A lifetime since killing of Stephen Lawrence, trial starts with a 'clean slate'

Judge warns jury that, despite all the publicity, they must reach verdict on the evidence alone

Eighteen years after the killing of Stephen Lawrence, potential jurors in the trial of two men accused of murdering the black teenager were warned that they must "start with a clean slate".

Mr Justice Treacy ordered the pool of 24 potential jurors who will try one of the most notorious cases in recent legal history to ignore everything but the evidence that they will hear in court.

Mr Lawrence was 18 when he was stabbed to death in April 1993 as he waited for a bus in Eltham, south London. His death led to accusations of police incompetence, a lengthy public inquiry and major ramifications for the criminal justice and legal systems.

Yesterday his parents Neville and Doreen Lawrence, who have fought for almost two decades for justice for their son, appeared in the back of a packed Old Bailey court at the start of the trial.

Just feet away Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, sat in the dock, both clad in suit and tie and flanked by security guards. Both deny murdering the A-level student.

Mr Justice Treacy warned the potential jurors that they would be dealing with a case that had generated a great deal of debate over the years: "There has been a series of police investigations and there have been criticisms of the way the police went about their task, particularly in the early years. There was a court hearing to do with the case in 1996. There was a public inquest in 1997 and there was a public inquiry conducted by a judge into the way the case had been investigated in 1998," he said. "All of these attracted a great deal of publicity and a great deal of public comment because it has aroused strong feelings. Indeed, accusations have been made in the media and elsewhere as to who was responsible for the killing of Stephen Lawrence. Accusations have been made about the competence of the police investigation into the case."

General knowledge of such a well-known killing was to be expected, the judge added, but it was essential the jury remember they had taken a solemn oath to deliver a true verdict according to the evidence alone.

The judge explained that the prosecution case would largely be based on scientific evidence which had emerged in a recent reinvestigation, with the defence planning to challenge this new evidence and the way such exhibits had been handled since 1993.

The jurors were chosen after vetting to remove anyone who lived in the vicinity of the killing or had any form of connection to the case. The trial is expect to last at least until Christmas.