Knife dug up at former home of Lawrence suspects

Detectives hunting the killers of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence revealed last night that a knife and a metal bar have been found at the former home of two of the men suspected of the racist killing in 1993.

The weapons, which were dug up at the house in Eltham, south-east London, have been sent for tests to determine if they were used in the killing.Scotland Yard said the blade was similar in size to a 36cm red-handled knife shown last month by officers investigating the case on BBC1's Crimewatch UK programme.

The home where the items were found was occupied by two of the prime suspects, Jamie and Neil Acourt. Imran Khan, the solicitor for Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, said the couple now had renewed hope that their son's killers couldbe caught. Mr Khan told the BBC: "They are pleased about this development. They hope that this leads to a successful prosecution."

The circumstances of the find, which could prove a breakthrough in the long fight to bring Stephen's killers to justice, remained shrouded in mystery.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's racial and violent crime task force, indicated, that the discovery fitted into a pattern of recent breakthroughs in the case.

In a plea for further information, he said: "Not only are people now willing to speak to us, but there could also be new evidence. We know there are people out there who know exactly what happened to Stephen Lawrence and can give important evidence."

Even tiny details could hold the key, Mr Grieve said.

Mr Grieve, appearing on Crimewatch with Mr and Mrs Lawrence, said last month that DNA tests were carried out on a jacket and another knife, found in the home of an ex-girlfriend of one of the suspects.

The Crimewatch programme coincided with the arrests of three people in connection with the killing ofStephen, who was aged 18. Detectives later released them on bail. They were not among the five men previously identified as suspects - the Acourt brothers, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and David Norris.

Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks were chased before Stephen was stabbed in the chest. The killing led to two unsuccessful attempts at a prosecution as well as the damning inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny into the police investigation.

The Lawrence investigation, based at an undisclosed south London location, was recently stepped up after indications that close allegiances in the group had begun to unravel.

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