The Lawrence Report: The Victim - A boy full of life, not just an icon

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The Independent Online
THE PHOTOGRAPH is instantly recognisable. It has been held aloft on banners, reproduced countless times in newspapers. It shows a young man wearing a striped pullover and a slightly quizzical expression, his right fist clenched in a Black Power salute.

Stephen Lawrence is a household name, and that familiar image has come to symbolise the injustices heaped on Britain's black communities. But Stephen was not an icon; he was a flesh and blood youth with the hopes and dreams of any 18-year-old.

He loved soul music, designer clothes and hanging out with his friends. Like any teenager, he was rebellious and occasionally kicked over the traces. When he died, he had just met a girl whom he liked and he was looking forward to their first date together.

"Stephen was funny, argumentative, smart, cunning, slippery sometimes," said Elvin Oduro, who was his best friend. "You had to get up early to catch him out."

Another friend, Leon Thompson, said: "He was always happy, always smiling. Even when he was in a bad mood, he wouldn't take it out on you. He was never a troublemaker; he was an easy-going person. He loved music and sport. He just loved life."

Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, brought him up to respect the values of discipline, hard work and religious faith. But they were not oppressive and there was no shortage of laughter in their household in Plumstead, south-east London. Stephen got on well with his two younger siblings, Stuart and Georgina.

He was keen on sport, and an accomplished athlete who ran for a club, Cambridge Harriers. He and Duwayne Brooks, the friend who was with him when he was stabbed, often challenged each other to races in local parks.

Stephen's sunny, outgoing nature was apparent from an early age. The Rev David Cruise, former vicar at Trinity Methodist Church, where the family worshipped, said: "He was a very bright boy, very lively, very attractive. It was difficult to tell him off. He would just give you this disarming smile. He grew up into a strong-willed young man. He was a bit headstrong; he wanted to be his own person."

When Stephen was at Blackheath Bluecoats School, he studied for three A-levels: design and technology, physics and English. He was popular at school, and he went out of his way to look after younger boys. Like his parents, he had black and white friends.

He loved art, was good at drawing and had set his heart on becoming an architect.

That ambition was strengthened by a fortnight's work experience in 1991 with Arthur Timothy, a black architect in east London. "He was very diligent, very enthusiastic," said Mr Timothy. "We thought he had enormous potential."

Elvin, 23, and Leon, 22, were part of a circle of friends that also included Duwayne. Last night they gave BBC Newsroom Southeast a rare insight into the real Stephen, the person almost lost amid the anger and outrage sparked by his murder.

The friends would visit each other's houses, go to concerts - they liked reggae, hip hop and soul music - and out on "missions" to explore new parts of London.

"We used to go up to Oxford Street on a Saturday, window-shopping, getting up to mischief, looking for girls," said Elvin. "You didn't know who you were going to meet along the way, but it was always fun.

"Stephen was a joker. He was always playing jokes on people. He was always cracking up in the background, laughing."

Stephen got paid for helping Neville with decorating jobs, and he liked to buy sportswear from labels such as Diesel.

He had many ambitions: to set up an architect's practice, get rich, buy a Porsche and a big house, have a wife and kids, perhaps go to live in Jamaica.

Leon said: "The biggest memory I have of him is of just before he died. We were all waiting for our different buses, and he was talking about some girl that liked him and wanted to see him. He was going to go out that Saturday and meet her, and he was really happy about it because she was really nice."

Stephen was keenly aware of racism and was wary of Eltham, the suburb where he was killed. "Any time he walked through there, he would say, `Just do what you're doing, walk, don't look at anybody's faces'," said Elvin.

His friends remember the moment when they were told that he was dead.

"I felt like my stomach had been ripped out," said Elvin. "It's like he was there, and then he wasn't. When they said it was because he was black, I was thinking, `That was it?' Anybody who can do that, as far as I'm concerned, they're not human."