Friend weeps as he recalls 'blows that killed Lawrence'

Court hears graphic and emotional testimony from witness who insisted on taking stand – despite his father's death on Wednesday

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The Independent Online

"Wham," said Duwayne Brooks. "Just like that." And then to demonstrate the first of two fatal blows that killed Stephen Lawrence, he drew his hand back behind his head and brought it scything down on to the front edge of the witness box.

In a day of compelling evidence at the Old Bailey, a weeping Mr Brooks, 37, recounted the final minutes of his best friend's life after he was struck by two knife blows during an attack by a racist gang 18 years ago. They both went at least a foot into his body, the court was told.

Mr Brooks, who gave evidence despite the death of his father overnight, told the court how the gang converged on his friend after hurling a racist insult at the two them. Two members of the six-strong white gang hit Mr Lawrence with weapons before they fled, he said.

Mr Brooks, a local councillor, said that his view of the attack was initially blocked by a tree, but he went to help his friend and they ran off together. He described the confusion of Mr Lawrence as he tried to run away.

"He kept asking what was wrong because he couldn't run properly," Mr Brooks said. "Blood was streaming out through his neck and his jacket.

"We were running and his blood was dripping on the floor," Mr Brooks said, before he was unable to continue for a period, gripping his face in his hand. When the prosecuting counsel told him that he did not have to continue with his evidence, he insisted: "I want to say..."

Mr Brooks added that Mr Lawrence kept asking what had happened to him, asking Mr Brooks to look at him. "Then we were running. I kept saying to him, 'Just run'." Mr Brooks wept as he looked at a picture of the scene where his friend died. He added: "He said one more time: 'Duwayne'. His voice was all funny and he fell at that tree."

His evidence was witnessed by Mr Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville, and their son Stuart, sitting between them, who at one point appeared to wipe a tear with his hand.

The two defendants, Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, made notes in the dock as they listened to the evidence. They are accused of being part of the group that killed Mr Lawrence after new forensic evidence came to light following a review of the case in 2008. Both of them deny murder.

Mr Brooks, who said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the years after the attack, said that he and Mr Lawrence had been friends since they met on the first day of secondary school. On the day of the attack, they were walking down the road trying to see a bus to take them home from Eltham, south-east London, when Mr Brooks said he first spotted a group of boys. They crossed the road towards them and one shouted "What, what, nigger," he told the court.

Mr Brooks told the court that he was running ahead of Mr Lawrence and turned to see him being surrounded by the group. He said he saw a man, wearing a grey bomber jacket, with a foot-long "shiny" weapon, run straight at Mr Lawrence and hit him with it.

Another member of the gang was chasing him, Mr Brooks said, but then turned back and ran towards Stephen. The second man "had like a metal bar in his hand. When he ran back he hit him with that bar. Stephen was just getting up when he hit him and knocked Stephen down again. It looked like in his head," he said.

Mr Brooks also described his frantic attempts to call for help at a phone box and how he tried to flag down passers-by to get help. The court was read a statement from Conor Taaffe who prayed over Mr Lawrence as his life ebbed away: "I was holding his head and back and prayed over him and said things like 'Bless him Lord Jesus'."

His wife, Louise, said she put her hand on Stephen's jacket and said comforting words to him as he fought to stay alive. The court has heard that Mr Lawrence was taken to hospital but was declared dead early the following day. During cross-examination, Mr Brooks said he remembered more details of the case over time and was suffering from PTSD when he gave evidence at a court in 1995 saying that he had seen the gang some time before the attack. He said he could not say now that was true. "I wasn't in the right frame of mind to be giving evidence at that time," he said.

The case continues.

Jury told to set aside emotion and sympathies

Mr Justice Treacy told the jury at the Old Bailey to put aside any feelings of sympathy for Duwayne Brooks, after the friend of Stephen Lawrence insisted on giving his evidence despite the death of his father overnight.

The eight men and four women were instructed that they could only weigh the case on what he said while he was in the witness box, after the court heard that Mr Brooks had been given the opportunity to postpone his appearance "until the immediate pain of the bereavement has subsided".

"Everyone in the courtroom would feel natural sympathy for Mr Brooks in the position in which he finds himself... [but] your role will be to judge the evidence,"the judge said.