A young black man lay dying in a south London bus stop. His friend called frantically for help while the gang of white teenagers who had stabbed him ran away. Two members of that gang have been sentenced for the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, but three more remain at large.
Judge Colman Treacy on Wednesday sentenced Gary Dobson to at least 15 years and two months in jail, and David Norris to at least 14 years and three months for the murder of the teenager, and urged police to continue looking for new leads in the case.
He told the men they were guilty of “a terrible and evil crime” committed out of blind hatred.
“A totally innocent 18-year-old youth on the threshold of a promising life was brutally cut down in the street in front of eye witnesses by a racist thuggish gang,” Treacy said. “You were both members of that gang.”
Police, who have been accused in the past two decades of incompetence and racism in the way they handled the murder inquiry, vowed on Wednesday to continue to hunt for the remaining killers.
“The other people involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence should not rest easily in their beds,” Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said.
Lawrence’s father Neville said the sentencing of Dobson and Norris for his son’s murder was “only one step in a long, long journey.”
Dobson and Norris were part of a notorious gang that terrorized part of south London, and many people told police in the days following Lawrence’s death who his killers were likely to be, but the police failed to act until Lawrence’s parents held a news conference to criticize the way they had handled the case. It was the first salvo in a long battle the Lawrence family were to fight with police and courts.
A few days after the news conference, police arrested five men — brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, Norris, Dobson and Luke Knight. However, police lost blood-soaked tissues found near the site of the attack, and failed to search the Acourts’ house properly for weapons. Two of the men were eventually charged with murder, but the state abandoned the case, saying there was insufficient evidence.
Lawrence’s family brought a private prosecution against the same five men. Two were released before the trial, and the case against the remaining three collapsed after a judge ruled again that the evidence was inadmissible.
British law at the time said that a person could not stand trial twice for the same crime — having been acquitted, it seemed impossible that any of the three would face trial for Lawrence’s death.
In 1997, the Daily Mail newspaper named all five men initially arrested over Lawrence’s murder on its front page with the headline “Murderers. The ‘Mail’ accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.” None of the men ever did.
The public outcry that followed the Daily Mail coverage led then-home secretary Jack Straw to order a public inquiry. The report by Sir William Macpherson was damning. The Metropolitan police, it said, was “institutionally racist,” and failed to investigate Lawrence’s murder properly because they were hostile to London’s black community.
The Labour Party government also scrapped the “double jeopardy” law that prevented people being tried twice for the same crime. A few years later a private forensics firm discovered tiny amounts of blood, hair and clothes fibers from Lawrence on clothes belonging to Dobson and Norris. The new evidence was enough to convince the director of public prosecutions to bring the case to court.