Analysis: Where now for Lawrence investigation?

Doreen Lawrence speaking outside the Old Bailey Doreen Lawrence has been through a very public ordeal in her search for justice

Wednesday's sentencing of Gary Dobson and David Norris was momentous for the history of modern British justice. It was a moment that Stephen Lawrence's parents in their darkest hours feared they would never see.

It was also a moment of huge importance for British society and the public were queuing out of the doors to get in.

Barristers sacrificed a little of their wigged dignity and squashed up bottom-to-bottom to make room for the Lawrence family and the legions of reporters.

One of Stephen Lawrence's relatives had her eyes closed and mouthed a prayer as Mr Justice Treacy read out the sentences.

The defendants stood, said and did nothing, and were taken down. There was applause - something I have never seen in court - and a shout of "Shame on all of you" from Gary Dobson's father.

What now?

So what happens now? Let's start by looking at where this incredible trial has left us.

Metropolitan Police chiefs have been extremely careful to avoid describing this as "justice" for Stephen Lawrence's family. They know it isn't when the other prime suspects are at large.

It is, as succinctly put in a tweet by Mr Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks, "some justice at last".

The convictions were a critical moment because the jury's verdict reflected where society now stands on overt blatant racism.

And the national sympathy for the Lawrence family has helped remind us all about the complex business of institutional racism - the subtler form of unspoken prejudice that allowed the death of a black man to go uninvestigated.

Doreen and Neville Lawrence's long and often bitter battle for justice has had a massive effect on British society. Their denial of justice led to two significant reforms of justice in its broadest possible sense.

Firstly, Parliament reformed race-relations law to place a duty on every public body to promote equality.

Secondly, it allowed somebody to be tried twice for the same serious crime. Today's jailings owe a great deal to those reforms.

The scene in court There was unprecedented applause following the sentencing of the pair

The first, along with the damning findings of the 1999 public inquiry, changed the way the police worked. The second landed Dobson back in the dock.

So a corner was turned with the trial of Dobson and Norris - and what a corner it was. But the practical question is whether the investigation can continue - or will it only hit a dead end?

Mr Justice Treacy urged the police not to "close the file" on catching the remaining killers. Judges rarely intervene in this way - and he was giving voice to the public anger that men still remain at large.

We know that when the police re-opened the Lawrence files and started afresh in 2006, there were almost 200 potential suspects on the database.

Today, with Dobson and Norris convicted, there are nine suspects who have not been eliminated from inquiries. Police have always believed either five or six carried out the attack.

'Prime suspects'

The Macpherson report in 1999 said the "prime suspects" were Dobson, Norris, brothers Jamie and Neil Acourt and Luke Knight - all of whom have denied the allegation.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the unidentified remaining remembers of the gang that killed Stephen "should not rest easily in their beds".

"We are actively reviewing the consequences of what opportunities might be presented," he said. And, appealing directly to witnesses, he added: "Anything you know, please tell us... We can make a difference in this case still."

The BBC understands that the Lawrence team are meeting next week to assess where the case now stands - and what the Yard as a whole can learn from this remarkable cold case turnaround.

But it will not be an easy road ahead. The original investigation was so utterly botched it is remarkable that there was any evidence to convict Dobson and Norris.

And so in the absence of forensic evidence against other suspects, police will hope that one of two things will happen.

Firstly, Dobson or Norris could turn on the other gang members. The long wasted years of prison life have a sobering effect on former criminal allegiances.

The pair are facing a likely move away from London because their presence in HMP Belmarsh, not far from their homes, may threaten security and order. Norris has already suffered from a serious beating while on remand.

The pair had an opportunity between conviction and sentence to speak to the police. They didn't take it.

The Stephen Lawrence Memorial in Eltham The conviction of Dobson and Norris is seen as a historic moment in British policing

The second possibility is that someone out there who knows something - perhaps a former partner or gang member - may find the courage to come forward.

There is one more outstanding legal issue: Will the men appeal? At present it appears extremely unlikely. The Court of Appeal's decision to sanction the retrial of Dobson emphasised the quality of the evidence. An appeal would probably have to be based on adverse publicity.

As for the sentences themselves - it is hard to see how they can be challenged. Mr Justice Treacy sits on the Sentencing Council that advises his colleagues - they follow his lead.

About 10 years ago, the then Lord Chief Justice reviewed life sentences given to some 40 juvenile offenders.

The most common minimum term before possible parole was 10 years. The highest was 20 years. Dobson and Norris have been convicted of the most notorious racist murder of 20th Century Britain - and their sentences are right in the middle of that range.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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Lawrence Verdict


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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Can either of the 3 parents who testified to say Norris / Dobson were at home all evening be done for purgery?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Well I think the pair of them were stitched up. The eveidence is flimsy, but the MET needed a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Two down... Maybe three to go... Save yourselves the trouble and pop down the copshop and give yourselves up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I'm sure that justice has finally been done (apart from others being convicted too), but cant help thinking that the two accused could not have had a fair hearing in light of all the publicity and the obvious need of the justice system for a conviction. The jury would have been under immense pressure to find guilty verdicts.

    That said good news for the Lawrence family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    mick! have to say your view of the world must be so narrow. how can you ask such a question. I don't need to ask what race you are. I just hope you don't work with The Law otherwise would our country ever see justice. For the sake of future generations OPEN YOUR MIND.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I was just a girl when this murder took place. I am black but, the most important thing is that a life was stolen. Anyone who has lost a child would want some form of justice and nothing would ever make up for that kind of loss. It is stupid to question if they should have been tried for the murder (they should) if it was your child or friend you would justice? that's what the The Law is for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    "Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the unidentified remaining REMEMBERS of the gang that killed Stephen"

    Don't you mean "members"? Oh dear, someone in the BBC editing department made a blooper on this one. Anyway on topic, glad to see finally some justice for this heinous crime, even if I was only about 1 when it was committed :-P

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    About time they have proved by their lifestyle they were scum they should have got longer

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Bit of a sweeping statement here i know. I would say alot of laws in this country need reviewing and revising after this case

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    To Mick w, if it was blacks or asians that had committed a similar crime 18 years ago or even today, they would of been sentenced and locked up already. It wouldn't of taken 18 years. And there always has to be a curve on peoples opinions, 'if it was this, or if it was that race'. Regardless of your comment or race of person they were racist and killed an innocent black youth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    At last justice for Doreen Lawrence who has fought an 18 year battle for the sake of her son who can never be replaced! Its a shame the sentences are not longer. These thugs are still living. They detroyed the life of a young person who had so much to live. Never mind hell awaits these animals

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Mick: No, but they wouldn't have needed to, because the case would have been investigated properly in the first place. That was what the notorious "institutional racism" verdict was about – that the Met's incompetent handling of the case in 1993 would almost certainly not have happened if the victim had been white.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This gang were thugs and racist, and deserved to be jailed, but I wonder if it had been a gang of Asians or blacks had killed a white person, would the justice dept persevered as long as they have in this case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I think that both of them should have been given a longer sentence than about 15 years, because even though they murdered when they were younger, they still were free to be able to kill again for 18 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Shocking crime, but have we paid too high a price to get the killers behind bars?

    Loss of double-jeopardy protection now means the state can take a "Robert the Bruce" approach to politically-motivated prosecutions and try again.

    The Jury are aware they are trying a case the state believes to have some substantial new evidence. Doesn't that prejudice them against the accused in advance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    What was bred in the bone has come out in the flesh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Indeed, "some justice at last".


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