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28 February 2024

Men guilty of British racist murder await sentencing


Two white men convicted of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago, one of Britain's most notorious unsolved crimes, will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, were found guilty by a jury Tuesday of being part of a gang of white youths who stabbed the promising 18-year-old to death at a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London, in April 1993.

They are unlikely to face the current penalty for murder when they are sentenced at London's Old Bailey court, however, as they were only teenagers at the time of the attack.

Dobson and Norris are expected to receive at least 12 years each, although Judge Colman Treacy will also take into account the fact that the murder was racist, and that the pair realised one of their group might use a knife.

Their convictions brought some closure for Lawrence's parents, who had campaigned tirelessly for justice for their son, but his mother Doreen condemned the police for taking so long to bring his killers to trial.

Although Dobson and Norris were identified as suspects within days of the murder, they were never prosecuted. Meanwhile a private case brought by the Lawrence family against Dobson and two others collapsed in 1996.

A judicial inquiry into the police probe in 1999 found it was marred by professional incompetence, leadership failures and, crucially, "institutional racism" -- a charge which led to an overhaul of London's Metropolitan force.

"Despite the verdicts, today is not a cause for celebration," Doreen Lawrence told reporters outside the court on Tuesday.

"How can I celebrate when I know that this day could have come 18 years ago if the police who were meant to find my son's killers (had not) failed so miserably to do so?"

Top Scotland Yard officers have pledged to continue working to bring the other suspects to trial, although they admitted they had no live leads.

Lawrence's father Neville said on Tuesday that despite his "joy and relief" at the convictions, "I do not think I will be able to rest until they are all brought to justice".

In the absence of any new evidence, media reports said detectives may seek to persuade Dobson to testify to the identity of the other gang members in a bid to reduce his jail term.

Three other men -- brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, and Luke Knight -- were arrested following Lawrence's murder, and despite never being convicted, British newspapers have long been identified them as members of the gang.

The Acourts had at the time modelled themselves on the notorious East End gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, and were believed by police to be responsible for a string of violent attacks using knives, media reports said.

Norris was schooled by his gangster father, Clifford Norris, who is suspected of intimidating key witnesses and corrupting police officers to keep his son out of jail, the Daily Mail newspaper said.

He has reportedly been subject to reprisal attacks from black inmates while in prison awaiting trial.

Dobson meanwhile is currently serving a five-year jail term for supplying and possessing drugs.

Despite this week's verdicts, Doreen Lawrence warned that Britain was still a country marred by racism, a fact emphasised by the fatal shooting of an Indian student in the northwestern English city of Manchester on December 26.

Police are treating the murder of Anuj Bidve, a 23-year-old postgraduate student, as a hate crime and have charged a 20-year-old man with the killing.