Two sent for trial in Lawrence murder case

Two men were yesterday committed for trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in a rare private prosecution brought by the dead teenager's parents - after the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop the case.

The Lawrence family, who had fought for two years to get the case to court, accused the CPS of failing in its public duty by dropping the charges and not offering any help. The prosecuting authority's embarrassment was compounded when Ian Johnston, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, arrived at Belmarsh magistrates' court in south-east London yesterday to congratulate the family. "I came to wish the family well and promise them our continued support," he said.

The committal of Luke Knight, 18, and Neil Acourt, 20, after a 10-day hearing, has prompted the CPS to review the evidence. However, the Law- rence family said they did not want the authority to take over the prosecution.

In a statement Stephen's mother, Doreen, said: "We have come this far without the CPS and it is our wish now to continue to the end without their involvement."

She said that when the CPS dropped charges on the eve of a planned committal in 1993: "It was an act as hurtful and as painful in its effect as the news that Stephen had been killed.

"No family should ever have to experience the last two years of our lives. This is the worst kind of fame. We have been brought into the public spotlight, not by our own acts, but by the failure of others who were under a public duty to act. The decision of the court today stands as the first clear indictment of that failure."

Stephen Lawrence, 18, an A-level student, was fatally stabbed at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. The family's campaign to bring the alleged killers to justice began the following July, culminating in what is only the fourth private prosecution for murder in the past 130 years. It has so far cost them about half of the pounds 45,000 they have raised for the case.

Five men were originally charged. But the case against Mr Acourt's brother, Jamie, 18, was dropped during the committal proceedings and David Cooper, the stipendiary magistrate, threw out the case against David Norris, also 18. The fifth defendant, Gary Dobson, 18, has not yet faced committal proceedings and is due to appear before Greenwich magistrates later this month.

Mr Knight and Mr Acourt, both of Eltham, were released on conditional bail pending their trial at the Old Bailey.

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