Mothers at war over Lawrence killing claims

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The Independent Online

An acrimonious dispute between the mother of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence and the family of the young man who was the victim of the same attack threatens to awaken painful memories of one of Britain's most shocking race killings.

Duwayne Brooks, a friend of Stephen, was with him when a racist gang attacked them as they waited at a bus stop in south-east London 13 years ago.

The bad feeling has been caused by an allegation made by Doreen Lawrence in her autobiography that Duwayne's family had neglected him in his own hours of need after the killing.

Mrs Lawrence also accuses Duwayne's mother, Shirleen Bailey, of coming to her house on the night of the murder and telling her that she was glad it was Stephen who died and not her son.

Mrs Bailey, who hasn't spoken to Mrs Lawrence since the week of the killing, denies that she made the comment or that she deserted her son at the time of the killing.

Mrs Bailey, who married after her relationship with Duwayne's father broke down, said she had remained silent for 13 years out of respect for the grieving Lawrence family. But she told The Independent: "Of course I think of Mr and Mrs Lawrence but also think of Duwayne and what I know he is still going through. Now she has written this book I don't want people to think I was a bad mother. Mrs Lawrence can't really know our family or how we lived."

Duwayne lived with his mother, stepfather and two sisters and brother in Grove Park, a few miles from the Lawrences. Stephen and Duwayne had met at Blackheath Bluecoat School and were still friends when Stephen was studying for his A-levels at Woolwich College.

When his house became a little cramped, Duwayne moved into a hostel for young men.

On the night of 22 April 1993 Mrs Bailey heard about the stabbing from a family friend, who rang up to tell her that "Duwayne had gone mad". She remembers: "We went to the Brook Hospital, where we were told that Duwayne had been taken to Plumstead police station. I was driven to the police station by my cousin and her husband. We were shown into a room where Duwayne was with four plainclothes police officers. He told me that he was at a bus stop and four or six boys were across the road. One shouted 'nigger' and Duwayne told him [Stephen] to run. So I said, 'It was a racial killing.' The police said can I leave the room, they asked me to leave. I walked past the desk sergeant and repeated, 'It's a racial killing.' But the sergeant said: 'Mrs Brooks, don't jump to conclusions, we don't know that.' "

Mrs Bailey was then driven to the Lawrences' house in Ladywell. In her book, And Still I Rise, Mrs Lawrence describes the meeting: "I don't know how Duwayne's mother found out about Stephen's death, but she came to our house, accompanied by a friend ... She did not make a good impression on me. How long she stayed I don't know; all I remember about her being there is that she said something about having told Duwayne that whenever there was trouble he must run. She also said she was glad it wasn't her son. I could understand her feeling that, but it was not what I wanted to hear a few hours after my son had been killed."

Mrs Bailey has a different recollection of events. "I wanted to support her, to help her grieve like any mother would. I did not say that I was glad that Stephen was dead. How could I say such a thing? I was with my cousin and we were both crying. I said, 'I don't know what I would have done if it was Duwayne,' not I was glad it was Stephen and not Duwayne. Perhaps through her pain that's what she thought I said. But my son and her son were the best of friends, regardless of whether we had met before."

In her book, Mrs Lawrence also gives her opinion of Duwayne when he came to visit the Lawrences on the night of the murder: "We had heard stories, especially in that first week, that since he lived on his own in a hostel, the police were just turning up whenever they wanted to question him or take him to make statements ... [Duwayne] seemed to have no contact with his family. I wondered why he hadn't gone home to his mother, and why she hadn't come to look after him."

Mrs Bailey and Duwayne's two aunts say this a slur on their characters. "I wasn't a perfect mother, but I was a good mother, just like she was. I was the one who phoned Duwayne to tell him to go round to see Mrs Lawrence. I was as supportive as any mother could have been."