The news that Gary Dobson and David Norris have been charged with the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 is good news. Having supported the family for many years and having given oral evidence to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry both the scale and magnitude of the failure of the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Services was imprinted indelibly on my brain. Theirs was a failure of epic proportions.
Whilst pleased that some 18 years later justice may be done, this is only partial justice and even this is justice delayed and incomplete. It is for me effectively justice denied.
Of course I am please that some of those thought responsible will be prosecuted, but we have been here before and in my experience the Metropolitan Police (MPS) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are perfectly capable of failing to prosecute this case despite the new evidence they may have.
Lets remember that a previous attempt to prosecute the suspects was brought in July 1993, but failed at the first hurdle after being dropped by the CPS. In April 1994 Stephen’s parents exhausted by the catastrophic failure for the state to prosecute those suspected of murdering their son launched their own private prosecution. This failed after the Police appeared to purposely derail the case by throwing unjustified doubt on the witness identification evidence given Stephens’s friend - a key witness at the scene, Dwayne Brooks.
The MPS subsequently paid Mr. Brooks compensation.
During the public inquiry that followed, Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden said that mistakes had been made during the murder investigation. Weeden, who was head of the murder squad for 14 months, sought to claim that until recently he had not understood the legal grounds on which police could make arrests. This was pathetic from an officer of his experience, and was frankly unbelievable.
I have always believed that corruption and bribery in the MPS with particular officers and local gangsters related to the suspects put an end to any probable prosecution. The BBC in a special investigation named officers it believed to be corrupt. It named officers it believed were involved in taking bribes according to testimony from
Neil Putnam a former corrupt police detective turned whistle blower. Putnam stated that David Norris Sr. was paying a senior officer (whom he named) to obstruct the case, keep him informed and one step ahead of the police investigation.
In 1997 the Police Complaint Authority after a complaint by Stephen’s parents exonerated all the officers involved in relation allegations of racism. Senior Detective Ben Bullock second in command of the botched initial murder investigation faced disciplinary charges and was eventually found guilty of some minor technicality, but acquitted of 11 other more serious charges. Four more officers who were about to be charged with a criminal offence all retired before the inquiry concluded.
In 2006 the IPCC launched an investigation into the alleged police corruption. Far from the “ wall of silence” as reported by the police at the time of murder it emerged there was critical evidence that they failed to disclose. Once again, some three years later and despite strong evidence the IPCC failed to hold anyone to account.
Dr Richard Stone speaking to the Guardian at the time said:
"We were being told that no one was coming forward with information about who was responsible but there was no such wall of silence. There was a large amount of information that the police were either not processing or were suppressing."
He added: "We felt there was a strong smell of corruption. Mrs. Lawrence has to face the fact that maybe there was corruption…”
The reality is we need more evidence to convict all of those suspected of being involved. What we need is an eyewitness account, a solid account from someone who was there at the time. My fear is that without this that any evidence presented will be subject to rigorous challenge by the defence.
There is an eyewitness who has so far refused to speak. This woman saw what happened and could provide the key to an effective prosecution not just of Dobson and Norris but all those involved.
In 2004, the police stated: "The witness who appeared on the right of the scene and walked into Rochester Way with Stephen and Dwayne behind is very important to us. We know who this witness is, she knows who she is, and we know what she knows. She has never made a statement. This witness may have been the catalyst for the attack"
So yes I am pleased and do hope that this time justice can be seen to be done, but until all those involved are behind bars justice will remain an illusion for many black people. Another failure to prosecute would be catastrophic for the parents of Stephen Lawrence and the nation as a whole. Lets hope they can do the job properly this time.
(First published at OBV - Operation Black Vote: The home of black politics http://www.obv.org.uk/)