NEWS
17/04/2018 16:05 BST | Updated 18/04/2018 16:22 BST

How The Stephen Lawrence Murder Still Haunts Britain, 25 Years On

Everything you need to know about this historic case.

Rex Features
Stephen Lawrence was murdered on 22 April 1993

Stephen Lawrence was 18 when he was murdered by a gang in a racist attack as he stood at a bus stop in Eltham, south east London, 25 years ago.

It was 10.35pm, and Stephen was with his friend, Duwayne Brooks, waiting for a bus, chatting about football, when a group of attackers descended on them. 

It would later emerge in court that one of the group was heard to say: “What, what n******?” as they rushed towards the two young men.

Brooks managed to run off, shouting “Get up and run, Steve!”

Stephen ran some 130 yards away from his assailants, before collapsing and being stabbed for a second time. The aspiring architect was pronounced dead at Brook Hospital a short time later, having suffered two fatal stab wounds to his upper body.

It was a murder that changed the face of modern Britain. The initial investigation into Stephen’s death was hampered by incompetence, racism and alleged corruption. It became a turning point for race relations in the UK as its failures prompted a profound breakdown in trust between the UK’s black community and the police.

Stephen’s father, Neville Lawrence, and his former wife, who is now Baroness Doreen Lawrence, have campaigned for more than two decades to get justice for their son. 

Their powerful fight to bring his killers to trial features in a BBC One documentary airing at 9pm on Tuesday.

‘Institutionally racist’

By June 1993, police had arrested brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, and friends David Norris, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight.

Neil Acourt and Knight were identified by Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks as part of the gang responsible and were charged with murder.

However, they denied the charges and by July the criminal prosecution service (the CPS) dropped the prosecution, claiming Brooks’ evidence was unreliable.

Doreen and Neville Lawrence then launched a private prosecution - the first in 150 years - against three suspects – Dobson, Knight and Neil Acourt. All three denied the charges, but the case collapsed in 1996 after a judge ruled against admitting vital eyewitness evidence and the trio were acquitted.

The botched investigation led to a major public inquiry that in 1999 branded Scotland Yard “institutionally racist”, and eventually led to a change in the law to allow Dobson to be tried twice for murder.

The National Crime Agency is examining claims of police corruption in the original murder investigation.

PA Archive/PA Images
Duwayne Brooks, who was with Stephen Lawrence the night he was attacked

Of Stephen’s five or six attackers, two are serving life sentences for his murder – Dobson and Norris – both of whom were jailed in 2012 after an Old Bailey trial that hinged on tiny traces of forensic evidence following a cold case review.

Speaking after Dobson and Norris were convicted, Brooks said: “All I could think about was why? Why Steve? Never done anything to anybody, no fights, no argument, yet he’s been murdered because he’s black.”

Brooks also criticised the way he was treated by police immediately after the attack. “The treatment was appalling, for me it was the constant questions around my integrity and Steve’s integrity,” he said.

“There was disbelief that we were innocent.

“I was even questioned about the words ‘What? What? N*****’. Senior officers at the station on that night did not believe that was said and instead were suggesting it could have been a nickname for Steve that I did not know about.

“I felt like I was in a battle with the police on that night to convince them that we were innocent, we had not done anything wrong.”

PA Archive/PA Images
Doreen and Neville Lawrence pictured in 2002 

Stephen was buried in Jamaica because his family feared his grave would be desecrated if it was in the UK.

“I don’t think the country deserves to have his body there anyway because they took his life,” his mother told BBC’s Panorama programme in 2012.

In 2014, two men were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage following an incident at the Stephen Lawrence memorial plaque, placed at the spot where he died. It is believed a flowerpot containing flowers was broken and the plaque was spat at.

Earlier this month, Scotland Yard admitted it has no new lines of inquiry in the investigation into Stephen’s murder. But his father, Neville Lawrence, has said he remains hopeful that the publicity around the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death will prompt somebody to come forward.  

“Even when the police decide that they have gone as far as they can go and they’re more or less saying that they’re giving up I will never give up. I hope that even after how many years, somebody, who may be on their deathbed, may give some kind of information and get the others who were involved and give us total justice.”

Where are the men accused of killing him now?

Five men have consistently been accused of killing Stephen, although only two have ever been convicted. Three are in prison, one is on the run, and one is thought to live close to where the teenager was killed.

Neil Acourt

PA Wire/PA Images
Neil Acourt was jailed over a £4 million drugs plot

Neil Acourt, 42, who uses his mother’s maiden name Stuart, is currently in prison for drug dealing after he was jailed for more than six years at Kingston Crown Court in February 2017. Earlier this month he was ordered to repay £6,000 reaped from the drug ring or face a further four months behind bars. 

He was one of three of the alleged attackers to face a private prosecution for murder brought by Stephen’s parents in 1996, but the case collapsed.

Acourt, of Blanmerle Road, Eltham, south east London, was previously jailed along with co-accused David Norris for 18 months in 2002 over a racist attack on an off-duty black police officer.

Norris threw a drink and shouted “n*****”, while Acourt drove the car they were in at Detective Constable Gareth Reid.

