The life and legacy of Stephen Lawrence

A bright young man, a wonderful son, a shining example

Brian Cathcart
Sunday 08 January 2012 01:00

About an hour after the jury delivered its verdict in Old Bailey court No 16 last Tuesday afternoon, Neville and Doreen Lawrence stepped into the windy street outside to give their responses before a swarm of reporters, photographers and cameramen.

He, tall and grey, described how the loss of his son and the injustice of it had left him unable to rest, and how he would never be able to rest again until all the killers were convicted.

She, small and weary-looking but still somehow young for her 59 years, spoke of continuing anger, of endless grief, and of the persistence of racial violence in Britain. And she also had soft words for the son she lost more than 18 years ago.

"Now that we have some sort of justice," she said, "I want people to think of Stephen other than as a black teenager murdered in a racist attack in south-east London in April 1993. I know that's the fact, but I now want people to remember him as a bright young man who any parent of whatever background would have been proud of. He was a wonderful son and a shining example of what any parent would want in a child. Hopefully now he can rest in peace."

This was a new message from her, but it must surely have been in her mind for years. Since 1993, and particularly since 1996-97, when the wider public began to embrace the Lawrences' cause, the name of Stephen Lawrence has come to mean so much more than a person.

It is shorthand for a long list of social and political problems, complexes and attitudes in modern Britain, and also for a kind of endurance that few of us could imagine if the example of his family were not there before us.

Even to people not born at the time of his death the name has a powerful resonance. Just say the words "Stephen Lawrence" to a teenager today and see what spills out.

It is like a brand, or a celebrity identity, and somewhere along the way the name has parted company with the real person. After a week in which that name has been everywhere, it is good to do as his mother asked and spare some thoughts for the person.

Most mothers would speak of their sons in those proud terms – "a wonderful son" and "a shining example" – and most of the rest of us would probably discount some of this for maternal bias. In the case of Stephen Lawrence, however, discounting is probably a mistake.

His friend Duwayne Brooks, who was with him when he died and who, it is often forgotten, narrowly escaped injury or death in the same attack, has fully endorsed Doreen's description. In his book Steve and Me, Duwayne is often blunt and he clearly doesn't share many opinions with Doreen, but on this point he is clear: Stephen, he wrote, "seemed to be the perfect boy from the perfect family".

At Blackheath Bluecoat School near his home in south-east London, Stephen was popular with both teachers and pupils, which is something not every boy can manage. Partly this was because he was a naturally warm, calm and serious person, someone on whom friends could rely and whom teachers could trust, and partly, according to Duwayne, it was to do with his family.

Even back then, teachers saw that Neville and Doreen Lawrence were the ultimate contrast with the meaner stereotypes of working-class parents and of black parents. They were attentive to the point of keeping teachers on their toes, always turning up at parents' evenings and sometimes arriving unexpectedly with questions to ask and points to make. Their son – punctual, properly dressed, polite and keeping his books and work neat – was a walking advertisement for their conservative, nonconformist Christian, Jamaican blend of values.

Duwayne tells a classroom story to show the curious position in which this could place Stephen. A window was broken and no one would confess, so a teacher picked out Stephen, took him aside and accused him. This was not because the teacher believed Stephen to be the culprit, but because, according to Duwayne, he believed that in this way he could force Stephen, the most responsible boy in the class, to reveal the truth.

The tactic did not work. Stephen refused to talk and may not even have known who the culprit was, and he was left furious at his treatment – but no doubt higher in the respect of his classmates. Had he been a little younger and reported the incident to his parents, no doubt one of them would have come steaming around to complain. As Duwayne wrote: "Everybody liked him. It was impossible not to like him. Peaceful, easy, smart Steve."

And for Duwayne probably more than anyone else at school, those qualities were precious. The two had met on their first day a Blackheath Bluecoat at the age of 11, but it wasn't until three or four years later that they became firm friends. Then, in the year or so before the murder, Duwayne had a rocky time. He left school with poor GCSEs and also left home, moving between hostels. Over time, Stephen, eternally reliable and supportive, helped him to find his feet again.

