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1997: Lawrence 'killed by racists'

VIDEO : Lawrence enquiry returns "racist attack" verdict

Jurors at the inquest into the death of Stephen Lawrence have decided the black teenager was unlawfully killed "in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths".

The condemnatory words of the jurors at Southwark Crown Court went far beyond the normally bland verdicts of "unlawful" or "accidental" death or, in cases of doubt, an "open" verdict.

The jurors' decision reflects the strong feelings generated by the Lawrence murder four years ago for which no-one has yet been convicted.

Stephen Lawrence, 18, was killed in April 1993 as he waited with a friend at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London.

They were attacked by a group of white youths and Mr Lawrence was fatally stabbed.

Failed prosecution

Two of the suspects - Neil Acourt, then 17, and Luke Knight, who was 16 - were initially charged with the murder but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case citing insufficient evidence.

In 1995 Stephen Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville, launched a private prosecution which resulted in three of the five - Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and David Knight - being brought to trial.

But the judge directed the jury to return a 'not guilty' verdict on the grounds that much of the eyewitness evidence including the key testimony of Stephen Lawrence's friend, Duwayne Brooks, was unreliable and inadmissible.

Allegations of police mishandling of the case soured race relations as did two internal police inquiries which largely exonerated the force from blame.

All five men implicated in the murder were called to give evidence at the inquest.

But they refused to speak claiming a common-law right not to incriminate themselves. The Lawrence family has announced it will be bringing a civil case against the five men.

Mr and Mrs Lawrence are also to lodge a formal complaint against the Metropolitan Police force which handled the case alleging the inquiry was hampered by officers' racist attitudes.

In Context
After sustained campaigning by the Lawrence family and their supporters a public inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's death was held in 1998.

The report by the inquiry's chairman, Lord Macpherson, delivered a damning assessment of "institutional racism" within British policing.

None of the five prime suspects has ever been convicted of involvement in Stephen Lawrence's murder.

The failed prosecution of two of the five case prompted calls for a change to the law of "double jeopardy" under which a person, once acquitted, can never again be tried for the same crime.

In September 2002 David Norris, 25, and Neil Acourt, 27, were jailed for 18 months for attacking an off-duty black police officer in Eltham.

In May 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service said there was not enough evidence to bring fresh charges, but Stephen Lawrence's family have not given up the fight to see his killers convicted.


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