The Murder of Stephen Lawrence

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The murder of Stephen Lawrence

Roger Sutcliffe and Steve Williams


ON APRIL 22ND 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered because of the colour of his skin. He was black. No-one has been punished for the murder. Now, in 1999, an inquiry has decided that the police service in London made too many mistakes in their investigation. What happened to Stephen and why didn't the police catch his murderers?

Stephen Lawrence was an 18 year-old London schoolboy. He dreamed of being an architect. On the day he died he was coming home in the evening with his friend Duwayne Brooks. They had to change buses in Eltham. Stephen started to cross the road to see if the next bus was coming. Duwayne called out to ask Stephen if he could see it. The time was about 10.30pm.

A group of five or six white youths came quickly from the other side of the road and surrounded Stephen. One called out, 'what, what nigger?' Stephen was stabbed suddenly, on both sides of his chest. Duwayne tried to stop cars for help but none would stop. A white couple called Mr. and Mrs. Taaffe stopped walking to help. Duwayne ran to call an ambulance. Then James Geddis, an off-duty police officer, stopped his car and covered Stephen with a blanket. He did not give first aid because he assumed others were seeing to it. He checked that an ambulance had been called.

Louise Taaffe put her hand on Stephen's head and whispered in his ear, 'You are loved, you are loved.' Those may have been the last words Stephen heard. (An ambulance got him to hospital by 11.05 pm, but he was already dead. Doctors said that first aid would not have saved him.)

Other police officers and an inspector arrived. None checked to see what Stephen's injuries were. They should have tried to stop the bleeding but they didn't. The inspector assumed that someone else was already in control. Three witnesses had got on a bus and left. They later said the attack had been short and sudden.

The police did not make a log or record of what had happened. They did not make house-to-house searches in the area where the youths ran off to. They thought it was too late to wake people up.

Over the next two days, detectives received 39 tip-offs. Many of them included the same names: Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, David Norris, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight. They were said to be members of a local gang that carried knives. They could have been put into identity parades while memories were still fresh, but they were not arrested until a fortnight after the murder. Officers did find knives in the homes of Dobson and the Acourts. None of the knives had any traces of Stephen's blood.

The police did not gather enough evidence from young people in the area. Some were afraid, and some refused to co-operate. A few of their parents even threatened to sue the police for harassment. The investigation ran out of steam, and in July all charges against the five suspects were dropped. There was not enough evidence.

Stephen's parents were upset with the police. The Inspector at the hospital had said to them, "We've got a young lad in there. He's dead, we don't know who he is, but we'd like to clarify that point. If it's not your son, then all well and good, but we need to know." They say the officers who visited them later gave them no information about how the case was going. But they did ask questions about Stephen's background and character. They seemed to think that Stephen might have provoked the attack. The police would not admit Stephen was killed only because of racism.

The Lawrences were determined to gain justice. They made charges privately against the five suspects. A new policeman in charge handed over evidence. This included a video of the five suspects holding knives and pretending to kill black people. The video was taken secretly in 1994. The trial took place in 1996.

Duwayne Brooks had identified two of the suspects in a line-up. But at the trial, a policeman said that Duwayne told him that he wasn't so sure. The judge thought Duwayne was muddled and his identification was not accepted. The suspects were acquitted.

The next year, an inquest was held to find out exactly how Stephen had died. The suspects refused to answer any questions and this angered a lot of people. The Daily Mail published pictures of the five under the headline 'MURDERERS'. The government decided to hold a public inquiry into the murder and the police investigation.

The public inquiry accepted that the trial evidence was not enough to convict the suspects. But they blamed the police for not gathering enough evidence in the first place. They said the police were not sympathetic or sensitive enough to the Lawrence family. And they thought the police service might have acted differently if Stephen had been white. Racism is a word for treating people better or worse because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. The inquiry report says racism includes "attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping." An organisation like the police can be racist if it doesn't give a proper service to people for any of these reasons. The inquiry calls this 'institutional racism.' It said the police service in the Stephen Lawrence case showed institutional racism.

The inquiry report said: "If racism is to be eliminated from our society there must be a co-ordinated effort to prevent its growth. This goes well beyond the police service." The inquiry made many recommendations to counter racist attitudes and the government have promised to act on them.


Headlines

Before reading
Give children a list of the possible of headlines below, each one highlighting an aspect of the story or an attitude to it. Ask them to predict what the story will be about.

