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The Unanswered Questions of the Stephen Lawrence Case 

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Old 01-27-2012, 08:00 AM
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The Unanswered Questions of the Stephen Lawrence Case

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/...lawrence-case/

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The Stephen Lawrence case was described by the Crown Prosecution Service as the ‘most significant in a generation’ and at its conclusion many were left with the feeling of ‘a job well done’. It marked the end to a decade of campaigning, both in the media and by Lawrence’s parents. Few doubt that British society is better off without Dobson and Norris on its streets. But at what cost? Has justice been well served?

But many questions remained unanswered. In the case’s ten year history, ancient legal principles have been usurped, traditional assumptions about guilt and innocence appeared to be suspended, and evidence that many thought to be wildly prejudicial was used to prove the defendant’s guilt. This left some with the feeling that although the outcome of the trial might be desirable, the sacrifices made in order to secure the convictions may have been too great.

Most obviously, the prosecution of Dobson was only allowed to happen because the government had repealed double jeopardy, the ancient legal principle that a defendant could not be tried twice for the same offence, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Lawrence case was a prescient illustration of the debate around the repeal. Some argued that where advances in technology allow for a new piece of information about the offence to come to light, the law must permit the information to go before the jury again in a new trial in order that it may make a fully informed decision about the case. But others countered that double jeopardy was an important safeguard, and by departing from it in hard cases, we were at risk of making bad laws.

Then take the presumption of innocence. Many celebrated the work of newspapers – in particular the Daily Mail - for keeping the case in the public eye and ensuring that pressure remained on the establishment to consider new approaches to obtaining a conviction. However some did express concerns that the accused had a right to be seen as innocent until proven guilty, and that the media attention that the case received was little more than a witch hunt.

Similarly, there is the evidence that was used to obtain the conviction. The jury were played videos from cameras secreted in Dobson’s home, which showed the defendants using racist language and acting out scenes of extreme violence. This was only allowed because of changes made in 2003 which made evidence of an accused’s ‘bad character’ admissible in a trial. But does the reintroduction of character evidence into English law mark a shift towards trying people on the basis of their personality rather than what they have actually done?

Other important questions remain regarding how the case shaped our thinking about race and class. Has the conviction marked an end to the institutional racism that the McPherson report identified following the botched investigation of the killing? Did this institutional racism exist in the first place? Many celebrated the contribution that campaigners around the Lawrence case made to anti-racism. But others pointed out that the way that the accused were discussed in the intervening ten years revealed prejudices about the white working class in England. Eltham, the predominantly working class community in South London where the accused lived, was referred to by commentators at the time as being ’like hell’ where ‘racism seeped from every pore’. Was the case a victory for anti-racism? Or did it expose deep seated prejudices in the English establishment towards working class communities?

In the aftermath of the Lawrence case it is vital that these questions remain open to robust debate.

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Old 01-27-2012, 10:10 AM
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Re: The Unanswered Questions of the Stephen Lawrence Case

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-16750408

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Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre 'met Stephen Lawrence'

Mr Lawrence decorated Mr Dacre's home
Continue reading the main story Related StoriesStephen Lawrence: TimelineProfile of teenage murder victim Stephen LawrenceThe Lawrences' road to justice
The father of Stephen Lawrence has described how a meeting with the Daily Mail's editor led to the paper becoming a staunch supporter of the family.

Stephen was murdered in a racist attack in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

Father Neville Lawrence has said the Daily Mail naming five people as the killers was vital in seeing justice partly done.

The support came after editor Paul Dacre realised he had met Stephen when Mr Lawrence was decorating his house.

Mr Lawrence told BBC London 94.9's Eddie Nestor: "I did a lot of work in Paul Dacre's house.

"I used to see a car picking him up in the mornings, taking him to work, bringing him back in the evenings."

But Mr Lawrence had no idea he was decorating the house of a national newspaper editor.

He said the realisation only came after Mr Lawrence and his wife Doreen met Nelson Mandela in May 1993 after Stephen's death.

"There had been a riot the weekend before and the Daily Mail had this story about the riots...and in the middle of that story there was about Stephen and the fact that we had met [Nelson] Mandela."

When journalists from the paper came to interview Mr Lawrence, he confronted them.

Stephen was killed waiting for a bus in south-east London
He said: "The first thing I said to them was: 'Why did your editor put my family in the middle of all that violence, we are not about violence'."

He said he was asked to speak to the editor about the issue, leading him to realise his former client headed the newspaper.

Mr Lawrence said: "The following morning I rang the Daily Mail's office to speak to Paul Dacre.

"He said to me: 'Neville, I didn't know it was you'.

"I said: 'But Mr Dacre, you've met my kids. I used to take my children to places where I work'. He had met Stephen and Stuart."

Mr Lawrence added: "Because of that, the Daily Mail has been one of the biggest supporters for us over this story."

'Couldn't sleep'

In February 1997, the newspaper published a headline accusing Gary Dobson, David Norris and three others of Stephen's killing.

The headline read: "Murderers". It continued: "The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us."

Continue reading the main story “Start QuoteI was drenched in sweat and convinced my career was over”
End Quote Paul Dacre Editor, The Daily Mail
On 3 January this year, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted of the murder.

Mr Lawrence said he had heard Mr Dacre was very worried over publishing the front page.

He explained: "I was told he couldn't sleep that night, after they printed the photographs.

"He thought they were going to be sued. But he went out on a limb and did this."

Following the verdict Mr Dacre had spoken about the "monumental risk" he and the paper took.

He said: "In many ways, it was an outrageous, unprecedented step. But I'd like to think that as a result we did a huge amount of good and made a little bit of history that day."

Describing the hours before the paper went to print, Mr Dacre said the mood was "calm" but there was also "a kind of nervous laughter" about the headline.

Paul Dacre: "Went out on a limb"
Mr Dacre said he was "desperately aware of the enormousness" of what was being proposed.

He said: "It's not up to newspapers to accuse people of murder or act as judge and jury.

"That night I took a sleeping pill. Despite it, I woke up at four o'clock in the morning - the time when all the decisions of the previous day suddenly assume terrifying proportions.

"I was drenched in sweat and convinced my career was over."

Mr Lawrence said he thought the front page had helped create the momentum that brought Dobson and Norris to justice.

"At the time that [the front page] was done we knew these boys weren't going to be giving any kind of statement," he said.

"We are thankful for the support over the years."

'I did dance'

But almost two decades on, the teenager's family is still waiting for all involved in the fatal stabbing to be caught and convicted.

"We need concrete evidence and as far as I'm concerned that's going to come from the knife which killed Stephen.

"I'm appealing to anybody who knows where this knife is buried to come forward so we can get these other people who have killed my son."

Mr Lawrence said he still does not like visiting the memorial in Eltham.

"It's too much for me to take in.

"When I go there it just gives me a really bad feeling and I can't face the fact that that's where my son took his last breath."

But the verdict earlier this month has given the family some hope.

Mr Lawrence said he finally danced at a birthday party the weekend after the verdict, years after "a promise I made to myself that I would never dance again until somebody is doing time for the death of my son."

"I did dance. It was like I was back in my old days.

"I felt really good, it was like I had woken up from a dream."

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Old 01-27-2012, 02:24 PM
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Re: The Unanswered Questions of the Stephen Lawrence Case


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