“If the police had done their job properly, I would have spent the last 18 years grieving for my son rather than fighting to get his killers to court.”
Doreen Lawrence, 2012
The police who arrive at the scene don’t give Stephen First-Aid. They won’t ask Duwayne to give an efit (a computer generated description of the attackers) for 11 days. Over 20 people name the suspects within 48 hours of the killing, and one walks into a police station to name them.
The suspect names are also left on notes, one tucked under a police windscreen wiper.
Those named include Gary Dobson, 17, David Norris, 16, Luke Knight, 16 and brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, aged 17 and 16 respectively.
Operation Fishpool is launched.
But nearly two weeks pass before three of the suspects are arrested.
It’s now become standard to believe the original investigation was so riddled with errors because of endemic police racism and individual incompetence.
There were, however, several obstacles in their way, for example, the influence of David Norris’ father, Clifford. He was a notorious drug smuggler, and he may have been on the run from the police at the time of the murder, but his presence was still felt around the Brook estate.
“Police officers...believed that the influence or fear of Clifford Norris infected the investigation of the murder, in that potential young witnesses...held back because they knew of Clifford Norris’ existence and close interest in his son’s welfare.’
(The Macpherson Report)
And not all the police were racist. When Stephen’s younger brother Stuart cycled out to see where his brother was, he came across the cordoned off murder scene. Two policemen, wanting to shield him from what had happened, put his bike in the boot of their car, and drove him home.
But over the next 17 years, there’ll be 16 arrests, over 800 house calls and nearly 1,400 statements taken, with no result. But amidst this activity, it’s the taking of two of the suspects’ clothes as evidence that will eventually lead to convictions.
In ID parades, Duwayne Brooks identifies Neil Acourt and Luke Knight as being part of the gang responsible for the murder. They’re charged and both deny the charges.
And in July 1993, the Crown Prosecution Service drops the case. Forensics find nothing and the key witness, Duwayne, is considered unreliable. Investigating officers’ relationship with him is, by his own admission, ‘poor’. (His relationship with the Lawrence family also breaks down at this point as well).
A senior officer reviews the investigation, or lack of it, but concludes it’s being ‘correctly pursued’.
In late 1994, the police place undercover cameras in Dobson’s flat. The recordings of his racist rants will later help seal his fate.
(The only chief suspect not recorded is Jamie Acourt as he’s in custody over other unrelated matters).
In 1997, the Police Watchdog effectively investigates the police investigation. After nine months, it concludes there were "significant weaknesses, omissions and lost opportunities". The head of the Met Police apologises to the Lawrence family the next year, but refuses to resign.
In February 1999, Operation Athena Tower launches. A top detective, John Grieve is given free rein to get convictions. His surveillance operation is described as ‘pure James Bond’.
An undercover officer purchases a property and moves in nearby to befriend Dobson. The police even bug the golf trolleys of the suspects when they holiday in Scotland.
But in May 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service announces there’s insufficient evidence to prosecute murder charges.
Then in 2006, police launch a cold case four year review, staffed by 32 officers at a cost of nearly £8m. Roughly half of that is spent on the scientific re-examination of the evidence. Scientists working at LGC Forensics find clothing fibres and hair from the Stephen on the clothes of Dobson and Norris. And crucially, they go over the jacket magnifying it 40 times. They find a microscopic (0.5mm x 0.25mm) speck of his blood on Dobson’s jacket. It’s the start of a four year cold case review. A tiny drop of Stephen’s blood was found on a jacket belonging to Dobson. Two strands of his hair were found on jeans belonging to Norris.
New charges are brought against Dobson and Norris.