Good as he was, Stephen Lawrence was not a saint. Like all teenagers, and particularly teenagers from well-ordered homes, he grew restless in his teens, though being Stephen he handled his restlessness with moderation. Having been a regular attender at Trinity Methodist Church in Plumstead, where he had also been a cub and a scout, to his parents' dismay he began to find excuses to avoid worship.

At school his work rate eased and his marks edged downwards for a couple of years, not to the point of calamity but sufficiently to attract the notice of teachers. No longer did he sit alone at home, doing homework for hours; he wanted to be out and about.

As the rules and patterns of his home life began to chafe, he had come to envy the relatively free-and-easy lives of friends such as Duwayne. There were arguments at home about curfews, and sometimes an angry Stephen would ask the question: "Duwayne doesn't have to be home, so why do I?"

In her powerful book And Still I Rise, Doreen acknowledges the tensions in this period. "He was, I suppose, going through a typical late adolescent phase: we at home were, generally speaking, always wrong." She describes a row between Stephen and and his brother Stuart which drew Neville in and left Stephen furious and sulking for days, refusing to talk beyond the odd hello.

Mother and son eventually spoke and things slowly calmed down. "I could feel him stretching his wings, more and more," she writes, "but he was not ready to fly just yet, and I was glad."

We often hear of his ambition to become an architect. This was, his mother has said, a dream he had had since he was a small boy, and it certainly gained force when he completed a work placement at a small south London architecture practice where Neville had contacts, Timothy Associates. By all accounts his supervisors liked him and were impressed with his work; his parents were dazzled by how well he had done.

Was he set fair for a career in architecture? At the time of his death he was a few months away from finding out whether he would make the grade.

He was still attending Blackheath Bluecoat, where he was completing a design technology A-level and also repeating a physics GCSE in order to push up his grade to the necessary level, and at the same time he was working on an English language and literature A-level at nearby Woolwich College.

But success was not assured. According to one of his teachers, he was not a top-of-the-class pupil even when he put in the effort, though he was certainly capable of doing well. Her verdict, the usual one from teachers, was that he was going to need a serious final push – "could try harder", as the school reports used to say.

Stephen Adrian Lawrence was born at Greenwich District Hospital on Friday 13 September 1974 – as his mother notes, on exactly the day that the doctor had calculated he would show up. He was the first-born, and the child of two first-borns, and he was showered with love by his adoring parents.

Doreen, known to friends and family as Joy, was a Jamaican by birth, a country girl raised by a grandmother until the age of nine, when she came to Britain to join her mother, who had remarried and started a second family. Her mother was a working woman, and so Doreen soon became, by her own account, a kind of Cinderella, in effect a second mother and housekeeper to her younger half-siblings.

But she also went to school, where she formed long-lasting friendships with mainly fellow Jamaican classmates and did well enough to be affronted in her final year when the careers adviser told her to look for factory work. She got a job with the National Westminster Bank.

Before long she had met and fallen for Neville Lawrence, another south London Jamaican for whom hard graft was second nature. Neville was from Kingston, 10 years older than Doreen, and had come to England as a trained upholsterer only to find that job offers tended to evaporate as soon as employers saw his colour. A sticker, he retrained not once but twice, and before too long was making a decent living on the fringes of the clothing industry.

They were certainly an odd couple when they married at Lewisham register office in south-east London in 1972 – he was tall, broad-shouldered and lean, while she was petite without being fragile – but they were also good-looking and had a great deal in common in their outlook on life.

Think of every common stereotype of black people in Britain – the lazy spongers, the ungrateful immigrants, the chippy troublemakers, the irresponsible parents, the violent criminals, the police-haters and all the rest. We see these stereotypes sprinkled through the national press, they crop up in phone-ins, among parents at school gates and over drinks in golf clubs; they are everywhere, even to this day.

Neville and Doreen Lawrence, immigrants both, were the very antithesis of all this; if anything, they looked down upon the morals and the conduct they saw around them in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. These were the parents who shaped Stephen's early years.

