penetrating wound

Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence (13 September 197422 April 1993) was a black British teenager from South-East London who was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus on the evening of 22 April, 1993.

After the initial investigation, five suspects were arrested but never convicted.

In 1999, an inquiry headed by Sir William MacPherson examined the original Metropolitan police investigation and famously concluded that the force was "institutionally racist". An article on BBC Online defined it as 'one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain'.

Stephen Lawrence was born to Jamaican parents, Neville and Doreen. At the time of his death he was an A-level sixth form student at secondary school and was hoping to become an architect.

Murder, trials, aftermath

The attack occurred at around 10:30pm on April 22, 1993, as Stephen waited with a friend, Duwayne Brooks, at a bus stop in South-East London.

Mr. Brooks called out to ask whether Stephen saw the bus coming. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry describes one of the assailants saying: "What, What, Nigger?" as they all quickly crossed the road and 'engulfed' Lawrence, who was then stabbed to a depth of about five inches on both sides of the front of his body, in the chest and arm. Both stab wounds severed axillary arteries. Although he tried to escape, he collapsed and bled to death after running 119 metres (130 yards).

It is surprising that he managed to get 130 yards with all the injuries he had, but also the fact that the deep penetrating wound of the right side caused the upper lobe to partially collapse his lung. It is therefore a testimony to Stephen's physical fitness that he was able to run the distance he did before collapsing. - Pathologist, Dr Shepherd.


All three witnesses at the bus stop at the time of the attack said in statements that the attack was sudden and short; none was later able to identify any of the suspects.

In February, 1999, officers who were investigating the handling of the initial inquiry revealed that a woman had telephoned detectives three times within the first few days after the killing.

In 2004, the police stated: "The witness who appeared on the right of the scene and walked into Rochester Way with Stephen and Duwayne behind is very important to us. We know who this witness is, she knows who she is, we know what she knows. She has never made a statement. This witness may have been the catalyst for the attack".

A case was brought against two of the suspects, Neil Acourt, then 17, and Luke Knight, who was 16, who were initially charged with murder but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case on 29 July, 1993, citing insufficient evidence.

Private prosecution

In April, 1996, Stephen Lawrence's family initiated a private prosecution against the initial two suspects and three others. When called to the inquest, the men refused to answer questions put by the lawyer for Stephen's family. Charges against the original two suspects were dropped before the trial due to lack of evidence, and the three remaining suspects were acquitted at trial when the judge ruled that the identification evidence given by Duwayne Brooks was inadmissible.

Newspaper headlines

On February 14, 1997, the Daily Mail newspaper labelled all five suspects "murderers", challenging them to sue the newspaper for libel. The headline read "Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us." Underneath this headline appeared pictures of Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, and David Norris. To date, the men have not sued, but they have used appearances in the media to protest their innocence. The Attorney General later cleared the Daily Mail of contempt of court.

In 2002, two men accused in the Lawrence case, David Norris and Neil Acourt, were convicted and jailed for a racist attack on a plainclothes black police officer.

The Lawrence case spurred changes in English law that would allow future cases to be returned to court and retried, even after an acquittal. In the Criminal Justice Act 2003, introduced by Home Secretary David Blunkett, Parliament abolished a previously strict prohibition against double jeopardy. Retrials are now allowed if there is 'new and compelling evidence'.

No one has been convicted of Stephen Lawrence's murder. The suspected killers, all but one now possessing additional police records, are at large and detailed on the Mail website

New evidence

In November 2007, police confirmed that they were investigating new forensic evidence.


An annual architectural award, the Stephen Lawrence Prize, was established by the Royal Institute of British Architects in Lawrence's memory.

His mother, Doreen Lawrence, said, "I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. He was well loved, and had he been given the chance to survive maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white because he didn't distinguish between black or white. He saw people as people."

In 1999, Nicholas Kent designed and staged a documentary play based on the trial and called The Colour of Justice at the Tricycle Theatre. It was later filmed by the BBC

On February 7, 2008, the Stephen Lawrence Centre opened in Deptford, south-east London. A week later, it was vandalised in an attack that was initially believed to be racially motivated. However, doubt was cast on that assumption when CCTV evidence appeared to show one of the suspects to be mixed-race. It is believed that this is already the fifth attack on the building..

