National day announced to commemorate Stephen Lawrence’s life every year

Statement comes as Theresa May attends memorial service marking 25th anniversary of murder

Monday 23 April 2018 21:29
The Macpherson reforms were set in motion by the police reaction to the murder of Stephen Lawrence
The Macpherson reforms were set in motion by the police reaction to the murder of Stephen Lawrence

A national commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence is to be marked on 22 April each year and will be known as Stephen Lawrence Day, Theresa May has announced.

The news came as the prime minister attended a memorial service marking the 25th anniversary of Lawrence’s murder.

Ms May was among a number of national figures, including Prince Harry, his fiancee Meghan Markle, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick, who joined Stephen’s parents at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in central London.

The murdered teenager’s father, Neville Lawrence, said: “We have got some justice and now this is like a mark of what we have been trying to do for years – our son’s memory is going to be enshrined in history.”

Ms May said the day would be used to encourage and support young people and to reflect on Lawrence’s life, death and the positive change he has inspired.

She said: “For the past 25 years, Doreen and Neville have fought heroically to ensure that their son’s life and death will never be forgotten.

“Their dignity, their courage and their sheer determination are an inspiration to us all.

“We are privileged to be here today at this special final anniversary service to commemorate Stephen.

“But it is right that Stephen’s name and legacy lives on.”

The 18-year-old student was fatally stabbed by a gang in a racially motivated attack in Eltham, south-east London, on 22 April 1993.

The murder was a watershed moment in modern race relations in the UK after the subsequent Macpherson Report concluded the police made mistakes and were guilty of institutional racism.

Prince Harry and Ms Markle met Stephen’s mother, now a peer sitting in the Lords, and brother Stuart before the service.

The prince brought a message of support on behalf of the Prince of Wales, who in 2000 gave the annual Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture, which began with a tribute to the Lawrence family.

During the service Ms May gave a scripture reading and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn read an extract from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom.

Prince Harry told the congregation: “My father is very sorry not to be able to make it here so I am going to read some remarks on his behalf.

“It hardly seems possible that 25 years have passed since Stephen Lawrence was so cruelly taken from his family.

“I remember vividly the profound shock that I felt at his senseless murder, a feeling shared by so many people across this country and beyond.

“I remember, too, just how deeply moved I was by the determination of Stephen’s family to build something positive from the tragedy they endured and to ensure that Stephen’s story did not end with despair, but continued with hope.

“A quarter of a century later, we can only imagine the man who Stephen would have become, and just how his extraordinary potential might have been fulfilled.”

Prince Harry added that the teenager’s family have honoured him with everything they had done in his name and the changes they have brought about.

Baroness Lawrence said: “I’d like to thank the prime minister for her announcement today that the government will work with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to establish a Stephen Lawrence Day to take place every year on 22 April.

“I feel honoured she has recognised the changes that have been made in Stephen’s name and the changes that are still needed.

“This 25th anniversary is a moment for the country to come together to remember Stephen and, going forward, 22 April will provide that focal point every year.

“Stephen was denied his voice but the Stephen Lawrence Day will be an opportunity for young people to use their voices and should be embedded in our education and wider system regardless of the government of the day.

“I look forward to working with the government to deliver the first day on 22 April 2019.”

She also thanked those who had helped her achieve all she has, and said that after 25 years “it is time to draw a line”.

Mr Lawrence added: “That is one of the best things I have heard for years.

“I think I will sleep peacefully in my bed tonight.”

He said it was also a reminder to other parents to not “just sit back and take no for an answer”.

Singer Beverley Knight sang at the service, captivating the congregation with renditions of Fallen Soldier and A Change Is Gonna Come.

Two of the men who attacked Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks, simply because they were black, have been convicted of murder.

David Norris and Gary Dobson are serving life sentences.

Three other men who have consistently been accused of the killing but never been convicted are Jamie Acourt, 41, from Bexley, his brother Neil Acourt, 42, and Luke Knight, 41, both from Eltham.

Mr Lawrence, 76, announced last week that he had made the humbling decision to forgive his son’s killers.

He told the Press Association: “The fact that I had to lose my first child has been devastating. I can’t begin to explain the pain and the anguish me and my family have suffered over the past 25 years.”

Scotland Yard has admitted it has no new lines of inquiry in the investigation into Stephen’s murder.

The force said that unless detectives receive new information the investigation is “unlikely to progress further”.

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