As a baby, Stephen cried a great deal and hardly ever slept, settling down to a quieter life only when he was able to crawl around. In fact, even when he was older he never seemed to need much sleep, and Doreen has described him as restless and full of energy.

Within a few years he had a younger brother, Stuart, with whom he sparred, as brothers do, and a younger sister, Georgina, on whom he doted. They lived in a modern house they all liked in the mainly white Nightingale estate on the south side of Woolwich. For years Neville, by now employed in the building trade, brought in a good income while Doreen worked part-time.

Stephen did well at primary school though he was no genius, and his parents eventually chose Blackheath Bluecoat school for him after careful research, because they thought it was a serious place that would get the best out of him.

Where he showed real talent was in sport. Everything he tried he was good at and threw himself into – to such a degree that he would suffer injuries and broken bones, so visits to the hospital up the hill (Brook Hospital, where he would later be certified dead) became common. Eventually he settled on athletics and joined the Cambridge Harriers club, where he trained and competed over 200m and 400m.

A coach there would later comment on his unusual character: "He was a dedicated athlete, by far the best athlete in my group, and though he was very aware of this fact he was never big-headed about it. On the contrary, he appeared almost embarrassed about his talent."

In the early 1990s Stephen also did various jobs, including flipping burgers at McDonald's; he dated a few girls; he could be a flashy dresser, with green shoes and that famous stripey top; for a while he had a moustache. Like any young black man in Britain, he was also conscious of his race. In primary school there were incidents of name-calling which prompted Doreen to intervene, and on another occasion he was spat at and insulted in the street.

Most of his friends were black and he had an extended family and a close church community with many black members: he heard and learned plenty about the experiences of black British people. Doreen and Neville themselves had plenty of experience of racism and they had clear attitudes which they communicated to their children.

In summary (and these are not the Lawrences' terms), discrimination and abuse were like bad weather: when you encountered them you protected yourself and your family firmly and vigorously, but you did not expect to change the world. If you kept your head, acted sensibly and worked hard, there was no reason why you should not succeed, especially if you could rely on the support of your own community. It wasn't a matter of fighting or overcoming racism, but of refusing to let it ruin your life.

In a general way, these were Stephen's attitudes too. He looked out on a Britain run overwhelmingly by white people but was confident he could make a life and a career in it. Racism was a problem, for sure, but it wasn't everything; it need not get in his way.

But it is normal for the children of immigrants to have different views about Britain from those of their parents. They are more at home and they tend to see less of an obligation to fit in and accept. It would be surprising if Stephen did not feel like that.

During his teenage years, moreover, the race climate in south-east London was becoming steadily nastier, and he showed some sign of edging towards a greater assertiveness.

By then the British National Party was active in the area, and in 1991 a boy Stephen knew, Rolan Adams, was murdered in nearby Thamesmead by a group of white youths. The BNP congratulated local people for "defending their estate".

Then 16, Stephen announced he intended to join a protest march in Thamesmead, exactly the kind of activity his parents had always avoided. Though his mother, concerned for his safety, begged him not to go, he insisted, and he returned safely. She said later: "He had a strong conviction where that was concerned – because it was his friend."

Stephen's final day is full of poignancy. There was a recession in 1993 and Neville was out of work and depressed. Doreen, meanwhile, had begun a humanities degree at Greenwich University.

On the morning of 22 April, she was away in Birmingham as part of her course, and so it was Neville who made breakfast for the younger children and saw them off to school. Then Stephen got up and had a cup of tea with his father, who he could see was feeling low. As he too left for school he asked if his father was OK, and Neville said yes. Then again, just before closing the door, Stephen asked: "Are you sure you're all right, Dad?" Neville said yes again and the door closed.

