The Lawrence Report: The Parents - How a craving for truth turned into a crusade

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The Independent Online
NEVILLE AND Doreen Lawrence derived some grim satisfaction yesterday from the roasting received by the Metropolitan Police. Sir William Macpherson's report confirms their worst suspicions about the bigotry and ineptitude that afflicted the investigation of Stephen's murder.

Vindication, though, will not be sufficient to enable them to close this tragic chapter and start mourning their son. What they still crave is justice for Stephen, and that means one thing: to see at least some of his killers behind bars.

To that extent, the report, however important a landmark, however scathing its conclusions about racism, was bound to disappoint. And notably, it does not name Stephen's murderers - a step Sir William said he was prepared to take if the evidence emerged to justify it.

The family's hopes for the future lie with John Grieve, the deputy assistant commissioner parachuted in to revive the murder inquiry. Mr Grieve, who is pursuing new avenues of investigation, has held a series of meetings with the Lawrences.

The coming months are certain to be a difficult time for the family. The public inquiry process lasted nearly a year and it provided a focus, helping to fill the void left by Stephen's death. Earlier events, such as the couple's private prosecution of the five suspects, achieved a similar effect. Now there is nothing to divert them from their loss.

It is nearly six years since the Lawrences' cherished elder son was slaughtered. The courage with which they took on the police and the legal system has earned them a rare kind of admiration. In the eyes of the black community, they are virtual folk heroes.

Their fight for justice has made them reluctant public figures, thrust into the spotlight by what Mrs Lawrence calls "the worst kind of fame" - the fame of having a son who was brutally murdered, whose racist killers go about their daily lives with impunity. The pain must be nearly intolerable; they deal with it in different ways. Mrs Lawrence, once so carefree that her husband nicknamed her Joy, seethes with perpetual and barely concealed fury. Her dainty appearance masks a personality of steel. "The anger has kept me going," she says. "Without it I'll crumble."

Mrs Lawrence, who took the lead in the early years of their campaign, has retreated to a largely private existence. Life revolves around her job as a university welfare officer, her studies - she is in the middle of an MSc course in therapeutic counselling - and her family: Stuart, 22, a graphic design student, and Georgina, 17, who has just started at art college.

Mr Lawrence's emotions are closer to the surface. He often cries when he talks about Stephen and he still collapses, sometimes, when he hears that horrific account of his son being surrounded and stabbed in the street. He has decided that the murder was symptomatic of a wider malaise and channels his energies into campaigning against racism. "I am hoping this will be my solace," he says.

His other mission is to counsel relatives of victims of racist violence, and to that end he has set up a charity, United Families Campaign, in partnership with Richard Adams, whose 15-year-old son Rolan was killed by a white gang in 1991.

Georgina has helped them to survive, Mr Lawrence says. She was just 11 when Stephen was murdered, and appears to have coped better than the rest of the family.

Mr and Mrs Lawrence grieve separately. As often happens in such situations, the loss of a child drove a wedge between them rather than bringing them closer. They now live apart and, six years on, are still unable to talk to each other about their bereavement. "People blame each other," said Mr Lawrence recently. "We've had our problems and are still having problems. I'm trying to see if there's a way I can stop my marriage breaking up."

Mrs Lawrence has said: "Every time you try and get close, you find you don't seem to know how to ... it has ruined our lives so much that nobody outside could ever begin to understand."

Yet there is still much common ground. Both find comfort in their religious faith. Last September, in tribute to their son's ambition to become an architect, they set up the Stephen Lawrence Trust to provide grants to young black people with similar dreams.

They are also bonded by a burning desire to see Stephen's killers punished. Both acknowledge that this prospect is now remote. "I don't think anybody is going to do any time for the death of my son, and that's the worst thing I can ever face," said Mr Lawrence. "I am just hoping for a miracle."

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