The violent murder of Stephen Lawrence in Eltham back in 1993 is an issue that has remained incredibly sensitive to the nation for nearly two decades. But it wasn't just the nature of the crime itself that shook Britain's to its core - rather it was the prevailing way in which the case led to changes in policing, forensic science, the law, race relations, employment and the way in which communities interact. With regards to our current society it is a paradigm shift in attitude that will remain in the history books. But now David Norris and Gary Dobson have been put away just how far have we come and has justice really been served after all this time?
It was on the 22nd of April 1993 when Stephen Lawrence was murdered whilst waiting for the bus in the evening with close friend Duwayne Brooks. As Stephen headed off down the road to see if he could see a bus coming in their direction, Brooks claimed to have seen a gang of 5 or 6 youths who suddenly enveloped Stephen, stabbing and beating him - severing his axillary arteries. Whilst Brooks ran in fear Lawrence attempted to follow but collapsed and died about 100 meters away. The details that transformed the case related to the fact that the 5 assailants were all white, Brooks alleged they shouted "what, what nigga" before assaulting Lawrence; yet what was truly shocking was the sheer brutality of what was wholly unprovoked, malicious attack motivated by shades of colour.
Within hours of the murder the police were handed the names of 5 different suspects from an overwhelming 26 sources, but no actual arrests took place until two weeks later. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the Lawrence family's lawyer Imran Kahn stated: "people forget what it was like living in London in 1993, there had been three or four race murders in South-East London" yet the response received from police was frequently described as a "brick wall" as the institution failed to acknowledge the issues as being of racial definition. At the same time the papers had latched onto the case essentially pushing the issues sidelined by the Met to the forefront of the media - including the infamous Daily Mail front page that pictured the infamous five suspects under the slogan: "Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If they are not let them sue us". The result was one that left a well-educated, aspirational family tragedy in the minds of the British public, leading to an eventual acceptance from suburban England of the Lawrences whilst Stephen became wholly symbolic of all black youths murdered over the 50 years prior to the incident.
As the Lawrence family appeared on TV, appealing for help from the public and eventually meeting Nelson Mandella who likened the instance to "living under Apartheid", the police investigation proceeded to go nowhere. All the attention directed at the case in conjunction with the huge failures in progress led to the then Home Secretary Jack Straw ordering an enquiry. Conducted by Sir. William Macphereson it was the first inclination that monumental changes to British institutions could be made for the better by presenting a blank slate from which to build. A total of 70 recommendations were made (most of which have been implemented) including the abolition of the double jeopardy rule that eventually led to a conviction. Perhaps the most damning faults highlighted by the probe included not only huge failings by senior officers but that most importantly that the Met was "institutionally racist". It also came to light that the police failed to give proper medical attention on arrival at the scene and most importantly failed to consult the Scarman Report, a racially led enquiry into the Toxteth and Brixton riots.
Not only were the police deemed incompetent and racist but in 2006 a BBC documentary forced the Independent Police Complaints Commision to announce that an investigation had been mounted into whether senior officers shielded Stephen's killers. John Davidson was accused by a whistle blower on the programme of taking money from Clifford Norris a suspect in the case who was later arrested for drug smuggling. Also in 2009 police officers were arrested for suppressing information related to the investigation in a formation that was described by those investigating of having "a strong smell of corruption".
Whilst the outright incompetence of the police seen back in 1993 is a thing of the past, we still have a way to go as pointed out by Dr. Richard Stone who pointed out that the employment of black and asian officers in the police force has for reasons unknown, failed to grow. At the same time statistics suggest that if you are black you are 45 times more likely to be stopped and searched - a figure that correlates perhaps directly to the ratio of white to black officers in the Met. The shooting of Mark Duggan and the subsequent riots in the summer appear to be symptomatic of where these current issues may lie.
Despite this the inquiry has done a huge amount in improving police relationships with the community and the internal processes of accountability. It led to revolutionary advances in forensics that in conjunction with the over-turned double jeopardy law have sent two of those responsible to jail. But perhaps most importantly it forever embroiled the racism within the public consciousness as a common evil, that is why we have movements such as Love Music Hate Racism and inquiries into the issue within the realm of football and so on and so on.
In many ways justice has been served by putting in motion the changes that are continuously altering this great country for the better. Yes Mrs. Lawrence's statement that if the police had done their job in the first place this all could have been avoided is true, but at the same time her family's persistence and heroic dedication to their sons cause have put in place the barriers to prevent such monumental incompetence taking place in the future.
They changed the thing that is by definition unchangeable: an institution.