Stephen Lawrence: What happened to the suspects in the notorious murder case?

Gary Dobson and David Norris sent to jail in January 2012, 19 years on from original arrest, after new DNA evidence emerged

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 26 August 2021 16:37 BST
Trailer for ITV's new drama 'Stephen', starring Steve Coogan and Sharlene Whyte

ITV’s new three-part drama series Stephen airs on Monday night and tells the true story of the ongoing legal fight to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice after the black teenager was attacked and fatally stabbed at a bus stop in south east London on 22 April 1993 by a gang of white men, one of the most shocking crimes in recent British history.

A sequel to the same channel’s The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999), the series sees Hugh Quashie reprise his role as the victim’s father Neville and Sharlene Whyte playing the fearless Doreen Lawrence, whose single-minded pursuit of her son’s murderers won huge admiration but came at tremendous personal cost.

Stephen is directed by Alrick Riley and written by Frank and Joe Cottrell Boyce, based on the book In Pursuit of the Truth (2015) by DCI Clive Driscoll, who is played in the show by Steve Coogan.

Driscoll became involved in the Lawrence case, known as Operation Fishpool, from 2006 until 2014 after two previous efforts to secure a conviction had collapsed and his new examination of the killing saw fresh forensic evidence come to light that resulted in two of the original five suspects - Gary Dobson and David Norris - finally sent to jail on 3 January 2012.

“Having battled for so many years, I want to see full justice for Stephen,” Doreen Lawrence told The Mirror in January 2014.

“I’ve always considered the convictions in 2012 as a partial justice and I don’t want the investigation stopped until all those responsible for Stephen’s death have been jailed.”

The three other men originally questioned by police when they were arrested alongside Dobson and Norris during the first investigation in May and June 1993 - Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight -  have always denied any involvement in the murder.

Neil Acourt and Mr Knight were picked out of a police identity parade by Lawrence’s friend Duwayne Brooks - who had been with the victim that evening and narrowly escaped the scene of the attack - and charged with Lawrence’s murder on 13 May 1993, only for the Crown Prosecution Service to formally drop the case on 29 July after meeting with the senior investigating officer, citing insufficient evidence.

Dissatisfied, the Lawrence family began a private prosecution against Neil Acourt, Mr Knight and Dobson in September 1994, which resulted in a trial at the Old Bailey in April 1996 accusing the three of the murder, but the prosecution collapsed after identification evidence from Mr Brooks was ruled inadmissible by Mr Justice Curtis.

All three were acquitted, which did not stop The Daily Mailrunning a frontpage on 14 February 1997 headlined “Murderers” and carrying a photograph of the five men originally arrested, challenging them to sue for libel.

The five were pelted with eggs by protesters when they attended Sir William Macpherson’s public inquiry into the Lawrence case in Elephant and Castle in June 1998, having been told they would be prosecuted if they did not turn up and give evidence, before members of the Nation of Islam stormed the building to call the inquiry a sham.

They would subsequently be banned from attending home games at The Valley by Charlton Athletic FC, the club they supported, and appear in a Martin Bashir TV documentary the following year, again denying any involvement in the murder and accusing the programme’s producers of bias against them.

Neil Acourt and David Norris were later both jailed for 18 months in September 2002 over an unrelated racist attack on an off-duty black policeman, Gareth Reid, also in Eltham. Norris had thrown a drink at the officer from a car driven by Acourt and shouted “n*****” during the incident, which took place in May 2001.

Acourt would be sent to prison again in 2018 alongside his brother Jamie after they were found to have led a gang that moved cannabis resin worth £7.4m between London and the north east of England between 2014 and 2016, according to The Sun.

Neil Acourt walked free from prison in March 2019, having served less than half of his six-year sentence, but Jamie Acourt is still behind bars and is not expected to be released before his nine-year sentence is completed in 2027.

Stephen airs on ITV at 9pm on Monday 30 August

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