Public inquiries into the police investigation

In 1997, Lawrence's surviving family registered a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Authority, which in 1999 exonerated the officers who had worked on the case of allegations of racism. Only one officer, Senior Detective Inspector Ben Bullock, was ordered to face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty. Bullock, who was second in command of the investigation, was later found guilty of failure to properly brief officers and failure to fully investigate an anonymous letter sent to police, but he was acquitted of 11 other charges. Four other officers who would have been charged as a result of the inquiry retired before it concluded.

Bullock retired the day after his punishment was announced, so that it amounted to a mere caution. Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, criticized the punishment, saying that Bullock was "guilty on all counts." However, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Federation stated that Bullock had been "largely vindicated" in the proceedings.

That same year, while the PCA inquiry was ongoing, Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered a public inquiry. During the inquiry, Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden said that mistakes had been made during the murder investigation. Weeden, who was head of the murder squad for 14 months, admitted that until recently he had not understood the legal grounds on which police could make arrests. Results of the inquiry became known as the Macpherson Report, or the Stephen Lawrence Report.

Macpherson Report

Conducted by Sir William Macpherson, the inquiry found that the original Metropolitan Police Service investigation had been incompetent and charged that officers had committed fundamental errors, including failing to give first aid when they reached the scene; failing to follow obvious leads during their investigation; and failing to arrest suspects. The report found that there had been a failure of leadership by senior MPS officers and that recommendations of the 1981 Scarman Report, compiled following race-related riots in Brixton and Toxteth, had been ignored.

The Macpherson Report also found that the police were institutionally racist and made a total of 70 recommendations for reform. These proposals included abolishing the double jeopardy rule and criminalising racist statements made in private. Macpherson also called for reform in the British Civil Service, local governments, the National Health Service, schools, and the judicial system, in order to address issues of institutional racism.


On 10 March, 2006, the Metropolitan Police Service announced that it would pay Duwayne Brooks £100,000 as compensation for the manner in which police had handled his complaints about their actions toward him after the murder.

Alleged police corruption

On 25 July, 2006, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced it had asked the Metropolitan Police to look into alleged claims of police corruption that may have helped hide the killers of Stephen Lawrence.

A BBC investigation alleged that the murder inquiry's Det. Sgt. John Davidson had taken money from known drug smuggler Clifford Norris, the father of David Norris, a chief suspect in the investigation. Neil Putnam, a former corrupt police detective turned whistleblower, told a BBC investigation that Clifford Norris was paying Mr Davidson to obstruct the case and to protect the suspects. "Davidson told me that he was looking after Norris and that to me meant that he was protecting him, protecting his family against arrest and any conviction," Putnam said. Davidson denied any such corruption.

The Metropolitan Police Service announced it was to open up a special incident room to field calls from the public, following the BBC documentary The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence. The Independent Police Complaints Commission later stated the claims made in the programme were unfounded.

On 27 July, 2006, the Daily Mail repeated its famous "Murderers" front page.

The need to re-establish trust between minority ethnic communities and the police is paramount... seeking to achieve trust and confidence through a demonstration of fairness will not in itself be sufficient. It must be accompanied by a vigorous pursuit of openness and accountability.



  • Ellis, Dr.Frank, The Macpherson Report: 'Anti-racist' Hysteria and the Sovietization of the United Kingdom, published by Right Now Press Ltd., London, 2001,(P/B), ISBN 0-9540534-0-0
  • Green, David G, (Editor), Institutional Racism and the Police: Fact or Fiction, published by The Institute for the Study of Civil Society 2000, ISBN 1-903 386-06-3
  • Dennis, Norman; Erdos, George; Al-Shahi, Ahmed; Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics: The Macpherson Report and the Police, published by The Institute for the Study of Civil Society 2000, ISBN 1-903 386-05-5
  • Cathcart, Brian; The Case of Stephen Lawrence published by Penguin ISBN 0-14-027905-9

External links

BBC links

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