The brutal stabbing death of Stephen Lawrence on a London street rocked British society as an unprovoked attack that was motivated purely by bigotry and then investigated poorly by police. An official inquiry found that the bungled police response reflected an “institutional racism” inside Scotland Yard and led to major changes in policing.
After years of tireless campaigning by Lawrence’s parents, convictions in their son’s death finally came Tuesday, after a review of the case unearthed new DNA evidence implicating Gary Dobson and David Norris, members of a racist gang that targeted black residents in the part of South London where they lived.
In sentencing the two men, Justice Colman Treacy said Wednesday that they had committed a “terrible and evil crime ... for no other reason than racial hatred.”
Although Treacy issued life sentences, under British judicial rules Dobson could be freed after 15 years behind bars and Norris after 14, because both were minors at the time of the attack.
Lawrence, 18, was punched and stabbed repeatedly by a group of thugs near a bus stop in the community of Eltham in April 1993. A friend, Duwayne Brooks, managed to escape.
In their investigation, detectives from Scotland Yard mishandled forensic evidence, ignored important witnesses and strayed from proper police procedures. "How the police let Stephen down," read one headline by the Daily Mail tabloid not long after the killing.
Five young men were identified as suspects from the outset, including Dobson and Norris, who are now in their 30s.
Their convictions were based on microscopic bits of blood and hair found years later on articles of clothing that were taken from Dobson and Norris at the time of the killing and kept by police as evidence. The blood and hair were identified as Lawrence’s through sophisticated DNA techniques not available during the initial investigation.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Neville Lawrence, center, the father of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, walks through police officers to speak to the media outside the Central Criminal Court in London on Wednesday. Earlier, Gary Dobson and David Norris were sentenced for their part in the murder 18 years ago. Credit: Matt Dunham/ Associated Press