Lawrence family: A son killed, a marriage destroyed – but they never gave up


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The Independent Online

Stephen Lawrence was ambitious, loved art and excelled at sport – but had a rebellious streak. He wanted to become an architect and was steadfastly working towards that goal. The tragedy for his family is that he was not able to realise his dreams, but has instead become a byword for racial intolerance and violence in Britain.

The family's friends say Stephen was no goody-goody, but was blessed with maturity and humour. He was a music fan and a talented athlete who was an active member of Cambridge Harriers running club. He is now buried in Jamaica, the country his parents left in the 1960s in search of a better life.

His mother said she was pleased she had buried her son in the home of her birth. "If he was buried in the UK his grave would have been desecrated so many times," she told the BBC's Panorama. "Nobody knows where he is and it's a peaceful place for him and the country didn't deserve to have him, because they took his life."

That two men were ever jailed for his killing was all down to the forcefulness of a public campaign in which Doreen Lawrence, 59, personally persuaded Jack Straw to hold a public inquiry that became a watershed for race relations in Britain and led to major police reforms.

Neville Lawrence, 69, and Mrs Lawrence, both moved to Britain from Jamaica in the early 1960s and married in 1972. Stephen was born two years later and the family was living in Woolwich in April 1993 with Stephen's younger brother Stuart and their daughter Georgina. Mrs Lawrence admitted being largely unaware of the web of racism and knife crime in the area before the murder and said that "nothing much disturbed me or my confidence in my family's future".

Their unwanted status as fierce campaigners came only because of the death of their son on his way to the family home in Woolwich. Two weeks after his death, frustrated by the police failure to arrest anyone in the case, the family met Nelson Mandela at the start of their campaign for justice. She told him of her anger that the killers were at large while her son was lying on a slab.

Her anger was compounded when she learnt that none of the suspects would be prosecuted for the murder while she was in Jamaica to bury her son. "I never dreamed that this campaign would have to be sustained for so long and that we would have to battle against such grinding official resistance," she wrote in her book And Still I Rise. "The campaign now seemed like a lifeline, and I thanked God for it."

Their campaign drove the failed private prosecution of the five suspects. As they were gathering material, the scale of the evidence available to the police became clear. That only increased their mistrust of the authorities and their suspicions that corruption played a role in the original inquiry.

The Lawrences' demands for a public inquiry stalled until a change of government in 1997. They had been given hope while Labour was in opposition, but during a frustrating meeting with Jack Straw, Mrs Lawrence felt they were being offered a watered-down version of what she wanted. She believed she changed his mind after the meeting, when she pressed her demands as she walked with the Home Secretary down a long corridor to the lifts.

The Macpherson inquiry lacerated the Metropolitan Police, and led to revolutionary change, extending the Race Relations Act to the police and central government bodies. "Back in 1993, I would never have dreamed that an ordinary black couple could challenge the police and the government and end up changing the way they conduct themselves," Mrs Lawrence said. "I argue more with officials than I would have done before ... I do public things, not because I want to but because I feel I have to, in order to maintain the reforms we achieved after such a long struggle.

"Society may have benefited from the campaign that my family and the people I love have fought, but I have lost my son, I have lost my marriage, my children have lost their brother, and they have also lost a large part of their lives."

Mr and Mrs Lawrence parted in July 1998 and divorced the following year.

Mrs Lawrence's statement

"I would like to thank all those people that have expressed kindness and support for me and my family over the last 18 years. I would also like to thank the jury for their verdicts today. However, despite these verdicts, today is not a cause for celebration.

How can I celebrate when my son lies buried? When I cannot see him or speak to him? These verdicts will not bring my son back. How can I celebrate when I know that this day could have come 18 years ago if the police who were meant to find my son's killers had not failed so miserably to do so?

All I now feel is relief that two of my son's killers have finally been caught and brought to justice; relief that these racist men can no longer think that they can murder a black man and get away with it.

But mixed with relief is anger – anger that me and my family were put through 18 years of grief and uncertainty, not knowing if or when we would ever get justice.

This result shows that the police can do their job properly – but only if they want to. The fact is that racism and racist attacks are still happening in this country and the police should not use my son's name to say that we can move on."

Mr Lawrence's statement

"My life was torn apart by the senseless murder of my son over 18 years ago. Unfortunately no one was brought before a court at that time as they should have been.

The loss itself, together with the lack of justice, have meant that I have not been able to rest all this time. I'm therefore full of joy and relief that today, finally, two of my son's killers have been convicted. They will be sent to prison and forced to face the consequences of their actions – consequences which my family and I have been living with all these years.

I would like to thank the police and prosecutors for their faultless preparation and delivery of the case. I would like to thank the judge for the work he has put in to ensure that the suspects had a fair trial. I thank the jury for their careful attention to my son's case day after day and the verdicts they have delivered.

Something has happened over the last seven weeks – I have watched justice being done. I will let this good news sink in for some time.

However, I'm also conscious of the fact that there were five or six attackers that night. I do not think I'll be able to rest until they are all brought to justice."

* Stephen Lawrence: How the case breakthrough came
* A shrunken family: The first journalist to interview the Lawrences recalls the scene
* The science that helped convict Gary Dobson