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Shame and pride in a tragic farewell: Minister attacks right-wing extremists' campaign of hatred as community mourns black south London teenager stabbed to death

THE 10 PALL BEARERS who carried Stephen Lawrence's elaborate gilt and wood casket at arm's length set the tone. Most who shuffled from the tiny red-brick Methodist church wore sunglasses and sported carefully- sculpted hairstyles. This was unmistakeably a black affair.

Indeed, we learnt during the emotionally-charged memorial service for the 18-year-old, stabbed to death in what was said to be a racist attack, that he was proud of being black.

But when the south-east London suburb of Plumstead came to a standstill yesterday morning as the cortege travelled the mile or so from Stephen's home to Trinity church, many white faces were dotted among the 800-strong crowd which followed.

Inside the church those same faces listened to the Rev David Cruise talk of the shame of being white in the aftermath of Stephen's savage killing at an Eltham bus stop in April.

'The faith of many was shaken that night,' he told the congregation. 'Many of us feel ashamed to be white. But all of us of whatever colour are ashamed of what has happened in our midst when groups filled with evil and hatred can roam our streets and taunt and kill just because they do not like the colour of another person's face.'

But Mr Cruise warned everyone, both inside and those standing silently outside listening on the specially-rigged sound system, that they were all equally responsible for combating racism.

'If we say we can do nothing we are in the gravest danger. We see before us developing a battle between goodness and life, and evil and death. May we all commit ourselves, black and white, to overcoming evil and death and offer to all people in this country the way of goodness and life.'

Mr Cruise went on to attack the British National Party, which has headquarters in nearby Welling, for openly propagating and inciting racial hatred. It was a message that would not have been lost on the politicians among the congregation, the Conservative member for Eltham, Peter Bottomley, and the Labour MPs Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) and Paul Boateng (Brent South).

But more important than the names were the children who had come to pay their last respects. Black and white, they came from Stephen's school, Blackheath and Bluecoat, in Greenwich, and from neighbouring schools.

And finally Stephen's parents Neville and Doreen, sister Georgina, 10, and brother Stuart, 16, followed as his body was again loaded into the hearse. It is to be flown to Jamaica today to be buried on 4 July.

But Mr Lawrence warned that this would not be the end. 'The racists must be told that the burial of Stephen is not the burial of our campaign for justice. It is only the beginning.'

(Photograph omitted)