Besides classes, Stephen spent his time that Thursday with Duwayne, who had a day off from his own college course. The two met at Stephen's school gates at lunchtime and drifted off to a rendezvous with some girls from another school, who never turned up. Unconcerned, the boys played some video games in a chip shop until it was time for Stephen to return to school. In the afternoon they met again, this time travelling fairly aimlessly with friends into Lewisham by bus and then heading off together to the home of Doreen's younger brother, Martin, where they played some more video games and ate their evening meal.

Stephen plainly forgot that his father had asked him to be home for dinner that evening, though in fact Neville wasn't concerned about his absence. (This was before everyone had mobile phones.) But Stephen was definitely expected home by 10.30pm, and the two boys were cutting it fine for that deadline, so it was in a rush that that final, fatal journey began.

Stephen knew that his mother, who very rarely went away, was due back from her course that night, and that she would be tired and would go to bed early. He had a curfew, but we can also assume that he wanted to be home in time to see her.

He hurried, and when the buses ran out on Well Hall Road in Eltham and the clock was ticking past 10.30, his mind was filled with thoughts about other routes home. He and Duwayne were a little flustered, wandering away from the three white people at the bus stop towards the roundabout to see if they could see a bus coming. They weren't watching the white boys who were approaching on the opposite pavement, at least one of whom was carrying a knife.

Very soon, at the age of 18 years, seven months and nine days, Stephen was dead.

He would not see his parents again, or sit his exams and find out if he could be an architect, or run another race, or vote, or own a car or a mobile phone, or marry and have children of his own, or any of the simple, ordinary things he was entitled to expect from life. Instead he would be buried in Jamaica two months later.

Stephen Lawrence was – there can be no dispute – all that his mother has claimed: a wonderful son, a bright young man and a shining example to others. That matters to her, and it is heartwarming for us all to know it.

Tragically and cruelly, it is also significant in another way. If Stephen Lawrence had not been all of these things we would probably never have heard of him, even if no other details of his life and death were altered.

He was not by any means the first black man to be murdered in Britain because of his race. There had been dozens of others in a line traditionally traced back to Kelso Cochrane, a young carpenter killed in Notting Hill in 1959. Three factors, each of which was indispensable, ensured that while for most people the name of Kelso Cochrane, if they ever heard it, faded from memory, the name of Stephen Lawrence was etched into history in very large letters.

One was the nature of the attack, which, most unusually, could be proved beyond all doubt to have been unprovoked and racially motivated.

Another was the astonishing resoluteness and shrewdness of his parents. And the third was his character.

Take away any one of these, we can say with considerable confidence, and the case of Stephen Lawrence would probably have attracted little more attention than that of Cochrane, or of his friend Rolan Adams in 1991.

The importance of Stephen's character was recognised early, almost instinctively, it seems. The first reporter to speak to the Lawrences was The Independent's Nick Schoon, who happened to know Neville. He described in an article last week his visit to the family home on the morning after the murder. "Neville explained that Stephen was serious about his A-level studies at Blackheath Bluecoat School. He wanted to be an architect and avoided trouble. 'He wasn't into fighting one bit,' is the one direct quote from my talk with Neville that made it into print the next day."

In the days that followed, Marc Wadsworth, an organiser with a group called the Anti-Racist Alliance, who worked with the Lawrences in those first weeks, made sure every reporter knew about this. Stephen, the world was told, was a promising athlete and a model schoolboy who wanted to become an architect. This was confirmed by his school, his church, his athletics club and his friends. Unspoken but equally clear was the reverse side of the message: this is not a boy in a gang, not someone selling or carrying drugs and not someone who was in any way "asking for it". The police were quick to check this background (to be fair to them, a necessary routine procedure) and they found exactly what they had been told. This was a boy with no record of contact with the police and no known criminal associations. No drugs or drink were found in his body at postmortem either.

It should not be this way. It should not be necessary for the victim of a racist murder to be of impeccable character for his case to be considered shocking. Yet if Stephen had been carrying even a joint of marijuana or a pen knife, or if he had had any criminal record or associations, we know the world would have seen his death as another drug thing or another knife thing or another gang thing, and swiftly forgotten it.

