Wall of silence from white youths at Lawrence inquest

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The inquest into the death of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence degenerated into a "mockery" of the legal system yesterday when five young white men refused to answer any questions relating to his death.

The "wall of silence" surrounding the killing of the promising A-level student - stabbed in an apparently racist attack as he waited for a bus in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993 - was maintained as the five men repeatedly claimed the common law right of privilege against self- incrimination at the hearing at Southwark coroner's court, south London.

The five were Neil Acourt, 21, Luke Knight, 19, and Gary Dobson, 21, who were all formally acquitted on a charge of murdering Stephen at the Old Bailey last year, and Jamie Acourt, 19, and David Norris, 20, who never stood trial.

Their reactions to questioning at the inquest exasperated Michael Mansfield QC, for the Lawrence family, and the Southwark Coroner Sir Montague Levine.

"It's completely pointless. These young men have decided to say absolutely nothing on any occasion to absolutely anything," Mr Mansfield told the court.

Questioning Jamie Acourt, Mr Mansfield said: "There has been a wall of silence about this case. There is somebody who knows much more than they are prepared to admit and therefore I must be entitled to ask questions which perhaps touch the conscience of those who know."

But his questioning drew little response. At one point, he asked Mr Norris: "Are you called David Norris?" To laughter, he replied: "I am claiming privilege on that question."

Mr Mansfield said: "It's an abuse. He's an automaton. He's standing there claiming privilege on everything."

When Mr Norris also claimed privilege to the question of whether he was willing to listen, Sir Montague also complained.

"You have to be prepared to listen," he told Mr Norris, "otherwise it's a mockery."

Earlier, Mr Mansfield had asked Luke Knight if he had sat at the back of the court - and received the same response.

Mr Mansfield shouted: "Please think about what you are saying. You cannot just give blank answers. I want to ask you if you would be kind enough to think about the questions."

"I claim privilege," said Mr Knight.

Mr Mansfield said: "You are not even prepared to say whether you can think about the question. What I suggest then is that you have all decided to come here and say nothing at all."

The young men, who lived near the scene at the time of the attack, all gave the same response when asked by the coroner whether they were present at the scene of the murder on 22 April, 1993; whether they could tell the court how Stephen Lawrence received his injuries; and if they knew of anyone else who could give details concerning the circumstances of his death.

As the five men - clad for the most part in jackets, waistcoats and ties - rose to leave, the coroner issued a warning: "I wish to make this very clear, there must be no attacks on witnesses. That won't serve justice at all in any way."

They then left the court and sped away in two cars with three women, refusing to comment.

Earlier, the court was told that Stephen had run 130 yards with a punctured lung and paralysed arm before collapsing and bleeding to death.

His mother, Doreen Lawrence, left the court in distress as Dr Richard Shepherd, who conducted the post-mortem examination, said the teenager was stabbed twice with a weapon similar to a kitchen knife.

The teenager then bled to death, Dr Shepherd told the court. The hearing was adjourned until today.

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