An inquest begins in December 1992, but it’s suspended when the family’s barrister says there’s ‘dramatic’ new evidence. In September 1994, lawyers representing the Lawrence’s persuade them there’s enough evidence to launch a private prosecution (rather than a police lead, state prosecuted one).
But by 1996, Duwayne Brooks, the key witness, is tired and nervous. He’s battered by both barristers. He contradicts some of his own statements. Because of doubts over his testimony, Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight are acquitted before the trial even opens. The three have always denied the charges. The case collapses. And worse, because of ‘Double Jeopardy’ where no suspect can be tried for the same crime twice, they can never face trial again.
The inquest resumes, but the five suspects refuse to answer any questions citing their legal right to silence. In February 1997, the coroner’s jury takes just 30 minutes to unanimously decide Stephen was unlawfully killed in an unprovoked racist attack by white youths.
The next day, the Daily Mail names the five men it says killed Stephen and dares them to sue.
On the 24 March 1998, the Macpherson inquiry begins and the five suspects are told to give evidence or face prosecution. In June, the five are pelted with eggs, bottles, bricks and stones. They spit and throw punches in retaliation. But apart from various trials by media, the five are free men.
“Some justice at last”
Tweet by Duwayne Brooks, survivor of the attack, 2012
Very few expected to ever see Dobson and Norris stand trial, but they did, in November 2011, at the Old Bailey.
This time, both forensics and witnesses come together. Everything from the angle the knife was plunged into Stephen’s chest to the tiny bloodspot is presented clinically.
And despite his father dying the night before, Duwayne Brooks enters the witness box to describe to the jury the night of the murder. He starts composed. But as he recounts the moment he noticed that Stephen was drenched in blood, he breaks down and cries for nearly a minute. The prosecuting QC attempted to help him but Mr Brooks slaps his hand down and insists he will bear witness.
The prosecution allege that the only way for the blood to have got that far into Dobson’s jacket, was that it soaked in as Stephen bled i.e. it could not have been the result of cross contamination by investigators, which the defence alleges.
The defence is further destroyed by surveillance videos of the men bragging about committing violence against ‘blacks’ and ‘Pakis’.
Norris, now 35, says he’s ‘ashamed’ of his language and Dobson, now 36, says he too is ‘disgusted and embarrassed’.
The jury takes two and a half days to reach a unanimous verdict. Mrs Lawrence gives the ‘briefest of smiles’ as Mr Lawrence wipes a tear from his eye.
As Dobson and Norris weren’t adults at the time of their crime, their minimum tariff is 12 rather than the adult one of 25-30 years. But the judge takes into account that they both knew a knife might be used, and their crime was racist.
Norris’s QC offers no mitigation, maintaining he was never there.
His sentence is a minimum term of 14 years and Gary Dobson is 15 years.
Applause starts up in the gallery.
As Dobson is taken down, he says to the jury, ‘You have just condemned an innocent man.’
Some take this to mean he didn’t administer the killing strike and that another was responsible.
Interviewed outside the court, Stephen’s mother, Doreen, says the verdict isn’t a cause for celebration.
“How can I celebrate? How can I celebrate when my son lies buried, when I cannot see him or speak to him? When I will not see him grow up or go to university, or get married or have children. These verdicts will not bring my son back.”
But others outside the court, reacted with chants of ‘Two Down. Three To Go.’
The Metropolitan Police, however, believe there are still several more suspects remaining.
It’s hoped that Dobson, the ‘weak link’, will provide the missing evidence in return for a reduced sentence.