Stephen Lawrence: Attorney General to review sentences

Gary Dobson and David Norris
Image caption Gary Dobson and David Norris had denied murder

The Attorney General's Office is reviewing the minimum terms given to Stephen Lawrence's killers following a request from a member of the public.

Gary Dobson and David Norris were both jailed for life with minimum terms of 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months respectively.

They were sentenced under guidelines in place in 1993 and as juveniles because both had been under 18.

The attorney general will consider if the terms were "unduly lenient".

Dobson, 36, and Norris, 35, were jailed on Wednesday for the racist killing in Eltham, south-east London in 1993.

A person - who has not been named and is not believed to be connected to the case - has asked the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, to review the minimum terms.

On Wednesday the trial judge Mr Justice Treacy told the pair: "I must sentence you in accordance with the practice in force before the coming into force of Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which now governs sentencing for more modern murders.

'Constrained by law'

"It may be, therefore, that the resultant sentences are lower than some might expect, but the law as laid down by Parliament must be applied and I am constrained by it."

Mr Grieve now has 28 days to decide whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal if he feels the minimum terms were too lenient.

The BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said it was not unusual for the Attorney General's Office to receive such requests.

Image caption Stephen Lawrence's mother Doreen said she understood the judge's hands were "tied"

In 2010 the Attorney General's Office received 342 requests for a sentence review, of which 90 were eventually referred to the Court of Appeal.

In 60 cases offenders had their sentences raised.

Mr Justice Treacy sits on the Sentencing Council that advises his colleagues.

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.

Disbandment threat

Meanwhile, a police source has told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the 22 officers on the Stephen Lawrence investigation team were informed before the trial that it was to be disbanded - though the Met has denied it plans to close the team.

Our correspondent Danny Shaw said the team was angry at the decision - not least because much of the knowledge of the case, built up by officers over five years, would be lost.

He said: "It appears the decision to wind down the team is now being reviewed, as police assess new information that's come in since the verdicts were returned."

Our correspondent added: "If no significant lines of inquiry emerge, Scotland Yard will find it hard to justify retaining a team of detectives dedicated to one case when there are other competing priorities."

The Met is scaling back its 30 murder squads because of budget cuts and a decline in the number of homicides in London.

Scotland Yard said on Thursday: "There is no current intention to disband the team investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence."

'Challenging times'

The Met issued a statement saying they faced "very challenging times" due to budget cuts and had to reduce costs as much as possible.

The statement said: "We don't yet know the full impact that budget cuts will have on the [Metropolitan Police Service] and we are unlikely to know our final budget for several months due to the complexity of our funding structures."

But they confirmed the Serious Crime Directorate was reviewing its homicide teams in an effort to agree the best way of saving money.

The statement concluded: "It is important to stress that no final decisions have been made and we will continue to consult both internally and externally with stakeholders and the communities we serve over the coming months."

It has emerged detectives in the case were given new information during the trial of the two men.

Police said there had been at least five calls from the public and the information was being evaluated.

Britain's top police officer has said the remaining suspects in the case "should not rest easily in their beds".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said the force was "actively reviewing the consequences of what opportunities might be presented" by the convictions.

The Metropolitan Police said: "We are now reviewing what further lines of inquiry are available."

Dobson and Norris are the first people convicted over the fatal attack on 18-year-old Mr Lawrence in Eltham on 22 April 1993.

In May of that year, brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight were arrested alongside Dobson and Norris.

Three years later Neil Acourt, Mr Knight and Dobson were charged with murder but were acquitted after the CPS decided evidence was unreliable.

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