`I saw my friend Stephen killed'

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The Independent Online
DUWAYNE BROOKS, who was with Stephen Lawrence when he was murdered, has told The Independent he blames himself for his friend's death. He said he should have persuaded Stephen to take a different route home, avoiding the fatal encounter with the racist gang that stabbed him.

In his first newspaper interview since the start of the public inquiry into Stephen's death, Mr Brooks recalled the night in April 1993 when the schoolfriends were going home after visiting Stephen's uncle. During a journey involving several buses, they boarded one in Eltham, south-east London. Duwayne's plan was to stay on until Blackheath, but Stephen wanted to alight after a couple of stops and pick up another bus that was more direct.

Duwayne gave in, a decision that still haunts him, for it was after the two 18-year-olds got off again in Eltham that Stephen was attacked. "We were the same age, the same height ... but I was the stronger personality. If I had made him stay on the bus, he would still be here. There are times when I blame myself for what happened."

For most of the past six years Mr Brooks has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. After witnessing Stephen's murder he was treated as a suspect by Metropolitan Police officers. Although distressed, he was given no sympathy, nor even asked if he was injured. Instead, officers demanded to know if he was carrying a weapon. Information he gave on the attack was disregarded.

Later - although he made nine statements and attended three identification parades - police privately vilified him as aggressive and uncooperative. Mr Brooks was too upset to give evidence at the inquiry, which is expected to present its report to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, next week.

But over the past few months Mr Brooks has begun to emerge from his shell. "I have lost six years of my life," he said. "I didn't go out ... I just stayed at home, watching TV."

He is now studying at college and has a part-time job. He is reluctant to talk about these aspects of his life, or to divulge much information about the people who are important to him. "If I go out somewhere with a girlfriend, I class myself as a liability. I feel it's not so likely that those boys [the suspects] would do something to me. But I worry about my close friends, my girlfriend, my family."

Mr Brooks kept up with events at the inquiry, and watched the five - Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and David Norris - swagger out after giving evidence. "I felt like they were mocking me; they were mocking the Lawrences, and they were mocking the inquiry," he said.

Talking about the events of the past six years appears to have had a cathartic effect on Mr Brooks. He recently saw The Colour of Justice, an acclaimed dramatisation of the public inquiry, staged at the Tricycle Theatre in London. He remembers Stephen as "a good person, very kind, very trusting", and recalls their friendship with nostalgia. "We used to play football together and chat to girls," he said. "I miss him, because he would still be one of my group of friends."

What Mr Brooks most wants is some kind of recommendation that prevents police "from being above the law". He is disgusted that senior officers in the case could retire and are immune from sanction. "I saw my best friend butchered, I saw the suspects free to roam the streets, and no one is taking the blame," he said. "The whole disciplinary system is a waste of time."

Despite receiving an apology from the Metropolitan Police, he still suffers from the police's negative stereotype of young black men. He has been stopped and searched several times, most recently last week. "That's the reality of life in London," he said. "You drive a car that's too nice, you get stopped. I see racism every day. Nothing has changed."