But now we are doing what is always done in this case, and what Doreen Lawrence asked us to try to avoid doing. We are making the person into an argument again.

It is extraordinary to consider all that has been said and done in the past 18 years in the name of Stephen Lawrence: two Old Bailey trials, two inquests, a public inquiry, debates in Parliament, upheaval in the police, reforms across society, books, articles, television dramas and documentaries, academic studies, phone-in arguments and – not least – a centre, a foundation (helping young architects) and a prize.

That is an awful lot of weight for a country to place on the narrow shoulders of a school student of 18, even one as charming and eager to help as Stephen Lawrence.

Brian Cathcart is a former deputy editor of 'The Independent on Sunday'. He is professor of journalism at Kingston University London and he is also the author of 'The Case of Stephen Lawrence'

The guilty men

Always among the prime suspects, Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, are finally behind bars. Dobson will spend at least 15 years and two months inside, for Norris it's 14 years and three months. But there are complaints that it's not long enough, and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, is to conduct a review.

It is a big come-down for Norris, who grew up in a £600,000 mock-Tudor mansion in Chislehurst. He was expelled from secondary school at 13 for "uncontrollable violent behaviour" and was 16 at the time of the murder. His father, Clifford, dubbed "the Godfather of Eltham", was a convicted drug smuggler who was on the run in 1993. Norris senior was suspected of interfering in the murder investigation. His son had previously been linked to two other stabbings, one of them just a month before Stephen died.

The younger Norris spent years alternating between a series of odd jobs and living on benefits. But the help his father might have given in making earlier cases go away could not save him from jail. In 2002, he was locked up for 18 months, along with Neil Acourt, over a racial attack on an off-duty police officer.

Dobson was just 17 when Stephen was killed. He was still at college and living with his parents in Eltham. Two weeks after the event, police arrested the pair, along with brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and their friend Luke Knight. They found a knife and CS gas canister beneath Dobson's bed. But no charges were ever brought.

A year later, as police carried out secret filming, Dobson was seen swaggering around his flat, bare-chested and wielding a knife, boasting of how he threatened a black colleague with a carpet knife. The same footage features Norris ranting about torturing and killing black people.

Frustrated by the lack of police action, the Lawrence family brought a private murder prosecution in 1996. The case collapsed and Dobson, Neil Acourt and Knight were acquitted. The cases against Norris and Jamie Acourt didn't even make it to court.

In 2005, laws governing double jeopardy changed, paving the way for people to be retried for the same crime if new evidence came to light. Norris and Dobson were charged with murder last September after new DNA techniques detected traces of Stephen's blood on a jacket worn by Dobson and his hair on Norris's jeans.

Dobson was already in prison, having been jailed for five years in July 2010 for drug dealing. Norris was living in a bedsit, his belongings stored in a van. The pair stuck to their stories: protesting their innocence. Neither has ever expressed any regret or remorse.

Defiant to the end, Dobson told the jury: "You have just condemned an innocent man. I hope you can live with yourselves." Bizarrely, Norris kissed his hand and raised a fist to the public gallery before being led away. Such bravado will tested in prison, where they may face protective segregation.

Jonathan Owen

The family

Doreen and Neville Lawrence stood together outside the Old Bailey on the day their son's murderers were sentenced, marking the climax of an 18-year struggle for justice. It was a rare moment of unity: having divorced six years after the attack on their eldest son, Stephen, they were unable to share the long-awaited moment with each other.

Many reports portrayed the break-up as another tragic outcome from their son's death. Mrs Lawrence, 59, said: "I don't forgive the boys who killed Stephen." And, as if she needed to explain further, she added: "They took away Stephen's life and there is the pain it has caused us as a family."

Immediately after the verdict, the couple separated again into their own worlds. Both were appointed OBEs in 2003, and they united in bringing a private criminal prosecution against the murder suspects when the public one failed. But, sadly, there was not much else by way of unity.

