|Stephen Lawrence’s Murder: Has Justice Really Been Served?|
|Written by Staff|
|Thursday, 05 January 2012 15:13|
Following the sentencing to life this week of two men for the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, this article will detail some of the key doubts surrounding the men’s guilt. This is necessary because the mainstream media has consistently treated the accused prejudicially since the early days of the murder investigation. A Daily Mail front cover in 1997, for example, featured photographs of the five suspects below the headline "Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us", providing the bluntest example of the accused’s trial by media in the years after Stephen Lawrence’s death. Following David Norris and Gary Dobson’s murder convictions, the mainstream press has, unsurprisingly, unquestioningly accepted the guilty verdict. The sense of satisfaction in the public’s mind that “justice has been served”, is a natural reflection of such uncritical reporting by the mass media.
It is worth noting that the Mail article mentioned above was published after the collapse of a private prosecution brought by Stephen Lawrence’s family in 1994. Charges against Norris and another accused, Jamie Acourt, were dropped before trial due to lack of evidence, and the three remaining suspects, including Dobson, were acquitted at trial when the judge ruled that evidence given by Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks was unreliable. In the police investigation prior to the Lawrence family’s private prosecution, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight – and not Norris or Dobson – had been charged with the murder, but this case had also been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to lack of evidence. Dobson’s conviction this week was only possible due to a radical change to the ancient common law of “double jeopardy” in 2005 – a law whereby an accused, once acquitted, could never be tried for the same crime again. Whilst the revised double jeopardy law allowed Dobson to be tried a second time, another law, enacted five years before the crime, meant that he and Norris could only be sentenced as juveniles, due to the crime having taken place when they were under 18. The Human Rights Act 1988 meant that the men faced a sentence with a 12 year, rather than a 25 year minimum term.
Despite earlier trial collapses and acquittals, police announced in 2007 that they were investigating new scientific evidence in relation to the case. Dobson and Norris were arrested and charged in September 2010, and in April 2011 Dobson’s original acquittal was quashed, following a two day hearing. The new evidence on which Dobson and Norris were tried and subsequently convicted came from research conducted by a private laboratory, LGC Forensics, who found a previously unidentified microscopic 0.5 mm wide spot of blood on the collar of a jacket belonging to Dobson, as well as fibres matching those taken from Stephen Lawrence’s clothes. Norris was convicted based on fibres and hairs found on a pair of his trousers and sweatshirt.
There are, however, significant questions surrounding the reliability of this forensic evidence. Items of clothing from both the accused and Stephen Lawrence were stored together, and as the protective packaging was not designed to last, the tape sealing the packages had lost its stickiness. The defence argued that blood flakes, fibres and hairs could have entered the packages due to this deteriorated packaging. Such fibres were likely to be in abundance in the packages containing Stephen Lawrence’s clothing, due to an accident and emergency nurse having cut off his clothes, apparently releasing a "shower" of material. There are other important points to mention regarding the credibility of the new forensic evidence. Dobson’s jacket had at one point been removed from its packaging and laid on a cell floor to be photographed. Some of the items had not been immediately put into bags. In 1993, exhibits were mislabelled, and officers handling the exhibits had also visited the Lawrences at their home, suggesting the possibility of contamination.
Aside from questions surrounding the forensic evidence, wider questions must be raised about the perpetrators of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. Five men have been the main suspects for the murder and two have now been convicted. Stephen Lawrence was killed by two stab wounds, one to the chest and one the arm. It seems reasonable to assume that one assailant inflicted both wounds, but if one person was responsible for stabbing Stephen, why have two men been convicted of his murder, and why are several other men facing possible murder charges? We simply cannot know, based on the evidence, that the murder was premeditated, let alone that all attackers were equally responsible for planning the killing. It’s possible that one member of the group of assailants carried out the stabbing without the foreknowledge of the other gang members, which would mean that those who weren’t wielding the knife should be tried for a lesser crime than murder.
In his sentencing remarks this week, the trial judge Mr Justice Treacy admitted that the “evidence does not prove so that I could be sure that either of you (Norris and Dobson) had a knife…but the person who used it did so with your knowledge and approval”. Justice Treacy then stated that their complicity was proven by “the brief nature of the attack in which those who were unarmed did not themselves inflict blows or kicks of sufficient gravity to leave injury or involve themselves in a sustained attack as they would if this was a conventional plan to beat up”. Claiming that the non-knife wielding gang members' physical attack on Stephen Lawrence was inflicted purposely less violently because they knew he was about to be stabbed seems highly unlikely and is definitely not evidence for Norris and Dobson being present at, having had foreknowledge of, and having been complicit in, the stabbing and murder of Stephen Lawrence.
It also assumes, of course, that the two men were even at the scene of the crime. The police only identified the suspects because of anonymous tip-offs and hearsay – they had no hard evidence or confessions. None of the three witnesses to the attack on Stephen Lawrence were able to identify any of the suspects. Dobson’s parents provided him with a credible alibi, and both Dobson and his parents have consistently protested his innocence, including in court immediately following his sentencing. If Dobson had indeed been responsible for the murder, for which he was convicted based on a microscopic sample of blood, one has to ask why the serious knife wounds inflicted on Stephen Lawrence didn’t result in much greater quantities of blood being spattered on the attackers’ jackets.
The murder of Stephen Lawrence was a tragedy and it is totally understandable that his family wish to see justice served to those responsible. Justice will not have been served, however, if the wrong man, or men, are sent to prison for the crime - regardless of how racist or violent those men might be, or have been. Perhaps we will never know the truth of what happened, but it is important to remain objective and keep asking questions and highlighting anomalies, such as those mentioned in the above article, when faced by an unquestioning and uncritical mainstream media.