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Racist killers jailed for UK knife murder

First convictions in the Stephen Lawrence case sees 14 and 15-year terms for a notorious murder 18 years ago after an 'abysmal' inquiry led to major changes in the way Britain is policed.

Gary Dobson, left, was sentenced to 15 years 2 months in prison and Davis Norris to 14 years 3 months at the Old Bailey in London yesterday.
Gary Dobson, left, was sentenced to 15 years 2 months in prison and Davis Norris to 14 years 3 months at the Old Bailey in London yesterday.

LONDON // Two men found guilty of a racist murder that led to profound changes in the way Britain is policed were each sentenced to more than 14 years in prison yesterday.

Gary Dobson, 36, was jailed for 15 years and two months while David Norris, 35, was sentenced to 14 years and three months after they became the first people to be convicted of the murder of black student Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed by a gang of five white youths in an unprovoked attack at a bus stop in south London in April 1993.

The killing and the "abysmal" police investigation that followed shocked Britain.

The-then Labour government appointed Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge, to investigate the affair and his report in 1999 found the Metropolitan Police to be rife with "institutional racism".

Describing the murder as a "terrible and evil crime" committed for "no reason other than racial hatred", the judge, Mr Justice Colman Treacy, told a packed Old Bailey courtroom in London yesterday that the prison terms would have been longer had Dobson and Norris not been juveniles at the time of the killing.

The judge added: "A totally innocent 18-year-old youth on the threshold of a promising life was brutally cut down in the street in front of eyewitnesses by a racist, thuggish gang.

"You were both members of that gang. I have no doubt at all that you fully subscribed to its views and attitudes."

Criticisms of the police by the Macpherson Inquiry included branding the initial command of the murder inquiry as "abysmal" and accusing some of the officers involved in the case of being cronies of Norris's father Clifford, a former drugs baron.

The pair's conviction on Tuesday after a two-month trial was possible because advances in forensic science that found microscopic blood samples, clothing fibres and a single hair from Stephen on the men's clothing.

Cressida Dick, acting deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, said: "It's a matter of huge regret to the Met [Metropolitan Police] that it has taken 18 years to get to this point."

She said the ramifications of the case had had a "unique" effect on modern policing in Britain and she praised Stephen's parents for their unstinting campaign to get justice for their son, which had "contributed to major changes within policing, the law and society as a whole".

Mrs Dick added: "We do, of course, acknowledge that there were five people involved on the night that Stephen was murdered. We have not brought all those people to justice. So if we get new evidence, if we have further opportunities, we will respond to that. We don't see this as the end of the road."

The message was emphasised yesterday by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, who said that "the other people involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence should not rest easily in their beds".

He said Scotland Yard was "actively reviewing the consequences of what opportunities might be presented" by the convictions.

Norris and Dobson were originally arrested on suspicion of murder in May 1993, along with their friends Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight.

The following year, the Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring murder charges and, in 1996 a private prosecution against Neil Acourt, Knight and Dobson was dismissed after identification evidence was ruled inadmissible.

In September 2002, Norris and Neil Acourt were jailed for 18 months for a racist attack on an off-duty, black policeman.

In a statement, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, said: "In the 19 years since his murder, Stephen Lawrence's family has fought tirelessly for justice.

"[The] verdict cannot ease the pain of losing a son. But, for Doreen and Neville Lawrence, I hope that it brings at least some comfort after their years of struggle."

Duwayne Brooks, Stephen's friend who was with him when he was attacked but managed to flee the scene, said in an interview with ITV last night that he hoped the convictions would lead to the prosecution of the other three suspects.

"It can't be full closure because all the suspects are not found guilty. But I'm happy we have a guilty verdict," he said. "But I hope, more than ever, this inspires the investigating team to work harder to bring the rest of the suspects before a jury."

Mr Brooks, said the killing of his friend still haunted him. "I wish we both had run for our lives to be honest. I wish we both had ran, but only I ran and Stephen stuck in his position and was attacked by the group of white boys. Stabbed and died," he said.

Mr Brooks criticised the way police treated him after the murder.

"The treatment was appalling. It was the constant questions around my integrity and Steve's integrity," he said.

"I felt like I was in a battle with the police on that night to convince them that we were innocent, we had not done anything wrong."

dsapsted@thenationa.ae