Youths in Lawrence murder case win legal aid

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FOUR OF the five white youths suspected of murdering Stephen Lawrence in a racist attack have been granted legal aid to fight attempts to drag them before the public inquiry into the black teenager's death.

The five were scheduled to appear next Monday before the hearing in Elephant and Castle, south London, after a ruling by the inquiry chairman, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, obliging them to attend.

Lawyers for the youths, who were charged with the murder but never convicted, announced three weeks ago that they intended to apply for judicial review of Sir William's ruling. Four of them - Neil Acourt, his brother Jamie, Gary Dobson and David Norris - were refused emergency legal aid. But yesterday, the Legal Aid Board announced that its decision had been overturned on appeal.

Neil Acourt and the fifth suspect, Luke Knight, were arrested and charged two weeks after Stephen was stabbed to death in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. Two months later, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges.

In 1995, Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, brought a private prosecution against all five. The case against Mr Dobson, Mr Knight and Neil Acourt was abandoned at the committal proceedings. At the Crown Court trial in April 1996, Jamie Acourt and Mr Norris were acquitted after tkey identification evidence was ruled inadmissible.

Lawyers for the youths intend to fight the summons on the grounds that the inquiry has no legal powers to call them, and its own terms of reference are outside the relevant law. The case is expected to be heard in the immediate future.

The Lawrences declined to comment yesterday.

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