Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Stephen Lawrence - the murdered teenager's legacy

Five white youths were arrested shortly after the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.
So the conviction today of Gary Dobson and David Norris for Stephen’s stabbing goes only part way in the near-two decade’s battle by the Lawrence family to achieve justice.
The jury’s verdict will be the spur to much heart-searching about whether racism is as virulent in our society now as it was 18 years ago. Sadly, the simple answer is yes.
But that doesn’t mean time has stood still. The police – found on inquiry to be “institutionally racist” – and the British justice system, both failed the Lawrences for many years. In being forced to address their shortcomings they made some amends, which should benefit us all in making Britain a better place to live.
The re-opening of the ‘cold case’ and the application of the latest forensic science to achieve the convictions couldn’t have happened but for the overturning of the centuries’ old double jeopardy rule. This allows suspects to be re-tried on new evidence even though having already been acquitted on the same charge.
There is still much to do in the cause of greater justice shackled though it is by the Coalition’s cuts to police numbers and legal aid.
I would like to think tonight racists of all ethnicity feel pressured by the new determination to counter their evil.
It takes generations to dilute the indoctrination of prejudice into the minds of the young by their elders, but the law can inhibit what is deemed unacceptable in modern society.

Finally, I cannot end a post about the murder of Stephen Lawrence without praising the role of the Daily Mail in pursuing his killers when the police and the judiciary had all but given up on the case.
After Stephen's parents ceaseless quest for justice, the newspaper's support was key.
Editor Paul Dacre put his job on the line when his front-page splash pictured the Dobson-Norris gang calling them what they were.
Online today Dacre told readers after the guilty verdict: “I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if it hadn't been for the Mail's headline in 1997 – "Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing" – and our years of campaigning, none of this would have happened.” Neither do I.

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