THREE MEN will appear in court tomorrow in what is believed to be the first private prosecution for murder in modern legal history. The family of a black teenager was yesterday granted court leave to bring prosecutions against the men it claims were responsible for stabbing him to death in an alleged race attack.
Stephen Lawrence's parents obtained arrest warrants for the men in a private hearing at Greenwich Magistrates' Court in south London.
Stephen, 18, was stabbed by a gang of white youths as he stood at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, two years ago today. Four people were arrested and two youths were charged in July 1993 with murder. But charges were dropped when the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
The victim's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, were in court to hear the decision yesterday. Their solicitor, Imran Khan, said that summons had been issued against four people.
The arrests came shortly after the hearing and three men are being held at Plumstead police station in south London and will appear before the same court on Monday morning, when charges are expected to be put to them. Police would not say whether they were seeking a fourth person and refused to confirm whether any of the men had been involved in the original inquiry.
A CPS spokesman said: "If the family wishes to pursue a private prosecution it is up to them. Our lawyer has been working with the Lawrence family's lawyer. We are not in the business of frustrating the Lawrences' attempt to bring a prosecution. The case was dropped because in our view there was not a realistic prospect of conviction on the basis of the evidence we were given at the time."
Stephen Lawrence's parents have received no legal aid for the prosecution and have launched an appeal for funds. If they lose, they would be liable for the defendants' legal costs and could also be hit with an expensive lawsuit for malicious prosecution.
Demonstrators outside the court held a banner showing Stephen's face and another with the names of victims of racial murders. Today, a memorial service for Stephen is being held in Eltham, followed by the unveiling of a plaque at the site where he was attacked.
A leading lawyer said the Lawrence family should have brought a civil case for damages. Sir Anthony Scrivenor, former chairman of the Bar Council, said: "If they won damages the CPS would have to look at it again. The way they are doing it now this is just the sort of case where the Director of Public Prosecutions will step in, take the case over and close it down."
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