Lawrence Inquiry: Nation of Islam member who attacked PC guilty of affray

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The Independent Online
A MEMBER of Nation of Islam was found guilty yesterday of attacking a police officer at the inquiry into the race murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Rasaki Yesufu-Muhammad was said to have been part of a "baying mob" that tried to storm the crowded hearing in south London on the day that five men suspected of the black teenager's killing in April 1993 were due to give evidence.

The 29-year-old care worker - wearing the black Islamic organisation's trademark dark suit, white shirt and red bow tie at the time - twice kneed Pc Stephen Dukamp in the face during an "explosion of violence" last June. The constable, whose colleagues had to use CS gas to control the violence, said that he had been "extremely scared" and ended up "black and blue".

At Southwark Crown Court, in south London, when the jury announced the verdict after more than six hours of deliberation, a sigh went up from some 30 Nation of Islam members in the public gallery. The news received a similar reaction from supporters in the corridor outside.

Adjourning the case for three weeks for reports, Judge Jeffrey Rucker told defence counsel Matthew Ryder: "If it is of any assistance to the defendant, I obviously have to think forward in these matters. In the extremely fraught atmosphere of that [inquiry] that gave rise to this case, everything that has happened since and is still happening, it seems to me that it would be wrong to raise the temperature at all if it is possible to avoid it."

"What I have in mind is a community service order," he added. He told Yesufu-Muhammad that bail would be continued, and said he would reserve his decision on a prosecution application for pounds 1,600 costs.

Outside the court Mr Ryder said that while he still had to give the matter consideration: "It seems very likely that we will appeal against conviction."

Constable Dukamp had told the trial that up to 50 members of the Nation of Islam behaved "almost military-like" at Hannibal House at Elephant and Castle, where the inquiry was held. Two of them stood "sentry duty" either side of a lift, while another directed the movements of the rest with a megaphone.

"They ignored everyone else - almost like a guard at the palace," he said. He said violence flared when some tried to jump a queue of several hundred people waiting to get in to the hearing.

"At least three of the Nation of Islam came on top of me," Pc Dukamp recalled. He was punched to the floor before twice being kneed in the face by Yesufu-Muhammad. The officer managed to grab his leg, and hang on "for dear life".

In evidence, Yesufu-Muhammad, of Northolt, Middlesex, had insisted that he had simply been hunting for his glasses when the constable struck him with his baton, put him in a headlock and dragged him across the floor. he added that the Nation of Islam stood for "peace and orderliness" and "emanated contagious love".

A written statement by Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, was read out to the court. In it Mr Lawrence, who paid a brief visit to the court yesterday, said the Nation of Islam had attended the inquiry at his invitation. He said he could "not imagine them starting trouble".

In his final address to the jury defence counsel, Mr Ryder insisted police had arrested the wrong man and then tried to conceal the fact. "The cover- ups, the denials and the massaging of the truth needs to stop," he declared.