Lawrence killers may be given longer jail terms

Attorney General reviews sentences handed to racist murderers after request from the public

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The Independent Online

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, is to review the jail terms given to two of Stephen Lawrence's killers following complaints by the public that they were too lenient.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, were handed relatively low minimum jail terms of 15 years and 14 years respectively in part because they were juveniles at the time of the attack on Stephen Lawrence.

The two men were members of an all-white gang which chased, surrounded and stabbed the 18-year-black teenager in a race attack in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993. They were convicted of murder by a jury on Tuesday.

A member of the public with no links to the Lawrence family made a formal request to Mr Grieve after the trial judge, Mr Justice Treacy indicated the two defendants would have got much higher jail terms for their "terrible and evil" crime if they had been sentenced under rules in force today. The judge said he was "constrained" by the law from imposing longer ones.

The first of several complaints were made within hours of sentencing. The Lawrence family had been resigned to the relatively low sentences and the victim's mother, Doreen, said outside court that she was grateful to the judge because his "hands were tied". "I would have liked longer sentences but the law is the law," Mrs Lawrence said.

Mr Justice Treacy said the law dictates that he could not sentence Dobson and Norris as the "mature men" they now are. "It may be, therefore, that the resultant sentences are lower than some might expect, but the law as laid down by Parliament must be applied and I am constrained by it," he said.

Any member of the public can make a formal complaint about sentencing. Officials from the Attorney General's office will examine the claim and will decide by 1 February. Figures from the Attorney General showed that 342 sentences were referred to his office in 2010. Of these 77 were passed on to the Court of Appeal and sentences were increased in 60 of the cases.

Scotland Yard said yesterday that there was no "current plan" to disband the Stephen Lawrence inquiry team in light of the convictions. Sources had said that there would be a fight over the team's future in the coming weeks in the face of cuts to the Metropolitan Police.

The Lawrence family is due to meet the police team soon, when the decision will be made on whether it remains at full strength to try to convict the three or four other people believed to have been part of the group of attackers.

However, the prospects of anyone else being brought to justice are thought to be slight due to the lack of forensic evidence.

The law: What it means

The two Lawrence killers escaped longer jail terms because of their age at the time of the murder – Mr Justice Treacy said an adult committing the crime today would face a minimum of 30 years. Dobson, nearly 18 in April 1993, was sentenced to more than 15 years after the judge took into account aggravating matters. Norris was jailed for 14 years as he was younger than Dobson.

Father recalls final conversation

Stephen Lawrence's parents have "never once" talked to each other properly about what happened to their son, his father said last night. Neville Lawrence said his son's death wrecked his marriage and that while he and Stephen's mother, Doreen, remained together another six years, their relationship was broken from the day he died.

"We never physically touched one another again," he said in a Daily Mail interview.

He also recalled his last conversation with his son, in which he reminded Stephen to get home to greet his mother back from a university course. It took place on the day of the murder. He thinks now about "how much more I could have said, if only I'd known it would be our last".

Lewis Smith