Lawrences divorce after 29 years

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THE PARENTS of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by a racist gang, have divorced, it was announced yesterday.

Until now, Neville and Doreen Lawrence have declined to discuss their personal lives, although it was an open secret that they had been living apart for at least a year.

The disclosure that their 29-year marriage has ended came in a statement by Mrs Lawrence, who made clear she was bitter over the breakdown of their relationship.

She said that it was not Stephen's death that had driven a wedge between her and her husband, but Mr Lawrence's alleged lack of support.

"I would like people to understand that the divorce is not due to any pressure from the death of my son or the legal proceedings that we embarked upon in the last six years," she said. "For many years I have felt alone and unsupported."

Although the couple presented a united front in public during their long campaign for justice for Stephen, their estrangement was clear. At last year's public inquiry into their son's death, the Lawrences always arrived and left separately.

Stephen's killers remain at large, six years after he was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in Kidbrooke, south-east London. The public inquiry exposed police incompetence on a massive scale and institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police.

It followed a lengthy legal battle by the Lawrences that included an abortive private prosecution launched against the five men regarded as the chief suspects.

Mrs Lawrence said yesterday that the most difficult year of her life after Stephen's death was at the inquest in 1997, "which I had to face alone".

At the time, Mr Lawrence was in Jamaica, recovering from a breakdown he suffered after the private prosecution collapsed.

Mr Lawrence, who recently disclosed that he experienced mental health problems after Stephen's murder, was not available for comment yesterday.