Mansfield to star in TV race drama

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL MANSFIELD, the QC who represented the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, is to play himself in a television court- room drama that echoes the events surrounding the student's death.

In Trial by Jury, which begins on Monday on BBC2, Mr Mansfield defends an Asian youth accused of taking the law into his own hands after his family is subjected to racist attacks. It is believed that Mr Mansfield will receive about pounds 5,000 for playing the role

The film will scrutinise the role of the police in the criminal investigation and consider allegations of police racism. Unlike the Lawrence case, the victim in this case is one member of a racist gang.

The defendant is charged after he and his father allegedly kidnap their tormentor and throw him from a speeding van, causing him grievous bodily harm. As the trial unfolds, a history of racial incidents and criminal damage directed at the defendant's family is revealed.

Lawyers will play themselves in the programme and the jury will be chosen from ordinary members of the public. The case will be heard by a well- known Old Bailey judge, Brian Capstick QC, who retired last year. Oliver Sells QC will prosecute the case. The programme makers say the verdict will be as realistic as any returned by a jury in a genuine criminal court. It is believed the drama will also draw on Mr Mansfield's own experience of defending Asians in the East End of London during the mid-Eighties, which led to campaigns such as the Newham 7 and Newham 8 and gave rise to the slogan "self defence is no offence".

Imran Khan, the Lawrence family's solicitor, acknowledged yesterday that the drama appeared to have "echoes" of the Lawrence case. Mr Khan said the scenario in which the police end up charging members of the black community after a racist incident is a very familiar one to Asians, adding that he and Mr Mansfield had worked on a number of such cases. The programme would have a resonance for black people who ended up being criminalised because of a racist incident. "I have recently been involved with a dozen such cases where the black person is simply not believed and ends up being arrested."

He said he had recently represented a Somali man from west London who had been terrorised by racists, but was himself prosecuted for grievous bodily harm when he called the police.

"The police took the word of the white men because English wasn't his first language and he wasn't very articulate," said Mr Khan.

The fee paid to Mr Mansfield, the Lawrence family barrister, prompts questions about the amount of money he has made as a result of the publicity surrounding the Lawrence case. It is estimated that he has picked up pounds 175,000 in legal fees for representing the Lawrences, although he has also carried out some work for no charge. His wife, Yvette Vanson, has helped to make three documentaries on the Lawrence affair, estimated to have brought in pounds 75,000 for her television company, Vanson Productions, of which her husband is a director. A spokesman for the Bar Council said that if the case was fictional and not one in which Mr Mansfield was involved then the matter of payment was between himself and the television company.