DNA traces 'link accused' to Stephen Lawrence's death

Eighteen years after the teenager's brutal killing, a court hears of the spots of blood that could provide vital evidence

Within minutes of being "swallowed" up by a gang of white youths, Stephen Lawrence lay dying in the street, bleeding from two stab wounds.

The racist killing of the black 18-year-old was recounted once more yesterday as the trial of two men accused of his murder began at the Old Bailey.

Eighteen years on, the crown prosecution is hoping that spots of blood and fibre fragments – dismissed as less than a "teaspoon" of evidence by the defence – will finally solve a murder that shook the British criminal system.

But yesterday, as Mark Ellison QC, opened the case before the jury the court was reminded that, above all, this was about the unprovoked death of an innocent youngster. Attacked simply because of the colour of his skin, he fled for his life but collapsed on the street, mortally wounded.

Neville and Doreen Lawrence were back before yet another hearing into their son's death, unbowed in their long fight for justice. Briefly Mr Lawrence left court unable to listen once more to his son's last moments alive.

Nearby, two of the original suspects, Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, sat in the dock. Now in their thirties, they focused on bundles of legal docments, listening intently to the evidence. Both deny murdering the A-level student.

Initially arrested within days of the murder, they are charged with the killing almost two decades later because of a cold case review in 2007 in which a fresh approach by forensic scientists revealed DNA findings, which the prosecution insists prove the pair were among the violent gang. The defence reject them as simply a product of cross contamination over the ensuing years.

The prosecution could not prove whether one or either of the men wielded the knife, Mr Ellison said yesterday, but that they were part of a group of "like minded" young white men who acted together, in a "totally unproved" attack. He added: "The only discernible reason was the colour of his skin."

The night

It was a Thursday, around 10.35pm, on 22 April 1993 that Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks, 18, were waiting for a bus home from Eltham in South London. Without warning a gang of about five white youths raced towards them, one yelling "what, what nigger".

Stephen was not quick enough to run as his friend fled in fear. One witness described how, "He was swallowed up by the weight of numbers and forced to the ground," said Mr Ellison.

The first knife struck him around the right collar bone, severing an artery, as he collapsed the second blow hit him in the right shoulder, slicing through another artery. He got to his feet and ran for his life, but he made it just 200m.

"He collapsed onto the pavement, opposite the junction with Downman Road, never to get up again," said the barrister. By the time the ambulance arrived there were no signs of life. Just before midnight he was declared dead.

The suspects

Police first spoke to Gary Dobson two days after the murder during house-to-house inquiries when he told a detective he had been at home studying on the night of the murder, the court heard yesterday. He said he had only heard of Stephen Lawrence's death after reading about it in a newspaper.

Mr Dobson changed his story two weeks later after he was arrested by police on May 7, 1993, the court heard. He said he left home at 11.45pm on the night of the killing to the nearby home of Neil Acourt, 17, and his brother Jamie, 16, to collect a Bob Marley CD. While there, someone called at the house to say that a boy had been murdered at Well Hall Road, he told police. Dobson said that he was home just after midnight.

Also in the police interview, he claimed that he did not know his co-defendant, David Norris, saying in police interview that "he had heard the name mentioned once or twice".

But the court heard that before their arrest, the pair had been photographed together by police who were watching the Acourts' house. "So it seems Gary Dobson was trying to distance himself from knowing David Norris in that initial police interview," said Mr Ellison.

When he was arrested, police seized a grey-yellow bomber jacket from his bedroom and a cardigan from his parents' bedroom. Scientific evidence from those items lies at the heart of the new case, the court heard.

David Norris was 17 at the time of the murder. He was not at home in Chislehurst when police came to arrest him in May 1993 and he handed himself in three days later. Clothing seized from his house is key to the case against him.

The history

The original police investigation did not lead to any prosecutions, the court heard yesterday. Three years later, the Lawrence family brought a private prosecution but that was stopped "because the evidence was found to be wholly unreliable", Mr Ellison told the court.

An inquest was followed by an independent public inquiry which reported back in 1999 and was critical of the original police investigation.

"From time to time, media have sought to accuse a number of individuals of involvement despite no evidence to be brought before a court of law to be tried by a jury," said Mr Ellison.

The new scientific evidence brought in the case followed a cold case review in 2007 and led to the arrests of Norris and Dobson in September last year.

Cold case

Fourteen years had elapsed when forensic scientists, experts in cold case reviews, were asked to look at the evidence previously tested by the Home Office Forensic Science Service. The LGC Forensic scientists, Mr Ellison said, worked from the assumption that new evidence may well be found.

"The initial examination started a chain of events that even they had not predicted," he continued. Armed with scientific advances they began examining Mr Lawrence's clothing along with that of the suspects.

Despite the fact no traces of blood had been found on Gary Dobson's grey bomber jacket, they found a tiny spot of blood – just 0.5mm x 0.25mm – in the collar which matched the teenager's profile by a one-in-a-billion chance.

On the jacket and within the exhibit bag that it had been held in for so many years they went on to find 16 cloth fibres that matched his polo shirt, jacket and cardigan. Blood fragments also matched Mr Lawrence's profile, while tiny flecks on the outer surface of the jacket were not as conclusive. On Mr Dobson's cardigan, three blue green fibres were found that appeared to match Mr Lawrence's jacket. Short pieces of hair found on a pair of jeans seized from the home of Mr Norris were sent to the US for specialist DNA testing and were found to be similar to those found on Mr Lawrence's clothing, the court heard.

Fibres were also found on his clothing that matched Mr Lawrence's, the prosecution said. When asked after his arrest last year, how they got there, Mr Norris made no comment. "The only reasonable conclusion to be draw is that David Norris as well as Gary Dobson participated in the attack on Stephen Lawrence," the court heard.

Contamination

The defence claim that Gary Dobson was at home at his parents' house at the time of the attack and the charge against him is based on unreliable evidence.

Timothy Roberts QC for Mr Dobson said the evidence had been accidentally transferred to his client's clothes during handling by police and scientists.

In addition, he blamed a police officer for a "grave breach of security" after tampering with evidence. He insisted: "The physical evidence on which this charge is based... won't fill a teaspoon."

Timeline: The Lawrence case

April 1993 Stephen Lawrence is stabbed to death in an unprovoked racist attack in Eltham, south London.

April 1996 A private prosection collapses after evidence relating to identification is ruled inadmissable.

Feburary 1999 The public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson delivers its final report. The police are criticised, particularly for the initial investigation, and radical reforms to race-relations law are recommended.

July 2006 The police launch a review of the murder.

September 2010 Gary Dobson and David Norris are arrested and charged.

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