The Lawrence Inquiry: route to the witness-box

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The Independent Online
ON THE route travelled by the Lawrence murder suspects to the witness box at the public inquiry lie two failed prosecutions, an inquest and a judicial review.

The five youths were arrested a fortnight after Stephen was murdered in April 1993, and two of them - Neil Acourt and Luke Knight - were charged after Stephen's friend, Duwayne Brooks, picked them out at identification parades. In July that year, though, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the cases against the two, citing lack of evidence.

In April 1995, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, frustrated by the fact that their son's killers were still at large, began a rare private prosecution. At committal proceedings later that year, Jamie Acourt and David Norris were discharged by the magistrate.

Neil Acourt, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson were committed for trial at Croydon Crown Court. But soon after the case opened in April 1996, the trial judge excluded vital identification evidence by Mr Brooks, leaving the family's lawyers with no option but to offer no further evidence. The defendants were then formerly cleared on the directions of the judge.

The five made their next appearance at Stephen's inquest in February last year, where a jury returned the verdict that he had been unlawfully killed by five white youths. The suspects were called to give evidence but every time they were asked a question invoked their common law privilege against self-incrimination.

Pressure mounted for a public inquiry, particularly after the Daily Mail branded them murderers on its front page. After the general election, the new Home Secretary, Jack Straw, acceded to the family's demands.

Summonses to the inquiry were dispatched to the five in May, but they made a last-minute attempt to avoid attending by applying for judicial review of the decision to call them. Twelve days ago in the High Court, Lord Justice Simon Brown rejected their application but ruled that they could not be asked whether or not they killed Stephen.

At the inquiry, they are obliged to answer questions because nothing that they say there can be used against them in a criminal prosecution.