The jailing of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the slaying of Stephen Lawrence should not mark the end of the police investigation into the stabbing of the 18-year-old south Londoner almost two decades ago. But neither must it prompt the formation of a lynch mob setting off in pursuit of the several others thought to have been involved.
The Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard rightly deserve praise for bringing an extremely difficult case to a successful conclusion. They, and the loudly braying public and media, must remember, however, that the convictions were achieved only because the correct legal and investigative procedures were followed to the very letter. Anything neglected, any slip up, and Dobson and Norris would have walked free. So it is with the fellow members of the gang of white youths that set upon Stephen Lawrence.
The dramatic courtroom instruction from the trial judge, Mr Justice Treacy, to the senior Lawrence detective to keep hunting down those also responsible, and the promise from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, that the force would do so, cannot be interpreted as a licence to throw normal checks and measures to one side. Nor should they be seen as granting permission to abandon the rule of law.
So if it transpires that ultimately a prosecution cannot be brought through lack of evidence, then that should be the end of it – however unpalatable such an end might be. One of the sustaining features of the entire Lawrence case has been the dignity and restraint exhibited by his family. At no point have his parents, Doreen and Neville, allowed their emotions to take over, despite what at times must have been incredible pressure.
It would be a terrible pity now if anger boiled over into reckless revenge – whether in comment or in deed. Everyone involved – police, prosecutors and, yes, the press – must behave responsibly. Stooping to the level of the racist knife-wielders will only play into their hands. For the sake of Stephen Lawrence that cannot be allowed to happen.