Born in Jamaica, Mrs Lawrence was nine when she arrived in London to join her mother, Ruby. She met Neville when she was 17; they married in 1972. He was sent to Britain to live with his aunt at the age of 18, and it's said he never thought of Britain as home. Settling in Woolwich, south-east London, they had three children: Stephen, Stuart, 34, and Georgina, 29.

Both have said their relationship was difficult before Stephen was killed. Neville, a builder and decorator, could not find work, while Doreen, placing a firm belief in education, was training to be a teacher. Despite these problems, Mr Lawrence, now 69, said in a recent interview that the murder marked the end of what had been a "normal, loving relationship". After the divorce, he moved back to Jamaica while she remained in the UK.

"For some reason that I've tried to understand – and I still don't – we couldn't reach out to one another," he said. "We stayed together for another six years, but from that day we never physically touched one another again. We didn't cuddle or hold hands for comfort, as you might expect a couple to do. We would sleep in the same bed, but lay side by side like statues."

Stuart Lawrence was 16 when his brother died. "They say in life every-one has a defining moment which makes them the person they are, and that was mine," he says. "We'd play football together, skateboard, ride our bikes. Because of him I always felt accepted. I felt protected. But then I lost my big brother and suddenly I'm the eldest. I had to step up."

Stuart now has a one-year-old son of his own. "I've always seen it from the view of losing my brother. Now, as a father, it's given me an inkling of how messed up it must be to lose a child. I can't begin to contemplate it."

His sister, Georgina, said of Stephen: "He was always there; he never forgot." Her child, Mia, eight, still doesn't know how her uncle died. For Mrs Lawrence her grandchildren, particularly Mia, offer hope. "We get on very well. She doesn't leave my side."

Sarah Morrison

The suspects

While David Norris and Gary Dobson are now behind bars, they were just two of the five initial suspects in the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight were put on trial for the murder in 1996, but the case collapsed: all five men walk free.

Neil Acourt, now 36, was seen by murder squad detectives at the time of the case as the leader of the gang. His home in Eltham, south-east London, was minutes from the murder scene and police found weapons there including a sword, a knife and a dagger.

Surveillance videos filmed secretly by police in Dobson's flat in 1994 offered the public a disturbing insight into the lives of this group of racist, violent thugs. In one clip, Neil Acourt is seen wielding an enormous dagger, lashing out at objects around him. In another he pretends to slash Knight across the face. Jamie Acourt was not filmed, as he was in custody for an unrelated offence, but Norris, Dobson, Knight and Jamie's elder brother are all recorded having conversations that are peppered with violent racist remarks.

Since the Lawrence killing, the elder of the Acourt brothers has had repeated run-ins with the police. In 2002 he was jailed for 18 months, along with Norris, for a racist attack on an off-duty policeman. The previous year he had been convicted of possessing an offensive weapon – a baton – which he claimed was to protect himself from revenge attacks.

He was suspected of having helped smuggle illegal immigrants to the UK, after he and Dobson were found in a car following their friend John Caetano's Transit van, carrying seven illegal immigrants. Caetano was sent to prison, but the case against the other two was dropped.

The elder Acourt is said to enjoy the notoriety that the Lawrence case has earned him and has cultivated a hard-man image. In an interview for an ITV documentary he said: "If someone put trouble my way, I would not stand for it, simple as that."

Jamie, his younger brother, had planned to move to Spain to start a new life. He was said to have been "sick" of being under constant police surveillance in the UK. But the move was cancelled at the last minute.

Since the Lawrence murder he has had only one conviction, for stealing empty soda siphons from a drinks warehouse in 2003. He was allowed to pay a £250 fine in £10 weekly instalments after the court heard he was on disability allowance. He drives a BMW and a 4x4 but it is not clear what he does for work.

Fifth suspect Luke Knight applied to be rehoused by Greenwich council after claiming he was suffering from psychological problems because of intimidation from anti-racist gangs. He still maintains his innocence.

Emily Dugan


22 April 1993 Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks are waiting at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, when they are confronted by a gang of white youths. Mr Brooks – who says the gang were shouting racist insults – manages to run away, but Stephen, aged 18, is stabbed and dies near the scene.

