British court orders trial in racist murder

May 18, 2011 12:00 am

, LONDON, May 18 – A British court ordered two men on Wednesday to stand trial for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago, reopening an unsolved case of racist violence that caused a national uproar.

Lawrence, an 18-year-old student, was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London, on April 22, 1993.

The failure to secure a conviction was the subject of a major inquiry which concluded in 1999 that the police were "institutionally racist" and sparked changes across the criminal justice system.

Gary Dobson, 35, and David Norris, 34, were arrested in September last year over the murder and are in custody. The allegations against them could not previously be reported for legal reasons.

"There is to be a new trial," said Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, setting the trial date for November at the Old Bailey in London.

Dobson, alongside two other suspects, Luke Knight and Neil Acourt, was tried for the murder in 1996 in a private prosecution brought by Lawrence\’s parents. All three men had denied the charges and they were acquitted.

The court quashed Dobson\’s acquittal and allowed his retrial under a new law that allows fresh proceedings as long as there is new and compelling evidence.

Lawrence\’s mother Doreen, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice for her son, told reporters outside court: "It\’s been a long time in coming but we still have a long way to go."

"At this moment in time, all I can think about is Stephen and that perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him."

In their ruling, the panel of three judges said Lawrence was a "young black man of great promise" killed "just because of the colour of his skin".

They described how Lawrence was waiting for a bus with his friend Duwayne Brooks when "a group of white youths crossed the road towards them. One of the youths used abusive racist language".

"This was followed by a sudden and immediate attack, as the group converged on or charged at them," the ruling said.

Brooks fled but Lawrence was stabbed twice in his upper torso and major arteries were severed. He tried to run away but collapsed on the pavement, dying soon afterwards in hospital.

"The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man of great promise, targeted and killed by a group of white youths just because of the colour of his skin, was indeed a calamitous crime," the judges said.

Prosecutors had asked the court to quash Dobson\’s acquittal on the basis of new scientific evidence relating to a grey bomber jacket and a multi-coloured cardigan which they said linked him to the attack.

The judges ruled: "After conducting a detailed examination of a large body of evidence we have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient reliable and substantial new evidence to justify the quashing of the acquittal and to order a new trial."

But they stressed that the "presumption of innocence continues to apply."

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