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Tuesday, June 30, 1998 Published at 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK


Inquiry into race murder re-opens

An artist's impression of Jamie Acourt giving evidence

All of the five men who have been charged but not convicted with the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence have returned for a second day to the inquiry.

[ image: Four of the men were filmed acting out stabbings and using racist language on a police surveillance video]
Four of the men were filmed acting out stabbings and using racist language on a police surveillance video
The public inquiry into the police handling of the case threatened to erupt violently on Monday when two of the men gave their evidence.

Police sprayed CS gas and used their batons on demonstrators from the Nation of Islam who turned up dressed in their immaculate suits and bow-ties to attempt to storm the hearing room.

"The scenario everyone feared" - Reeta Chakrabarti reports.
Then, as one of the former suspects, Jamie Acourt, was led out of the inquiry under heavy police escort, he spat at a protester who was among a crowd shouting abuse at the men.

Years of silence broken

BBC Legal Affairs correspondent. Joshua Rozenberg, explains the implications of the five men giving evidence
The five men had never previously spoken in public about the case. No-one has been convicted of Stephen Lawrence's murder.

Under rules set down by the High Court, they could not be asked if they had carried out the crime.

In 1996, on the direction of a judge, Neil Acourt, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson were acquitted at their Old Bailey trial before taking the stand.

[ image: Three men are still to give evidence before the inquiry]
Three men are still to give evidence before the inquiry
The case against Jamie Acourt and David Norris never came to trial.

At an inquest into the death last year, exercising their common law right to remain silent, all of the men refused to answer questions.

The new rules on the questions they can answer at the inquiry posed a tough challenge to Michael Mansfield QC, who is leading the Lawrence family's case.

He concentrated mainly on evidence that the first two men taking the stand - Jamie and Neil Acourt - carried knives and used racist language.

In response, he received mainly monosyllabic or non-committal answers.

A third man David Norris, 21, started to give evidence before the proceedings were adjourned.

Neville Lawrence: 'Don't brand us as hooligans'

The Lawrence family is likely to be hoping the pandemonium of the first day of the men's evidence does not continue.

[ image: Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, asked others to respect his family's struggle]
Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, asked others to respect his family's struggle
Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, made a direct plea to outside groups to refrain from hijacking his family's long struggle to learn the truth.

He told the crowds at the inquiry in Elephant and Castle, south London: "I asked the public to come here and support me. At the end of the day, I'm going to walk 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 added: "Every mother and every father knows that every time their child goes out, they stop their breath. We have stopped our breath for five years because we didn't really know what happened."

'The struggle continues'

[ image: The men walked by Stephen's image as they entered the inquiry]
The men walked by Stephen's image as they entered the inquiry
Later, outside the inquiry building, a statement was read out from Stephen's parents.

It 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."

It went on to condemn the use of CS gas spray against people at the inquiry.

"We believe that this was a sign of heavy-handed policing and was not needed. We will call the police to account for this."

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29 Jun 98 | UK
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