Spate of racist stabbings in Eltham had gone unpunished

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The Independent Online

One alleged victim of the Acourt gang, who was lucky to survive after being stabbed in the stomach, said he was "overjoyed" that two of its members now face jail.

Gurdeep Bhangal, now 41, was attacked with a kitchen knife outside his father's Wimpy franchise in Eltham on 11 March 1993, during a spate of racist attacks in the weeks before Stephen Lawrence's murder. He had confronted a group of abusive white youths that he alleges included David Norris. Another member of the group stabbed him.

"The knife went in from the side of my stomach, through my bowel and missed my spine by about a centimetre," said Mr Bhangal. Police investigated the attack but no charges were brought

Campaigners claim that the failure of police to act created a culture of impunity. The Macpherson inquiry report highlighted the case and said that Jamie Acourt, David Norris, Neil Acourt and Gary Dobson had not been picked out during identity parades.

The family of one man killed 20 months before Stephen Lawrence blamed police and prosecutors for failing to crack down on gangs. Rolan Adams, 15, was killed in February 1991. A group of 15 thugs attacked Rolan and his brother but only one, Mark Thornburrow, was convicted of murder and jailed for a minimum of 10 years. He was not connected to the Acourt gang. "The judge acknowledged that it was racist and he carried and used a knife," said Rolan's father, Richard Adams. "If Thornburrow had received the sentence he deserved, the knife-carrying culture that followed could have been stopped in its tracks."

The area was known as a hotbed of racist activity even before then. Twelve families fled the area, according to racism monitors.

In July 1992, Rohit Duggal was stabbed to death by a white youth outside a kebab shop. The killer, Peter Thompson, was found guilty of murder. He was said to have links to the Acourt gang. The attack came a year after the stabbing of another man outside the same shops.

Kevin London, a black teenager, claimed he was confronted in November 1992 by a gang of white youths, including Gary Dobson, who was armed with a large knife. The claim came to light only after the killing of Stephen Lawrence. No charges were laid.

In one week in March 1993, two men were stabbed in Eltham High Street, with witnesses describing members of the Acourt gang. The following week, a white man, Stacey Benefield, was stabbed in the chest. He identified David Norris as the attacker and Neil Acourt as being with him. Norris was the only man tried. He was acquitted.

* 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