  • Stephen Lawrence Inquiry leaves questions unanswered
  • White youths get away with murder
  • Lawrence family get no justice
  • Police told to clean up their act
  • Stephen Lawrence's legacy: confronting racist Britain
  • Campaign to banish racism

Bare bones

The purpose of this section is to check that everyone understands the basic plot of the story - the 'bones' of the argument.

The beginnings of the following ten sentences are in the correct order, but in each case the second half (ending) does not belong to the first half (beginning). Children should match the endings correctly with the beginnings, for example (l) being the correct ending for 1.

  1. On April 22nd 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered < > and for treating the Lawrences badly. (a)
  2. He and a friend were waiting for a bus < > and the government has promised to act on them. (b)
  3. A few people stopped to give help < > to deny Stephen was killed only out of racism. (c)
  4. The police decided not to search local houses < > but neither they nor the police gave him first aid. (d)
  5. 39 tip offs were received with five main suspects < > into the murder and the police investigation. (e)
  6. The police did not gather enough evidence < > but they were not arrested until a fortnight later. (f)
  7. Stephen's parents thought the police were wrong < > showed institutional racism. (g)
  8. They made charges privately < > but the evidence and identification were not strong enough. (h)
  9. The Daily Mail later printed photos of the suspects < > thinking it was too late to wake people up. (i)
  10. The government decided to hold a public inquiry < > and charges against the five were dropped. (j)
  11. They blamed the police for not gathering enough evidence < > under the headline MURDERERS. (k)
  12. They said the police service in the Stephen Lawrence case < > because of the colour of his skin. (l)
  13. They made many recommendations < > when a group of white youths attacked and stabbed him. (m)

The correct order is:

  1. On April 22nd 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered < > because of the colour of his skin. (l)
  2. He and a friend were waiting for a bus < > when a group of white youths attacked and stabbed him.(m)
  3. A few people stopped to give help < > but neither they nor the police gave him first aid. (d)
  4. The police decided not to search local houses < > thinking it was too late to wake people up. (i)
  5. 39 tip offs were received with five main suspects < > but they were not arrested until a fortnight later. (f)
  6. The police did not gather enough evidence < > and charges against the five were dropped. (j)
  7. Stephen's parents thought the police were wrong < > to deny Stephen was killed only out of racism.(c)
  8. They made charges privately < > but the evidence and identification were not strong enough. (h)
  9. The Daily Mail later printed photos of the suspects < > under the headline MURDERERS. (k)
  10. The government decided to hold a public inquiry < > into the murder and the police investigation.(e)
  11. They blamed the police for not gathering enough evidence < > and for treating the Lawrences badly. (a)
  12. They said the police service in the Stephen Lawrence case < > showed institutional racism. (g)
  13. They made many recommendations < > and the government has promised to act on them. (b)

Hidden Gold

Teachers' notes
News stories provide a gateway to all kinds of important ideas, values and assumptions. We believe strongly that children will be more likely to gain from reading news stories if scope is given for them to explore some of these concepts in depth. Writing comes best after discussion. Writing could come from hidden gold.

We've picked out some key concepts from the story and provided a set of starter questions for each. They may best be presented as a 'menu' for the children to choose from, though it is open to the teacher to pick out any ideas that she thinks might be suitable.

The discussion could be done as a whole class activity, as a small group task, or both. Some whole class discussion, guided by the teacher should be attempted. Children need models of how to discuss well. Teachers may also feel that, though the Hidden Gold questions may not be suitable for their children, they focus on some areas that merit attention.


a. Duty and care

  1. If an off-duty policeman ignored a burglary happening before his eyes, should he be told off?
  2. If an off-duty doctor ignored a baby coughing in the supermarket, should she be told off?
  3. Should we expect any more of off-duty policemen or doctors than of anyone else?
  4. Does everyone have a duty to 'keep off the grass' when it says so?
  5. Does everyone have a duty to keep litter off the streets?
  6. There are probably lots of things that everyone has a duty to do or not do. Can you make a list of a citizen's duties in a few words or sentences?
  7. Parents are said to have a 'duty of care' to their children. What would be their main 'duties'?
  8. Do children have any duties to their parents?
  9. If you had been in charge of the Lawrence investigation, what duties would you have told your officers they had towards Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence?

