STEPHEN LAWRENCE. Long struggle for justice took longer than he lived, and still not finished.
TWENTY years ago, about 10.30 pm on a Thursday evening, April 22 , 1993, student Stephen Lawrence and his friend Dwayne Brooke were on their way home from Stephen's uncle's house in Plumstead, when they decided to change buses at Well Hall Road.It was a fateful decision.
While Dwayne waited at the bus stop, Stephen walked up to the corner with Dickson Road to see if the bus was coming. Dwayne noticed a group of white youth approaching on the opposite side of the road. At about 10.35 pm he called to ask Stephen if the bus was coming. At this, he says, the youths on the other side of the road shouted something like "What? What, nigger?"
They came over and surrounded Stephen, inflicting two stab wounds, to his chest and arm, which severed arteries. Dwayne had got away, towards Shooters Hill, and Stephen somehow managed to run to join him, but fell after running 130 yards. The stabbing had caused a collapsed lung. But he actually bled to death there on the pavement.
There were witnesses to what happened, besides the traumatised Dwayne who saw his friend killed. There were people who knew who the gang were, and passed anonymous notes to the Lawrence family, naming the same five names.
There had been other racist murders in this corner of south east London, Rohit Duggal and Rolan Adams in the previous year. A lot of people saw a connection with the activity in the area of the British National Party, which had opened an office nearby. But it was another matter getting national attention, let alone going after the killers.
It might have made a difference that within a fortnight of Stephen's murder, his parents Neville and Doreen Lawrence were seen on TV with Nelson Mandela, talking about their son's death, and voicing their suspicion that the killing of a young black man did not arouse as much concern from the Metropolitan Police as other cases might.
The Lawrences were "ordinary" enough people, Neville a carpenter and Doreen a special needs teacher. They were proud of Stephen who was working hard at college and wanted to become an architect. They were determined to get justice against those who had robbed them of their son and him of his life and future. It took 19 years of relentless campaigning by them, - one more year than Stephen's life, -a public inquiry, a private prosecution and changes in the law, before two of the gang were brought to justice.
Another two, though known, seem to be living their lives in reasonable comfort without even having to move too far from their old playground, and it seems without having to work. As for the police, though they and British society at large might like to say they have put their house in order since the inquiry under Sir William MacPherson accused them of "institutional racism", reports say black people are still 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched, minorities still feel neither free from discrimination nor safe, and the Black Police Association issued a statement today saying: "The association still believe that the police service is institutionally racist."
The other night I heard Dr.Richard Stone saying how Doreen Lawrence felt when she heard that police called to the scene of her son's death stood by while Stephen bled to death, not even attempting to render first aid, and staunch the bleeding, though they were supposedly trained to do so. Another police unit arrived , apparently under the misapprehension that two black boys had been fighting. Told what had happened, and which way the gang had fled, they went off in the other direction, to a pub. Even after the suspects had been named by informants, the police made no attempt to detain them on suspicion.
Richard Stone was a west London GP, the one who did much to bring down Dame Shirley Porter in Westminster, by asking how it was that when he recommended patients as badly in need of suitable housing, he was told the council had nothing available, yet whenever he went out and about on his rounds he passed boarded up council flats and houses, with steel doors fitted to keep them empty. These were of course the monuments to Porter's policy of 'social cleansing' , replacing working class council tenants with 'yuppie' buyers in the hope not just of gentrification but gerrymandering, to keep Westminster safely Tory.
No stranger to issues of racism, Richard had been asked to help young black people from the Mangrove Club who were picked on, and he tried to organise a rota of fellow doctors prepared to go into police stations and examine people alleging police brutality. He had studied law before deciding to switch to medicine, and he bcame chair of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality which drew on the experience of people overcoming one kind of discrimination to assist those confronting another.
Called upon to be an adviser to the MacPherson inquiry, Dr.Stone felt honoured to assist. He got to know the Lawrences, and identify with their quest for justice, and he also pays credit to Sir William MacPherson, who he says insisted that the inquiry be called after Stephen Lawrence, rather than its head as was usually the case, so as to preserve the young man's name.
It was after the inquiry was finished, and feeling disconcerted by the difficulty of accessing its archives, as well as fearing that its findings might be laid to rest beneath complacency, or even dismissed and fogotten, that Richard Stone decided to write his own account. His book Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry both reminds us of the issues and raises questions that still require following.
Was the inquiry's independence or authority helped by having a senior civil servant as secretary? This man told Muhammad Idrish, of the Asian Resource Centre in Birmingham. that the inquiry could not visit Britain's Second City, where there was a lot of interest, because Dr.Stone could not make as it would clash with Jewish holidays. Dr.Stone had said no such thing, and not been asked, as he was able to tell Muhammad Idrish when they spoke. Fortunately they were friends and not dependent on the man from the Home Office for an introduction.
What, or who, was really behind this reluctance to take the show to Birmingham?
Was there anything in the rumours of police corruption dragging investigations to a stop because the father of one of the teenage gang involved was a known criminal with a link to at least one police officer?
Why after all these years have only two of the gang been convicted?
Why wasn't the archive published right after the report?
Have the police really done all they can to remedy issues of "institutional racism" and leadership?
Should we accept David Cameron's reassuring words on how much Britain has changed, or worry about one of those who rejected the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report now being the country's Education Secretary?
Launch of Richard stone's book hidden Stories
Gang Member Enjoying Good Life.