In 1999 my mum and I went to see the Colour of Justice: The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry at the Victoria Palace Theatre. An incredible production that was set in the courtrooms of the initial trial hearing, not a dry eye was left in the house as we watched the actors playing Stephen’s parents superbly play the emotions as they watched justice once again evade them. I remember leaving the theatre with my mum, both of us unable to speak through tears and the conversations that followed as both of us couldn’t work out just why the case hadn’t been solved with all the hard evidence against Dobson & Norris, let alone the others that were supposedly present. It seemed horribly unfair.
It was a case that seemed unfair to me aged 12 in 1993 when it was first reported that a young man had lost his life because of the colour of his skin. In 1993 I was at my state secondary school were pupils were so mixed in ethnicity that the idea someone would discriminate against someone else because of how they looked seemed mad. Except for gingers of course. And fat kids. And anyone with crap trainers. Sure, school was, and I’m sure, still is, a horrible place. Fact is though, while the odd racist remark was no doubt made – amongst 1200 pupils odds are it will have been and I remember a large amount of Greek/Turkish bullying as well as Afro-Caribbean/Asian prejudice going on – at my young naive age, hearing that news about Stephen Lawrence it just seemed that it ‘d be cleared up in minutes. It was obviously one of the most horrible hate crimes of the time and with clear culprits and hard evidence they would be in prison for life and that would send a clear message out to preventing it from happening again. I’d seen a lot of Inspector Morse with my parents. I knew how it all worked.
Yet, only 19 years later, have Gary Dobson and David Norris been found guilty. A verdict that should have appeared back in 1993. Police screw ups, the failed prosecutions which was largely failed by the police screw ups all caused Doreen and Neville Lawrence to suffer not only from the death of their son, but also from the lack of closure on the circumstances in which he died. Tomorrow the court delivers the sentence the murders will serve but will it really be justice? Nearly 20 years on, and only two of the of the initial five suspects have been accused. All this shows is that racist crimes perhaps aren’t important enough to the police or the courts. The question has been asked time and time again as to whether the police would have been quite so difficult and incompetent with everything if it had been a young white boy that was killed. The subtle racism was evident in the whole handling of the case with one of the policewoman who spoke to the Lawrence’s famously saying that as she had spent her youth in Africa she ‘understood black people’. Ridiculous.
It’d be lovely to think that the closure of this finally means things may change but it’s not just racism. That 2012 will be a year where anyone dying is as important as anyone else but the sad truth is, with legal aid being hugely cut it will come so that only the rich will be able to prosecute. Its a horrible comparison, and yes, not an exact one to make (the differences between the cases are huge) and I don’t mean to rile anyone up about it, but do you think if the Lawrence’s had the money or the PR that the McCann’s had that this would have taken half as long? I’m not sure. I just know that while I’m extremely pleased that today the Lawrence’s finally get some justice, I don’t know if its enough. A near 5th of a lifetime spent questioning why, hoping it wouldn’t just go unsolved, mourning someone you miss who was killed in such a horrific way. I can’t imagine anything could really make that ok.
I don’t remember a lot of the play but I have two outstanding memories from seeing that show. One was of the testament of Conor Taffe who saw two boys running along the road and said he knew something was very wrong. He saw Stephen fall over and went to help and his wife had cradled the boy’s head in her lap and told him: “You are loved.” Conor’s shirt was stained with blood and when he washed it the next day, he took the water and poured it on a rose bush in his garden. The other was the face of the actor playing Neville Lawrence when it was announced that the charges against Dobson and Norris were dropped due to ‘lack of evidence’. Completely awash with tears, he couldn’t even look up, so overwhelmed with disappointment and sadness. Despite being a recreation, a play, that image gives me a shiver of sadness even today. I hope tomorrow they get given life at the very least.
RIP Stephen Lawrence.