Stephen Lawrence's murder left a 'shrunken, shattered family'

 

The phone rang unusually early on a weekday morning in April 1993. It was Neville Lawrence, a tall, quiet man who, a few years earlier, had spent a week or two plastering our home in Greenwich, south-east London.

Now Neville was ringing because his 18-year-old son Stephen had been stabbed the previous night – murdered. And he needed the world to know.

So I set off east, through spring sunshine and a sense of dread, to the big estate in Eltham where the Lawrence family lived. I arrived, rang the bell and was ushered in. Friends and relatives were already there to support the shrunken, shattered family. But it was quiet: hushed voices, no weeping. Endless rounds of cups of tea and coffee. The men were in the small, neat living room, the women in the kitchen. Neville and Doreen, Stephen’s mother, were both in shock during those very first hours of a nightmare which would roll on for decades. Doreen seemed barely able to speak. Neville told of a neighbour’s late-night knock on the door – his son had heard that Stephen had been stabbed.

Then the rush to hospital, the waiting, the doctor who told the parents they had tried their hardest but that there was nothing they could do to save their son.

They had seen Stephen’s body laid out in the small hours. Now the sun was up but their sleepless night continued. Neville had since heard, from Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks, that it was a group of white youths who had crossed a road and descended on his son.

Looking back, two things are striking. A few hours after the family left their son’s body in hospital, there were no police or authority figures with them and none arrived during the time I was there. Police forces put less effort into victim support in those days. To me, back then, the absence of any officers seemed uncaring. The Lawrence family appeared to have been left isolated in their grief by the wider community.

The second thing: why had Neville called a journalist so soon?

Amid his shock and unimaginable grief, Neville must have feared that the police, the state, the establishment, might fail in finding and convicting his boy’s killers. He hoped that doing anything he could to tell the world about the murder would help him to get justice.

Family photographs stood on a sideboard – an image of Stephen as a young teenager, not the tall, confident-looking youth in the striped sports shirt that is always shown on television today.

Neville explained that Stephen was serious about his A-level studies at Blackheath Bluecoat School. He wanted to be an architect and avoided trouble. “He wasn’t into fighting one bit,” is the one direct quote from my talk with Neville that made it into print the next day. My interview with Neville, combined with another reporter’s write-up of a police press conference, was edited into a middling-length, inside-page piece about the latest in a run of racist murders in Greenwich. None of the national press gave much space to the killing the following day, but a campaign gradually built up around the parents’ long, agonising search for justice.

This dignified, quietly spoken man gradually became grey and stooped in television images, while those who killed the Lawrences’ son so quickly went free.

Neville and Doreen Lawrence had no idea that bright April morning that their son’s murder would consume them for two decades – through the court cases, the Macpherson inquiry, the new forensic evidence and prosecution.

Doreen spoke today. It was time for people to stop thinking of her son as a black victim, she said. He was “a bright, beautiful young man any parent would have been proud of”.

Nicholas Schoon was The Independent’s Environment Correspondent

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little