Stephen Lawrence murder: How Eltham was affected

By Katharine Carpenter
BBC News

Image caption,
The area around Eltham has a mix of historic homes, High Street retailers and housing estates

A few roads from where Stephen Lawrence died in Eltham there is a folk club. For years, musician Jim Radford has been singing his Song for Stephen there.

To a haunting melody, one by one he names the local men who have been the main suspects in this case from the start and calls for justice for the murdered teenager's family.

Now, with two men convicted of the 1993 killing, he says he hopes this part of south east London will be able to find some "closure" - and that the anger and shame felt by some will subside.

"It happened on my watch, very close to where I live, to where I sing," Mr Radford says.

"It angered and aggrieved me, as it did millions of others."

It is a sentiment shared by many local people.

Professor Les Back, a sociologist, has lived and worked in the area for years.

He says the murder of Stephen has been like "an open wound" for the community.

"Eltham's become synonymous with a racist place," he says.

"That misrepresents the complexity of what it means to live in a place like this.

"It needs to be remembered too about how many people went to the police to try and do the right thing, to speak with their consciences about what they knew and what they'd heard about the people involved in this murder."

Local people have long denied police claims that they put up a "wall of silence" during the original investigation.

Local optimism

But even now there is some reluctance to talk about Gary Dobson and David Norris.

Some of their friends and associates still live nearby and 18 years on, some of those I spoke to in Eltham were uneasy about discussing the men who a few weeks later were convicted of the murder.

In the early 1990s members of the gang referred to themselves as the Krays.

They were known to carry knives and both Dobson and Norris had been accused of involvement in racist incidents before.

Norris' father, Clifford, was also a notorious local figure. A gangster who has been in prison for drug dealing, he was branded an "evil influence" by the McPherson Inquiry, which examined Stephen's killing.

Image caption,
Eltham is part of the borough of Greenwich

Speaking to the Observer newspaper in 2006, Clifford Norris denied wrongdoing, although the inquiry said many officers believed he coached his son and other suspects, ahead of police interviews.

Today, Eltham - part of the borough of Greenwich - appears a place of mixed fortunes.

Bordered by the wards of Kidbrooke and Shooters Hill to the north and the borough of Bromley to the south, black and minority ethnic people make up more than a third of its population of 78,380. This compares with 41% in the borough of Greenwich and about 31% across London.

In 1991, 6.3% of Eltham's population was made up of black and minority ethnic people.

Bustling with shoppers, the High Street is busy and dotted with well-known chain stores and cafes.

Minutes away are huge mansions, concealed by electronic gates, and visitors are still drawn to the area by the historic Eltham Palace and Tudor Barn.

But sprawling housing estates pepper the area too.

Grid lines form the Brook Estate, where Dobson lived with his parents, and traffic thunders along Well Hall Road, where Stephen died.

Young people at one youth club are optimistic about life in Eltham today, however.

Reggie Oliver, a 24-year-old youth worker at Middle Park Community Centre, says the area has changed for young black people.

"From the early parts of when I was living here, you couldn't really be in Eltham after 10.30pm or 11pm with the pubs closing.

"But now you walk through Eltham and you see quite diverse faces. On the face of it, it's changed quite drastically."

And it does seem that many of the changes are down to a community determined to throw off the negative associations of the past and with two men found guilty of London's most high-profile racist murder there is hope Eltham's open wound will begin to heal.