She stared. He wept. The 18-year wait for a guilty verdict was over
Wednesday 04 January 2012
In the taut silence of an Old Bailey courtroom yesterday, Doreen Lawrence shed a single tear. Almost 19 years after her eldest son was knifed to death by a racist gang, the foreman of a jury had handed her – at last – some measure of justice.
Mrs Lawrence had sat through seven weeks of evidence about the gang – which "swallowed" Stephen at 10.35pm on 22 April 1993 – and had campaigned ceaselessly since his death for the capture of his killers.
As Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder, her composure showed only the slightest signs of shaking. Some 10ft to her right, her ex-husband Neville, with whom she rarely shared a word during the trial, repeatedly wiped away tears.
He later described the moment as coming up for air having been underwater – "I felt as if my heart was going to come through my mouth" – and pleaded with the convicted men to name the others who had murdered Stephen for being black.
After one public inquiry, five Metropolitan Police commissioners and a fundamental change in the British criminal justice system that had been found woefully lacking, two of the 18-year-old's killers were served with their retribution at 2.36pm yesterday.
Mr Lawrence, 69, said he felt "joy and relief" at the verdicts, but added outside court that he was conscious that five or six men had attacked his son. Of Dobson and Norris, he said last night: "I'm praying that... before the sentence is passed, they will talk and give the rest of these people that killed my son up."
Police revealed that nine other men – all members of the gang headed by Norris and his friend Neil Acourt – remain under suspicion for being part of the murder. Scotland Yard sources say that the nine include three of the men who have previously been accused of the murder – Neil Acourt, his younger brother Jamie and Luke Knight – and six other people who had ties to the gang.
Sixteen suspects were arrested during the course of the inquiry since 1993. But Alison Saunders, the chief crown prosecutor for London, said: "The only evidence at the moment where there was a realistic prospect of conviction is with Dobson and Norris."
The verdicts yesterday came after nine hours of deliberation by a jury of eight men and four women, who decided that what defence lawyers described as "less than a teaspoon" of forensic evidence had proven the guilt of the two defendants.
As he was led away, Gary Dobson, 36, who was a 17-year-old college student on the night he joined the gang that inflicted two 13cm-deep knife wounds on Stephen in 10 seconds of unprovoked hate, showed some of the snarling defiance which became the calling card of the Lawrence suspects.
He shouted to the jury, who learnt yesterday that he was already serving five years for drug dealing when arrested for the murder in 2010: "You have condemned an innocent man here today. I hope you can all live with it."
His fellow killer, a sallow-faced 35-year-old who was 16 in 1993, seemed to smile to himself as he was taken down. Norris, who was jailed in 2002 for racially abusing an off-duty police officer near the scene where Stephen Lawrence was murdered, is the son of a notorious drug dealer who police say schooled the suspects on how to avoid justice for years. The pair will be sentenced by Mr Justice Treacy today, and will serve a minimum of 12 years, the sentencing taking into account that they were juveniles at the time of the murder.
Outside the court, Mrs Lawrence, 59, flanked by Stephen's younger brother Stuart, said she felt no sense of celebration at the fact that the killers of her "bright, beautiful" son whom she missed "with a passion" had been convicted after the botched police investigations which saw the Met formally branded "institutionally racist".
In a statement, she said: "Today is not a cause for celebration. How can I celebrate when my son lies buried? 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, failed so miserably to do so. These are not reasons to celebrate.
"All I feel now is relief. 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 you can murder a black man and get away with it."
Scotland Yard insisted it was "not the end of the road" and that shifting allegiances and new scientific breakthroughs could see more men in the dock. However, fears were raised yesterday that failings in the crucial initial days of the police operation mean no further prosecutions will be possible.
The two were eventually convicted on the basis of tiny blood spots, fibres and hairs from Stephen Lawrence that were discovered on clothes seized from their homes during police raids on 7 May 1993 after a cold case review.
As the Lawrences stood outside the Old Bailey, a small crowd cheered them and traffic stopped. Before he drove off, the white driver of a black taxi shouted: "Thank God, finally justice."
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