow the witness to continue to be questioned.

She said: "At no time within my life or my son's life have we ever disrupted anything whatsoever.

[ image: Stephen: Killed at bus stop]
Stephen: Killed at bus stop
"The whole idea of having these boys here is to ask them questions about what happened, about what went on on the night of my son's death."

A woman shouted from the public gallery: "They sprayed CS gas on us, sister". Mrs Lawrence responded: "I am sorry about that. The police attitudes towards us and my family and people in the black community have been disgraceful. But for the safety of everybody, please could you keep calm. I am sorry what has happened."

"This is private"

Outside the inquiry Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, attempted to calm the crowd:

"I asked the public to come here to support me. At the end of the day I'm going to be walking out of here with nothing. We have tried to be as dignified as possible, we have tried to listen. What's happened here, it's going to stop us getting that and get us branded as hooligans," he said.

Following applause from the crowd, he went on: "At the end of it I want you to applaud yourselves for your conduct and your behaviour and for everything you have achieved. We don't want anyone coming to this thing with their own agenda - this is not a circus.

"This is private, I'm allowing you to join in, but you have to conduct yourselves the way my family want you to. If you can't conduct yourselves in a right and proper way I want you to leave. When you start making noise remember what our feelings are, not yours."

Police had mounted a strong presence at the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, as five men known as the principal suspects in the murder the black teenager face the first of a possible two days of questioning.

For the first time there were three uniformed policemen, wearing knife-proof vests and carrying CS spray, handcuffs and collapsible batons, inside the private room at the inquiry building.

As they entered the building there were shouts of "murderers" and "racist scum" from the crowd, but there was no trouble.

Inside the chamber, which was almost full to its 250 capacity, there was strong support for the Lawrence family. About 20 stewards from the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign sat between the witness stand and the public gallery which contained 30 of Nation of Islam members.

The stewards were wearing t-shirts with a picture of the dead teenager on the front and the words "Murdered by racists, killers on the loose" underneath.

BBC correspondent Peter Hunt: it will be a tense and volatile situation
The main bone of contention at a brief preliminary hearing was whether the barrister representing the Lawrence family, Michael Mansfield QC, would be allowed to question the five about previous violent attacks in the same area of south London.

Inquiry chairman, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny has ruled that it is unrealistic to refer to the five men as anything other than "the suspects", but on Monday morning he repeated his decision that he would rule "on the hoof" on the admissibility of individual questions from Mr Mansfield.

Gary Dobson's solicitor Michael Holmes: "My client has been under a lot of strain."
All five have at various times been charged with the murder, but no one has ever been convicted. The High Court has ruled that they cannot be asked if they are guilty of killing Stephen Lawrence.

But the inquiry chairman has also agreed they must not be allowed to use their appearance as a platform to maintain their innocence.

This is the first time the five men will have spoken in public about a murder that has become the most notorious racial killing in the country.

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