6 May Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville, meet Nelson Mandela in London. He tells them "the Lawrence tragedy is our tragedy". Two days before, the couple hold a press conference to complain that not enough is being done to catch the killers.

7 May Police arrest brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, and Gary Dobson. Luke Knight is later arrested; David Norris hands himself in. Mr Brooks identifies Neil Acourt as one of the gang.

29 July Murder charges against Neil Acourt and Knight are dropped after the CPS says evidence given by Mr Brooks is unreliable.

September 1994 Lawrence family launches a private prosecution against Dobson, Knight and Acourt. All three deny the charges.

6 December A police camera in Dobson's flat records four of the suspects saying how they wanted to skin, torture and set light to black people. Norris says: "I would blow their two arms and legs off and say 'go on, you can swim home now'."

25 April 1996 The case against Acourt, Knight and Dobson falls apart. Mr Justice Curtis rules that identification evidence from Mr Brooks is inadmissible. All three are acquitted.

13 February 1997 An inquest returns a verdict that Stephen was "unlawfully killed by five white youths". The Daily Mail labels the five "Murderers" on its front page the next day.

20 March Kent Constabulary launches an internal inquiry. Published nine months later, it shows "significant weaknesses, omissions and lost opportunities", but says there is no evidence of racist conduct.

31 July Home Secretary Jack Straw announces a judicial inquiry into the murder to identify the lessons for police when dealing with racially motivated crimes.

16 March 1998 The public inquiry begins with the five suspects told to give evidence – or face prosecution.

17 June The Metropolitan Police makes a formal apology to the Lawrence family. Only Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, is present at the inquiry to hear it.

30 June The suspects appear before the inquiry and are involved in scuffles with supporters of Stephen Lawrence, who pelt them with eggs when they emerge after giving evidence.

24 February 1999 Release of the Macpherson report, which accuses police of "institutional racism" and makes 70 recommendations, including strengthening the Race Relations Act. Also suggests the "double jeopardy" principle should be relaxed to allow retrial of acquitted defendants in exceptional circumstances.

8 April The five suspects are interviewed by Martin Bashir on ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald and deny involvement in the killing.

3 January 2001 The Law Commission recommends scrapping double jeopardy for certain crimes. The law is passed four years later.

6 September 2002 David Norris and Neil Acourt are jailed for 18 months for a racist attack on off-duty black policeman Gareth Reid in 2001. Norris threw a drink at the officer from a car, shouting "nigger", while Acourt drove at him, less than a mile from where Stephen was murdered.

5 May 2004 The CPS again says there is insufficient evidence to prosecute after Operation Athena Tower, a four-year inquiry by Scotland Yard.

4 April 2005 The double jeopardy principle is scrapped for certain offences when there is new evidence.

3 June 2006 A cold case review is launched after failings exposed by forensic scientists over murder of Damilola Taylor in 2000.

26 July 2006 BBC documentary, The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence, alleges police corruption in the case, but, 15 months on, the police watchdog, the IPCC, finds no evidence of wrongdoing.

8 November 2007 Police confirm they are investigating new forensic evidence.

7 February 2008 Doreen Lawrence opens a £10m architecture centre in honour of her son. Two weeks later vandals smash its windows in a suspected racist attack.

22 April 2008 Breakthrough in cold-case review after tests reveal blood matching that of Stephen has been found on clothes belonging to Gary Dobson.

9 July 2009 Gary Dobson starts a five-year jail term for supplying a class B drug after being caught during a police sting.

18 May 2011 Court of Appeal ruling quashes the acquittal of Gary Dobson in the private prosecution and orders that he and David Norris face a retrial over Stephen Lawrence's murder.

14 November 2011 Trial begins at the Old Bailey.

3 January 2012 Dobson and Norris convicted of murder, nearly 18 years after the killing.

4 January 2012 After sentencing the pair, Mr Justice Treacy says: "On the evidence before the court, there are still three or four other killers of Stephen Lawrence at large."

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