b. Assuming and checking

  1. Why do you think PC Geddis checked that an ambulance had been sent for, but did not check that someone had given Stephen first aid?
  2. Would you have made the same assumption as PC Geddis, that someone else had given first aid to Stephen?
  3. Why is it thought that the first duty police on the scene should have checked what Stephen's injuries were?
  4. Why shouldn't the Inspector have assumed that the police already on the scene were already in control?
  5. Would you have made the assumption that it was too late to begin house-to-house searches?
  6. If the police knocked on your family door after you had locked up, would you assume they had a good reason for doing so? (If so, would looking for people who had stabbed someone in the street count as a good reason? If not, do you think there could never be a good reason for doing this?)
  7. If you had received names of members of a local gang said to carry knives, would you have checked their homes and alibis immediately?
  8. It seems the police conducting the investigation made the assumption that Stephen was attacked because of some quarrel with the youths. What difference might it have made to the investigation if they had assumed he was attacked because he was black?
  9. Perhaps most street fights between youths arise out of some quarrel. If so, would it be wrong for the police to start from the assumption that this was true in Stephen's case? Does this fit in with what the witnesses said?

c. Identification, information and evidence

  1. Should identity parades be made up of people who are similar, or people who are quite different?
  2. How easy do you think it would be to identify someone involved in an attack like this one, sudden, quick and in the dark?
  3. If a person is picked out in a parade, does that prove s/he was the offender? Would it make any difference if they were picked without hesitation?
  4. Would you be willing to convict a person for a crime if there were no other evidence than their being picked in an identity parade?
  5. If someone gave an alibi and then it were proved their alibi was false, would that be strong evidence of their guilt?
  6. If somebody refused to give an alibi at all would that count as any evidence of guilt?
  7. If someone came forward now and simply said, "It was those five suspects that attacked Stephen," would that count as information? If not, why not?
  8. What exactly is 'information'? What exactly is 'evidence'?
  9. Just suppose that the five suspects were, in fact, guilty. What sort of new information or evidence would now be enough to prove it?
  10. Have you or any of your friends ever been counted as guilty even though you/they were innocent?
  11. Now suppose that the five suspects were not, in fact, guilty. (Five different youths were seen together in the neighbourhood around that time.) Are you happy that English law regards a person as 'innocent unless proven guilty'?

d. Background and character

  1. It is said that Stephen came from a 'good background'. What do people mean by this?
  2. The father of David Norris, one of the suspects, has committed violent robberies, and is now serving 7 years in prison for drugs offences. Is it right to describe David as coming from a 'bad background'?
  3. Might it be sensible to assume that a person who comes from a violent background is more likely to be violent than one who does not?
  4. It is said that Stephen was 'of good character'. What do people mean by this?
  5. If people of bad character or background are victims of crime, should they be treated the same as people of good character by the police and the newspapers?
  6. Which of these things should be connected with having a good character?
    • getting a job
    • being allowed to vote
    • being protected by the law
    • being treated in hospital when you are ill
    • doing well at school
    • having a good reputation
    • keeping friends
    • being believed

e. Treating people the same and differently

  1. Is anything wrong with what the following people say? Could they treat those they talk about the same but in a better way? Explain your thoughts. (These are fictional examples. There is no intention to stereotype the kinds of people mentioned.)
    • A boss said: I know some of my staff don't eat pork, but I want to treat everyone the same. I'll invite them all to a pork supper at my house.
    • The gas man said: I warned everyone in the street to leave their homes because of the dangerous gas leak. I know some of them didn't speak English but I didn't do anything special for them. I treated everyone the same.
    • A teacher said: You've all going to stay in at breaktime because some people were noisy. I want to treat everyone the same.
    • A shopkeeper said: I'm bad-tempered with everyone, black and white. I treat everyone the same.
  2. Is it possible for someone to think they treat everyone the same when, in fact, they don't. Explain your thoughts.
  3. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report says racism means "using conduct or words or practices that advantage or disadvantage others because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin." Is this different from saying we should treat all people the same?
  4. Could we treat people the same but disadvantage some of them? If so how?
  5. Can ignoring someone be a 'practice'? If so, then every time you ignore someone, does that mean you are being racist?

f. Stereotyping

Treating people of a certain race or group as if they were all the same is called 'STEREOTYPING' (i.e. treating one person as TYPICAL of the rest). This can lead to very hurt feelings, as you may see from what Duwayne said about the police: "At the scene the police treated me like a liar, like a suspect instead of a victim, because I was black and they couldn't believe that white boys would attack us for nothing. They tried at the police station to get me to say that the attackers didn't call us nigger. They described me as violent, uncooperative, intimidating. They were stereotyping me as a young black male."

