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Monday, June 29, 1998 Published at 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK


Violence disrupts Lawrence inquiry

Scuffles broke out earlier between police and Nation of Islam members

"The scenario everyone feared." BBC Community Affairs correspondent, Reeta Chakrabarti, reports.
Police have used CS spray to break up a disturbance at the inquiry into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Trouble broke out when members of a black militant group, the Nation of Islam, demanded to be admitted to the packed hall in south London.

Giving evidence at the time was one of five young men who have all been charged at various times with Stephen Lawrence's murder.

Outside the chamber there was a volatile demonstration by more than 100 people who were unhappy about being excluded from the hearing.

Scuffles broke out in which police released CS gas. Two people were arrested.

When the questioning of Jamie Acourt resumed, the proceedings were relayed live by video and audio link to a meeting room beneath the inquiry building.

Questioning begins

BBC Legal Affairs correspondent. Joshua Rozenberg, explains the implications of the five men giving evidence
Michael Mansfield QC, acting for the Lawrence family, questioned Acourt about a number of occasions on which he had been arrested for the possession of offensive weapons.

"You like carrying weapons in public, don't you?" he asked. "No," Acourt replied.

Mr Mansfield asked if on October 2, 1991, Acourt was banned from Kidbrooke School, in south east London. Acourt replied: "You tell me."

Mr Mansfield said: "Have you forgotten that?" Acourt said: "Yes I have."

Eventually, Acourt admitted he was expelled for possessing a monkey wrench.

Mr Mansfied then asked him if on October 23, 1991, the police had cautioned him for carrying an offensive weapon in a public place. Acourt again replied: "You tell me."

Acourt was also asked about the time he was arrested on Chislehurst High Street on May 30, 1992, for carrying an offensive weapon.

The witness admitted he had been carrying a police-style truncheon. When asked where he got it, he said: "I can't remember."

The second of the five men to appear before the inquiry was Neil Acourt who gave evidence after his brother.

He admitted carrying a knife when visiting black communities but it was nonsense to say he was racist.

Acourt said he had adopted the practice for "self protection" after being accused of Stephen's murder in 1993.

He said: "I received loads and loads of life-threatening calls, so I thought to make sure I was safe, I would do that."

Asked by Edmund Lawson QC, counsel for the inquiry, where he took this knife, Neil Acourt replied: "If I was going to an area where there were more black people than whites, yes."

Neil Acourt was also asked about a sword in a scabbard found stuffed down the back of a sofa at the house he shared with his brother Jamie.

Later, Acourt admitted using the word "nigger" but denied he was a racist.

"Black people call each other niggers, so why does it matter if white people say that?" he said.

Acourt also insisted that the extreme racist and violent language he used in a police surveillance video, had not been sincere, but prompted by the stress he had endured after being accused of Stephen's murder.

Racism denied

He told the inquiry: "I've been through a lot, and when you have been through a lot you say things you don't mean."

Acourt was also asked about a stun gun, found by detectives at his home but he denied ever intending to use it and expected it was normal for teenage boys to collect such weapons.

Mr Lawson said: "It is not the sort of item that appears in a catalogue of Toys-R-Us."

Neil Acourt also denied any recollection of his being expelled from the Samuel Montague Football Club for threatening a black opponent with a knife in 1991, describing the allegation as "a fairy story".

Acourt claimed he was being "persecuted" over the murder of Stephen Lawrence and told the inquiry: "I have never done anything wrong."

He took Acourt through the transcript of a police surveillance video which showed him making obscene racist comments which Acourt claimed were jokes.

The video shows Acourt playing with knives, staging a mock knife attack on one of his friends and making numerous racist comments.

He is heard referring to the late politician Enoch Powell as "the greatest, you are the don of dons".

Acourt accused Mr Mansfield of misrepresenting the video and said: "When you watch the video you can see laughing and joking going on, it's obvious you are going to portray it the other way. It's a joke."

Acourt admitted going out "shivved up", meaning he carried a knife, but he insisted he did so for his own security.

A third man, David Norris, 21, told the inquiry how he was out when police went to arrest him for Stephen's murder despite the time being 7am.

Norris was unable to explain how the head of a claw hammer attached to a leather strap was found hidden under clothes in one of his bedroom drawers.

The inquiry was later adjourned and the chairman, Sir William Macpherson, thanked the public for the way they had listened to later evidence.

He said the earlier invasion by members of the Nation of Islam was "distressing to many people and very unfortunate." The "near silence" in which the later evidence had been heard was the best way to get at the truth, he said.

Outside the inquiry building, a statement read out from Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen said : "Today has been a very stressful day. We have heard first-hand from three of the suspects, but we feel they have been coached and are lying.

"They keep saying they can't remember and show no remorse whatsoever.

"It is clear that they are racist and violent. For us the struggle continues until we get justice."

A Stephen Lawrence Campaign spokesman also condemned the police use of CS spray and accused police of being heavy-handed.

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