What should we feel now that the investigation into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 27 years ago has for all practical purposes been wound up?
Frustration, certainly. And sadness. Two of his murderers were finally brought to justice in 2012, and are serving time in prison, but no other suspects have ever been convicted.
So it is impossible not to feel that justice has in some way been cheated. Not all of Stephen’s killers have been made to pay the price they should have paid. Barring some extraordinary development in forensic science, or an even more extraordinary confession, they never will be.
Stephen Glover asks: ‘What should we feel now that the investigation into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 27 years ago has for all practical purposes been wound up?’
But if the Metropolitan Police have run out of leads, as seems to be the case, it is hard to know what else they could do. Despite having taken over 240 statements since the latest phase of the investigation into Stephen’s murder began in 2014, they have drawn a blank.
Stephen’s father, Neville, appears to have accepted that, for the moment at least, no more can be done. In a dignified statement yesterday, he said he was ‘disappointed to hear this news but not surprised’.
Doreen, Stephen’s mother, issued a similar statement in which she expressed her disappointment, but also her thanks to Clive Driscoll, the senior investigating officer who was responsible for the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris eight years ago.
What is noteworthy is that Stephen’s parents are only restrainedly criticising the police for having moved the case to an ‘inactive phase’. How striking — and significant — a difference to what took place in 1993!
For whereas in recent times the police have done their utmost to find those responsible, this was emphatically not the case after Stephen’s murder. Then investigating officers refused to accept the killers had been racially motivated.
‘Stephen’s father, Neville, appears to have accepted that, for the moment at least, no more can be done,’ says Stephen Glover
They appeared to disbelieve the testimony of Duwayne Brooks, Stephen’s black friend who was with him when he was stabbed by white youths at a bus stop in South-East London. Neville and Doreen, though obviously prostrate with grief, were repeatedly asked to give the names of Stephen’s black friends.
As for Duwayne, he felt that police were going out of their way to discredit him — casting doubt on his reliability as a witness after an identity parade, and arresting him on suspicion of causing criminal damage at an anti-racism protest.
Despite the almost immediate identification of five white suspects, police were unable — or perhaps simply unwilling — to bring a case. They were guilty, at the very least, of a shameful lack of imagination.
There the matter would probably have rested were it not for the role played by this newspaper four years later. After an inquest returned the verdict that Stephen had been ‘unlawfully killed’ — though there was no apparent prospect of the police taking up the case again — the Mail accused the five suspects.
On its front page on February 14, 1997, the paper identified the five white youths under the headline ‘MURDERERS’. It invited Dobson and Norris and three others to sue if they believed they had been wrongly accused. They did not.
Stephen Glover says: ‘As for Duwayne, he felt that police were going out of their way to discredit him.’ Pictured: Duwayne Brooks, friend of Stephen Lawrence
It’s easy to forget the outrage that followed the Mail’s publication. Lord Donaldson, a former Master of the Rolls, accused its editor of contempt of court, though the less hidebound judge Lord Denning described it as ‘a marvellous piece of journalism’.
Incidentally, I can’t easily see our great liberal newspapers, who proclaim their sympathy for the underdog so loudly and persistently, risking so much in the cause of a relatively unknown black teenager.
It took another 15 years for Dobson and Norris to be convicted. But who can doubt that, if justice has been at least partly served, it is down to the determination and grit of Stephen’s grieving parents, given voice by this paper rallying to their cause?
All this is worth rehearsing because the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the subsequently bungled investigation that seemed almost to resemble a cover-up, belong to another world which, thank God, has mostly passed away.
If the case had never been fully investigated, the racial assumptions of the police and wider society would never have been fully examined. Stephen’s murder was obviously a terrible wrong that could never be put right.
But because it was brought to the public’s notice it has served to make the police re-examine their attitudes. Can we imagine they would turn a blind eye to the murder of a black 18-year-old today?
Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris (right) were convicted in January 2012 for the murder of Stephen Lawrence
As it happens, I had some difficulty with the conclusion of the 1999 Macpherson Report that the bungled investigation of Stephen’s murder showed that the Metropolitan Police were ‘institutionally racist’.
There was a danger, it seemed to me, that this judgment took responsibility away from the failings of individual officers and vested it in an organisation which could not be meaningfully described as ‘racist’ because it was so large and diverse.
Nevertheless, that some — possibly many — officers held racist beliefs at that time is surely undeniable. If a light had never been shone on Stephen’s murder, a sense of complacency in the police, and among politicians, would have gone unchallenged.
I realise, of course, that some people maintain the police are still racist — or, at any rate, that many of their number are. Only the other day, Labour MP and Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler, who is black, complained of ‘racial profiling’ after she had been stopped by police when in a car.
I’ve no idea whether Ms Butler was victimised as she alleges. But it would obviously be silly to pretend that BAME people are never targeted by individual officers, although of course the mere action of ‘stopping and searching’ a person of colour is not proof of racism.
‘Only the other day, Labour MP and Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler, who is black, complained of ‘racial profiling’ after she had been stopped by police when in a car,’ says Stephen Glover
So we should not be so busy congratulating ourselves on more enlightened attitudes that we ignore examples of racism whenever they arise, as they undoubtedly do.
I naturally deplore the occasional acts of violence of Black Lives Matter, and greatly dislike the movement’s incoherent semi-Marxist views, but the core message is inarguable. Of course black lives matter, just as white ones do.
Notwithstanding instances of residual racism, I’m convinced that the past quarter-century has seen a huge shift in the behaviour of the police, who in turn reflect the attitudes of wider society. And I’ve little doubt that the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence has played a part in this transformation.
In his eloquent statement yesterday, Neville Lawrence said he did ‘not regret our fight for justice, although the burden has at times felt too heavy for a family to bear. In fact, I am immensely proud of everything that has been achieved along the way’.
That murder of a talented young man with his life in front of him was a savage and mindless act. It is galling that not all of his killers have been brought to justice, and now very probably never will be.
But, though it may sound a paradoxical thing to say, by shining a light on our failings, a terrible killing has helped to make Britain a fairer country. We’ll never turn our backs on a Stephen Lawrence again.