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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK


'Lawrence five' deny murder

The five: "Conflicting evidence given for the first time"

In a controversial television interview the five men suspected of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence have denied any involvement in the killing.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events
Neil and Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson, David Norris and Luke Knight gave their version of events in person for the first time since the 1993 stabbing.

In an interview for ITV's new current affairs programme Tonight, Mr Dobson said the five were "lovable rogues" but not murderers.

The BBC's Damien Gramaticus reports (clips courtesy Tonight, Granada Television)
The interview, branded "insensitive" by the Lawrence family, showed journalist Martin Bashir ask the five directly whether they had any involvement in the murder. All replied "no".

Neil Acourt said: "It's not like that."

Mr Knight said: "I am completely innocent. There is no evidence that I was involved."

Jon Silverman: "TV interview unlikely to give fresh impetus to criminal inquiries"
Mr Norris said: "I know in my heart the truth. That's all that matters."

Mr Dobson said: "No I did not".

Jamie Acourt also denied any part in the killing.

Conflicting accounts

During the interviews, conducted separately over two days, the five insisted they "never pretended to be angels", but denied being aggressively violent.

[ image: Martin Bashir: Direct questioning]
Martin Bashir: Direct questioning
However, the questioning did reveal conflicts in their accounts of when they first heard about the murder.

Neil Acourt and Mr Dobson said they heard about the murder on the night, but Neil's brother Jamie - who was with them - insisted it was not until the next day that the news of the stabbing, at a bus-stop in Eltham, south-east London, reached them.

Mr Norris, who has always denied being able to remember anything about the night, revealed that he "probably" spent it at his girlfriend's flat in Eltham.

That would put him much closer to the scene of the murder than if he had been staying at his parents' home in Chislehurst, Kent, as previously thought.

Racism dismissed

The five, described as "arrogant and dismissive" by the chairman of the inquiry into the Lawrence murder, went on to deny circumstantial evidence against them.

[ image: Stephen Lawrence: Bungled police inquiry]
Stephen Lawrence: Bungled police inquiry
On the police surveillance video, which filmed the suspects playing with knives, Jamie Acourt said it was "just messing about".

Both Neil and Jamie Acourt admitted carrying knives, but "for protection" and "not to attack anyone".

The racist comments on the video were dismissed as "banter" by Neil Acourt and "embarrassing attempts to be funny" by Mr Dobson.

Cmdr John Grieve of the Metropolitan Police: The TV interview suggested a new line of inquiry
And of their defiant behaviour outside the Lawrence murder inquiry - at which the five refused to give evidence - they said they were acting in "self-defence" against a "mob of lunatics".

Granada TV said the interview could offer new lines of inquiry to the ongoing murder investigation. No-one has yet been convicted of the murder.

Call for investigation

The Lawrence family's lawyers condemned the interview as a "publicity stunt".

But solicitor Imran Khan said: "Some lines of inquiry have come forward and we want those lines of inquiry to be investigated immediately."

Michael Mansfield QC there was "a possibility of a line or more of inquiry".

However, he said: "It could affect the police inquiry adversely, because by the time the public know, so will the people who are the subject of the lines of inquiry."

Two could be charged

Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, have also attacked the programme.

[ image: The Lawrences: Condemned the programme]
The Lawrences: Condemned the programme
"These people have been given more than one occasion to say to the public whether or not they were involved in this murder and the last time was at the inquiry," said Neville Lawrence.

Ros Howells, who chairs the Lewisham Race Equality Council, said: "What we have seen tonight is a rehash of most the things that we already have in the public domain, not an attempt to move the investigation on.

"If ITN was serious about gathering evidence then they would have offered a reward for those people who know things to come forward. Otherwise, it was pointless."

Scotland Yard refused to comment on the programme, although detectives were expected to ask Granada for copies of the interviews, including any footage not screened.

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