During a dramatic and highly charged day of evidence, Neville Lawrence said it was like "a knife in my stomach" to know that the youths who stabbed his son in an unprovoked racist attack remained free. He said that, five years later, he was still waiting for an apology from the Metropolitan Police.
There was uproar in the public gallery when his wife, Doreen, interrupted questions put to her by the barrister representing Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, asking: "Am I on trial here or something?"
After an intervention from Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, chairman of the inquiry, he and other lawyers agreed not to submit the couple to further cross-examination.
Mr Lawrence, 51, testifying in person for the first time, launched a bitter attack on detectives who investigated the murder in Eltham, south- east London. "We have to live with the mistakes that they have made," he said. "It has cost us so much pain to know that these people could be behind bars doing time for the murder of my son.
"I heard one officer here say that if they had arrested these people the following day, they would have solved the case. This has put a knife in my stomach, to know that we are here five years later, still talking about the death of my son, and no one has paid for it."
Five white youths - Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, Gary Dobson and David Norris - were prosecuted for Stephen's murder, but never convicted. They are due to give evidence at the inquiry next week, depending on the outcome of a legal challenge to be heard at the High Court today.
Mr Lawrence, whose evidence, like that of his wife, was punctuated by applause from spectators, said he had been waiting for an apology since the inquiry began 43 days ago.
"We have suffered all of this trauma, and at the end of the day we have had nothing," he said. "We won't get our son back, but I think that the Metropolitan Police have a duty to apologise for something that has caused pain and suffering."
Mr Lawrence, who broke down in tears while his wife was being questioned, managed to maintain his composure in the witness box.
"I am a plasterer and decorator," he said. "When I go to someone's house to do some plastering, if at the end of the day I haven't done that work, I don't get paid.
"These people were given a job to do, and they didn't do it, but they still collect their pay. I just feel let down."
Mrs Lawrence, 45, said she was sceptical about the sincerity of detectives who have expressed regrets about errors in the murder inquiry. "Police have had to give explanations here about what went on," she said. "Are they genuinely sorry? They're sorry that they got caught out, but not about the mistakes that they made."
Mrs Lawrence became increasingly angry during questioning by Jeremy Gompertz, QC, counsel for the commissioner. When he persisted in asking her about disputed areas of evidence, she snapped.
"Can I ask a question here?" she asked. "Am I on trial or something? From the time of my son's murder, I have not been treated as a victim." To cries of "shame!" from the public gallery, she added: "For me to be questioned in this way, I do not appreciate it."
Earlier, statements by Mr and Mrs Lawrence about the private prosecution that they brought against the five suspects were read out to the inquiry. Mr Lawrence said in his statement that at the committal proceedings he heard the first detailed account of how his son was killed.
"The part that got to me was the way that Stephen shouted out," he said. "I could just feel a pain. I felt the pain myself and I could not stand it. I collapsed."
He said he was devastated when the crown court trial was abandoned. "I just sat there and froze," he said. "I would describe that day as one of the worst of my life, when I saw those guys get up and walk out. There was no doubt in my mind that it was these people, and I still do not doubt it."
Mrs Lawrence said that, at the committal, the boys "never once looked worried". "They had a sort of `come and get me if you dare' attitude," she said. "On one occasion, two of them were seen to make cut-throat gestures while looking in our direction."
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