  1. Which of the following are examples of stereotyping:
    • I once saw a great juggler from Finland. I bet all those Fins are great jugglers.
    • I thought the black youth who crossed the road to my side was going to attack and rob me so I ran away.
    • Those Irish people must be good at music. They are always winning the Eurovision song contest.
    • Women should have babies. All the women in my family have them.
    • Only women can have babies. All the women in my family have them.
    • Most people in Britain watch television.
    • A boss tells a tall man he hasn't got a job because, "tall people get too angry to be good with customers." Then the tall man gets angry with the boss. Would the boss have been proved right?
  2. The words 'all' and 'some' are very important. Write a list of true statements beginning with the words 'some'. Then write a list of true statements beginning with the word 'all'. Compare your lists and give reasons for your choices?
  3. Does stereotyping do any harm if it praises some people. Eg. 'children never lie' or 'English people are honest and reliable'. If so, does all such stereotyping do harm or only some of it?

g. Institutions and intentions

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry accused the Metropolitan Police Service of 'institutional racism'. It meant that they failed to give a proper service to people because of their 'colour, culture or ethnic origin'. There was enough 'prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping' to make the service not work for the Lawrences and for others. The inquiry said some of this could be 'unwitting'. That means unintentional or without knowing.

  1. An institution is a group of people working together for some purpose. Hospitals are institutions working for the public health. Schools are institutions working towards greater learning. Can you think of any more institutions?
  2. The Metropolitan (ie. London) Police Service is an institution. What would you say is the purpose they are meant to work towards?
  3. If some police men and women in the Metropolitan Police Service gave a good service to all people, whatever their colour, culture or ethnic background, would they be racist too?
  4. If a police service failed to find out who burgled a black person's house, would that make them a racist institution?
  5. If a police man was very bad at solving all burglaries, would he be racist if he failed to catch the burglar of a black person's house? what would you need to know to decide?
  6. Can anyone act in a racist way without knowing or intending to?
  7. Does knowing you are acting in a racist way depend on what you understand by the word racism?
  8. If the word racism didn't exist, would it still be wrong to treat people better or worse because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin?

h. Prejudice

Prejudice is usually used as a criticism. It can mean these things:

  • to judge before hearing the full story or argument about something or someone
  • to be biased in favour of or against something or someone
  • to hate something or someone without thinking

Which of these statements would you call prejudiced:

  • British cooking is best. I don't care what anyone says.
  • Murder is wrong, and you'll never persuade me otherwise.
  • I hate bullying, everyone should be biased against it.
  • I'll always fight on the side of my own kind.

Explain your answers.


Key sentences - your questions

Children should be asked to pick out (and say aloud or write down) sentences that they think are important in the story, that make them think, or interest them in some way. These would be called 'Key sentences'. Children should be asked why they picked their key sentences.

All the children's sentences should be shared and they should then be asked to pick some sentences that they want to ask a question about. The questions should also be written down.

The children could then discuss their questions in small groups (with a report back) or as a whole class. This could lead to a piece of opinion writing.

Another way to do the same exercise is to present the children with a list of sentences and ask them which ones they think are key sentences as defined above. The rest of the exercise is the same. Here is an example list of possible key sentences.

  1. On April 22nd 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered because of the colour of his skin.
  2. He dreamed of being an architect.
  3. The inspector assumed that someone else was already in control.
  4. They thought it was too late to wake people up.
  5. A few of their parents even threatened to sue the police for harassment.
  6. Racism is a word for treating people better or worse because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.
  7. The inquiry calls this 'institutional racism.'
  8. "....unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping."
  9. The inquiry made many recommendations to counter racist attitudes and the government have promised to act on them.

Your votes

The purpose of this section is to generate and pass on information rather than to develop thinking skills, but it is hoped that children will have had encouragement to reflect before voting - either by the exercise of searching for 'hidden gold' or by conducting a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) on each motion.

A PMI would involve inviting people to give brief reasons for the motion, and brief reasons against, and any other interesting points that may not count particularly for or against.

All motions are to be answered 'Aye' or 'No', though abstentions may also be counted. Results of your class voting could be sent to the Newswise forum so you can compare the results with those from other classes.

  1. Do you think it likely that at least one of the murderers acted out of fear of going against his friends?
  2. Do you imagine that most police have a stronger sense of duty than most other people?
  3. Would you have been willing to convict the five suspects even though there was no conclusive evidence against them?
  4. Do you think it is possible to act in a racist way without intending to?
  5. Do you think it is possible to live life without stereotyping people to some extent?
  6. Do you think the subject of racism should be compulsory on the national curriculum?