Two face Stephen Lawrence murder trial

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The Independent Online

Two men are to face trial for the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence after new scientific evidence was uncovered, it can be reported today.

Gary Dobson, 35, and David Norris, 34, are due to go before an Old Bailey jury in November accused of the "calamitous" crime.

Senior judges ruled that the trial could go ahead even though Dobson had been acquitted following a 1996 private prosecution by the Lawrence family.

Stephen's parents Neville and Doreen Lawrence were at the Court of Appeal today to hear the decision. Mr Lawrence said he was "pleased".

Mrs Lawrence said: "Perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him."

Norris was the only one of the two defendants present at court.

Mr Lawrence, an 18-year-old A-level student, was stabbed to death in Eltham, south east London in April 1993.

"The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man of great promise, targeted and killed by a group of white youths just because of the colour of his skin, was indeed a calamitous crime," said the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge.

Today's ruling was announced by Lord Judge sitting with Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Holroyde.

It followed a prosecution application to quash Dobson's earlier acquittal.

He had been cleared of murder at the 1996 trial, along with Luke Knight and Neil Acourt, after purported identification evidence was ruled inadmissible.

But Dobson was charged with the crime again, along with Norris, last September, although it could not be reported at the time for legal reasons.

Lifting the blanket reporting restrictions on the case, Lord Judge announced today: "There is to be a new trial."

The judges said the prosecution application to quash Dobson's acquittal was based on new scientific evidence relating to a grey bomber jacket and a multi-coloured cardigan which it was said "closely links" Dobson to the attack.

"If reliable, the new scientific evidence would place Dobson in a very close proximity indeed to Stephen Lawrence at the moment of and in the immediate aftermath of the attack, proximity moreover for which no innocent explanation can be discerned," they said.

Timothy Roberts QC, for Dobson, had argued that the evidence was "unreliable and of no sufficient probative value".

The results of the new examination of Dobson's clothing were likely to be the product of contamination over the years by contact with Mr Lawrence's blood and his clothing, it was argued.

But Lord Judge said in the ruling: "After conducting a detailed examination of a large body of evidence we have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient reliable and substantial new evidence to justify the quashing of the acquittal and to order a new trial."

He added however that the decision simply meant Dobson's alleged involvement "must be considered afresh by a new jury which will examine the evidence and decide whether the allegation against him is proved".

He said: "The presumption of innocence continues to apply."

Norris is due to appear at the Old Bailey on July 1 for a plea and case management hearing while Dobson will also be in court in the next two months.

Prosecutors were able to apply for a new prosecution against Dobson under changes to double jeopardy rules which now allow for a fresh trial in the case of "new and compelling evidence".

The Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police welcomed the ruling, which followed an application by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC.

They said in a joint statement: "The Metropolitan Police Service and the Crown Prosecution Service have worked tirelessly with forensic scientists to review the evidence in this case.

"A full forensic review was commenced in June 2006. New scientific evidence was found and, on that basis, the prosecution applied for a retrial. We welcome the Court of Appeal's decision.

"Our thoughts at this stage go to Stephen's family, who have never given up their quest to see justice for Stephen."

The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust welcomed today's ruling, saying: "The Lawrence family - who have done so much to improve the lives of others in Stephen's name - have never given up their struggle for social justice and we hope that the new trial will bring peace to this much respected family."