`They killed Steve and ruined my whole life'

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The Independent Online
A POWERFUL and moving account of Stephen Lawrence's final moments was given yesterday by his close friend, Duwayne Brooks, who also delivered a stinging attack on the conduct of police who investigated the murder.

"Steve and I were young black men. Racist thugs killed Steve and shattered my life," Mr Brooks told the public inquiry into Stephen's death. "I think of Steve every day. I'm sad, confused and pissed about this system where racists attack and go free, but innocent victims like Steve and I are treated like criminals."

In statements read out by his barrister during a highly charged day of evidence, Mr Brooks, 23, alleged that detectives stood by as his friend's life ebbed away, insisted that they must have provoked the attack, and treated him as a suspect.

He also related how, the night before he testified at the murder trial, police took him to stay at a hotel in Eltham, south-east London, close to where Stephen, 18, was stabbed to death by a white gang in April 1993. He was too terrified to sleep. "It felt like they took me to Eltham to break my spirit," he said.

Stephen's father, Neville, left the chamber in distress and then collapsed while the statements were being read. He later recovered.

Mr Brooks, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, sat beside his legal team and spoke only to confirm the veracity of the statements.

In them, he described how Stephen was stabbed as they were waiting for a bus home. Stephen managed to get up and stagger across the road after him, he said.

"I sensed that Stephen wasn't keeping up with me and heard him call: `Duwayne, look at me, tell me what's wrong'," he said. "I looked back and saw blood on his jacket, it seemed to be pumping out from somewhere. I said to him: `Just keep running' and he said: `I can't, I can't'."

Mr Brooks, whose evidence as the key witness was discredited by police, described how he gave an account of the attack to one officer, Constable Linda Bethel. Her response, he said, was to ask "if I had any weapons on me". Mr Brooks said: "I got the impression that the police were repulsed by the blood that was there."

PC Bethel repeatedly asked him who the attackers were. "I said I didn't know the boys. She said: `Your friend is lying there and you say you don't know who those boys are!'"

At no point during the evening, Mr Brooks said, did officers inquire after his welfare or ask if he had been attacked himself. He said they refused to allow him to travel in the ambulance with Stephen, telling him there was "no space". "They carried Steve to the ambulance on a stretcher. His unopened ginger beer can fell from him on to the floor. I picked it up. I took it home and kept it in my room, until one day it exploded."

At the hospital where Stephen was pronounced dead, "I was offered no comfort," he said. Mr Brooks described how he became increasingly fearful for his safety as the days went by. Police did not give him adequate support or protection, he alleged. Twice he bumped into some of the youths who attacked Stephen. "I was frightened for my life," he said. "I would like to say how unsafe I felt, and sometimes still feel."

He said that, in interviews, police repeatedly asked him what he and Stephen had done to provoke the attack, telling him they could not believe they had been set upon "for nothing". One officer, Detective Sergeant John Bevan, asked him if they had been harassing some white girls in a local McDonald's, "as they had had reports of black boys doing that". "He said that officers above him didn't believe me that it was purely a racist attack."

Mr Brooks related how, after charges against the murder suspects were dropped, he was arrested for public order offences arising out of an anti- racist demonstration. "They waited five months to prosecute me," he said. "It felt like the police and prosecutors decided to get at me to ruin my reputation and the chance of any further prosecution of the murderers."

Three white youths were acquitted of killing Stephen in 1996 after doubt was cast by one officer on Mr Brooks's identification evidence.