The Lawrence Report: Eltham - Scene Of The Crime, Streets where race hatred is the norm

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The Independent Online
"NO ONE likes us, no one likes us, we don't care," they chant on the terraces of Millwall Football Club, just a few miles from Eltham, the scene of Stephen Lawrence's murder.

The stabbing has prised up a scab in this part of south-east London, exposing a raw and ugly sub-culture of racism and violence. Eltham is real white man's country, with the ethnic minorities making up just over 4 per cent of the population. It's a place from where extreme- right groups seek to draw recruits - the British National Party has its headquarters in nearby Welling.

There are few black or Asian faces on the streets by day, and even fewer at night. In the estates the walls are scrawled with graffiti: "Kill the coons", "If there [sic] brown knock them down, if they are black send them back", "All niggers out" with the accompanying symbols of the National Front and British Movement.

Bunches of flowers, candles and notes had been left next to a plaque on Well Hall Road, where Stephen fell. Merle Stayne, a teacher who is white, said she was there to show her respects. "What happened to that poor boy is so terrible that we should all feel ashamed.

"There is terrible racism in this area. You get gangs of white youths who simply terrorise people. Those who killed Stephen Lawrence are still around, people are scared of them. I have been brought up to believe that this country upheld certain standards of decency. What happened to Stephen destroyed all that."

A young man walking by with a can of lager in his hand said he knew two of the murder suspects, Jamie and Neil Acourt and was also a friend of Stacey Benefield, a white youth who the gang were accused of stabbing. "I think what happened to Stephen Lawrence was disgusting. Everyone around here knows who did this. We all knew the next day."

Soon after, a van passed the memorial. The driver and his passenger shouted abuse and the driver gave a Nazi salute.

A black woman standing nearby said: "You get that, they gloat at what happened."

At the Rising Sun pub in the town centre, where some of the suspects sometimes drank, John Edwards was angry at what he saw as the typecasting of the whole area. He said: "So we are all racists now are we? Everyone who lives in Eltham is a bigot? What we had in the Lawrence case was a gang of thugs who'd attack anyone white, brown or black."

Standing at a bus stop on the 122 route, the same one Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks took when they were ambushed in April 1993, three black men talk about streets they simply would not venture down. Clayton Reid, a 20-year-old mechanic, said he is regularly harassed and has been attacked twice in the past year. "I was hit by a lump of wood they threw. It hit me here," he points to his temple. "Another time there were about six of them across the road from me and my mate calling us `niggers'. We went over to ask what the trouble was and they jumped us. Both of us got hit by chains. Nothing has changed since Stephen Lawrence was killed. Nothing."

Back in the pubs Ronnie Johnston, a middle-aged white man, said: "What about the white people who get attacked by the blacks? Elderly people having their lives terrorised.

"It's bad what happened to that Lawrence boy, but you can't say we are all racist because of that. All you see on TV now is about Lawrence. I'll tell you there will be a reaction if this continues."

His companion, Stevie, said: "Let's face it most of the crimes around here are committed by blacks. We don't get any problems from the Asians. It's black crime that creates bad feeling and if you criticise it, you are immediately called a racist."

A middle-aged woman listening to the conversation said, in a conciliatory voice: "Look, don't get us wrong. We are all sorry for what happened to Stephen Lawrence, well a lot of us are anyway. But I don't think this report or whatever is going to change anything.

"You will never change people's attitude towards race. That's the way it is."

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