Jamie Acourt

PA
Jamie Acourt is thought to be hiding in Spain

Jamie Acourt, 41, of The Drive, Bexley, and Neil’s brother, is thought to be on the run in Spain hiding from police over allegations that he was involved in a £4 million cannabis ring.

He was the subject of a “most wanted” campaign in 2016 trying to find fugitives thought to have fled to the country.

Luke Knight

PA Archive/PA Images
Luke Knight was part of the failed private prosecution along with Neil Acourt and Gary Dobson 

Luke Knight is the only one of the five publicly accused attackers who remains free in Britain.

He was part of the failed private prosecution along with Neil Acourt and Gary Dobson.

In a Daily Mail piece from February 2017, he was described as still living around two miles from where Stephen was killed in south east London, working as a roofer and labourer.

David Norris

Crown Prosecution Service/ PA
David Norris attempted to sue the Government after being beaten up in prison

David Norris was jailed for a minimum 14 years and three months for murder in January 2012 at the end of an Old Bailey trial that hinged on tiny traces of forensic evidence.

The son of once-notorious gangster Clifford Norris, he was living in a gated home in affluent Chislehurst when Stephen was murdered, but by the time of his arrest in 2010 had been reduced to storing his belongings in a van while living in a bedsit.

There are long-standing claims that Norris’s father knew officers involved in the original murder investigation and that he used his influence to protect the suspects and sent thugs to silence informants.

David Norris had previously been linked to two other stabbings. The month before Stephen died, he was accused of stabbing Stacey Benefield in the chest in Eltham High Street.

Benefield survived the attack and claimed he was offered £2,000 by someone believed to be Clifford Norris to withdraw support for the charges against his son. David Norris was later acquitted by a jury.

He was also accused of a knife attack on Darren Witham in 1992, but the charges were dropped the following year.

Since his murder conviction, Norris has unsuccessfully attempted to appeal.
In July 2017 it was reported that he had launched a legal battle for compensation after being beaten up at Belmarsh prison. The Prison Service disputed the claim.

Gary Dobson

Crown Prosecution Service/PA
Gary Dobson was tried alongside David Norris for the Stephen Lawrence murder

Gary Dobson was jailed for at least 15 years and two months for the murder after facing trial alongside Norris.

He was acquitted of the killing in 1996, but the Court of Appeal allowed this verdict to be quashed in 2011 so that he could be tried in a criminal court alongside Norris.

He was already in prison at that stage, having been jailed for five years in July 2010 for supplying a class B drug and possessing a class B drug with intent to supply.

Racism ‘thriving’

Leading lawyer Imran Khan QC, who has represented Stephen’s mother since a few days after her son’s death, claims institutional racism continues to thrive in the Metropolitan Police since Stephen’s death.

Current Commissioner Cressida Dick insists in the new three-part BBC series that the force has moved on in the past 25 years, but Khan said he now believes officers only paid “lip-service” to progress.

Speaking at a screening the series, he said: “We had a number of police officers who I had assumed had moved forward with us, who if they had [once had] blinkers on now finally understood what racism was about, or institutionalised racism was about.”

“But having viewed all three programmes I feel betrayed by those officers. I feel now that the sense of progress that I think had been made with police officers understanding racism and institutional racism goes back to simply lip service.

“I think it’s now hidden far better than it was but it exists and it’s thriving and I think there’s a lot more that we’ve got to do.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Baroness Lawrence with lawyer Imran Khan 

The QC believes the programmes “will reignite the feeling among the black community that the police haven’t changed at all.”

He went on: “I’ve got angry all over again because I realise that was an awful process for the family to go through, and it’s still happening now. The thing I want amongst all communities is to reignite that anger and to hold the Met in particular to account again.”

Former detective Clive Driscoll

BBC
DCI Clive Driscoll said the Met must come down on discrimination within the force 'like a tonne of bricks' 

Former detective Clive Driscoll, who led the investigation that saw two of Stephen’s killers, Gary Dobson and David Norris, finally convicted of murder, said the issue of racism in the police will be “an ongoing thing for a very, very long time”.

“The police need to focus very, very carefully on making sure that they are open and transparent, and if they do come across any discriminatory behaviour then they should come down on that like a tonne of bricks. Otherwise nobody will ever have any confidence in the system or the police, and that makes policing harder.”

He added: “If you don’t feel that the [police] agency is designed to protect you, who are you going to turn to?,” Driscoll said. 

“There needs to be a full range of tactics to try and win back people who think ‘I’m going to carry a knife, because you’re not going to help me’.”

Prime Minister Theresa May, who as Home Secretary ordered leading barrister Mark Ellison to review the corruption claims, said: “I think that the Stephen Lawrence case did move things forward, I think we have seen changes of attitude in the police but I think there is still more for us to do.”

A spokesperson for the Met Police said ahead of the programme: “Stephen’s horrific murder was a terrible act. The Public Inquiry, published in 1999, made a series of recommendations which led to far-reaching changes in the Met’s approach to murder investigation, race crime and staff diversity. The Met has brought two people to justice for this appalling crime.”

The statement said that the Met employs more than 40,000 people, a vast majority of whose contacts with the public “are carried out with professionalism and courtesy”.

It added: “there can be no doubt that there is no place for racism within the Metropolitan Police Service.”

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation will start on BBC One on 17 April at 9pm.