What happened to Stephen Lawrence? | The murder that shocked Britain in the ’90s

Stephen Lawrence

What happened to Stephen Lawrence?

Stephen Lawrence was a black British teenager who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in Eltham, South London, on the evening of the 22nd of April 1993. Lawrence was waiting for a bus with his friend, Duwayne Brooks, when a group of white teenagers approached them, shouting racial slurs at them. 

They then forced Lawrence onto the ground and stabbed him repeatedly. Brooks began to run away and urged Lawrence to run with him. Lawrence’s attackers fled the scene, and Lawrence was able to run 130 yards until he collapsed and died from his horrific injuries. 

What happened during the initial investigation? 

Soon after the crime, suspects had been identified but no arrests were made until over 2 weeks after the murder. The police also did not search the houses of the suspects for 4 days. However, Jamie and Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson, David Norris and Luke Knight were all arrested for Lawrence’s murder in the following months. 

They were charged with murder, but the charges were dropped in late July of 1993, as the Crown Prosecution Service announced they had insufficient evidence.

What happened during the private prosecution?

In September 1994, Stephen Lawrence’s family initiated a private prosecution against the suspects in the case, after the failures of the previous investigation. Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville, were instrumental in the fight to get justice for their son, and the case began as funds were raised to pay for the analysis of forensic evidence and the re-interviewing of witnesses. Well-respected QC Michael Mansfield was brought on to lead the case and worked pro bono for the family. 

However, the charges against Jamie Acourt and David Norris were dropped before the trial due to lack of evidence. Following this, on the 23rd of April 1996, Neil Acourt, Dobson and Knight were also all acquitted of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court. 

Cold Case Review and New Trial

The case went cold, and it was looking increasingly likely that justice would not be served in this case. However, in June 2006, a cold case review team did a full re-examination of the forensic evidence. New evidence was found, including a stain of Lawrence’s blood in Dobson’s jacket, and fibres from Lawrence’s clothing with a 99.9% chance of being from the victim were found on Norris. 

Gary Dobson and David Norris were arrested and charged on the 8th of September 2010, and in late October, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC successfully applied to the Court of Appeal to get Dobson’s original acquittal quashed. 

The trial began on the 15th of November 2011 and ended on the 3rd of January 2012, with Dobson and Norris being found guilty of Lawrence’s murder. They were sentenced on the 4th of January 2012. Dobson got life in prison with a minimum term of 15 years and 2 months, and Norris got 14 years and 3 months. 

Where are Stephen Lawrence’s killers now?

  • Gary Dobson is serving his life sentence in Gartree Prison in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
  • In 2017, David Norris was serving his life sentence in HMP Belmarsh and was beaten up and suffered a broken nose, cuts to his face, and broken ribs. In 2022, Norris was moved out of Cat-B HMP Garth in Lancashire, as he was deemed to be a lower-risk inmate. He is currently serving his sentence in HMP Dartmoor in Devon. 
  • Neil Acourt was jailed for 18 months along with Norris for a racist attack on an off-duty black police officer in 2002. In 2018, he went to prison for his role in leading a gang moving cannabis resin between London and the North East. He was released in March 2019 after serving less than half his sentence.
  • Jamie Acourt was part of the cannabis smuggling operation run by his brother, Neil, and was sent to prison in 2018. He is still in prison for this offence and is not expected to be released until 2027.
  • Luke Knight is not currently in prison and doesn’t have any criminal convictions against him. He is apparently still living near where Lawrence’s murder took place. 

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation was a 3-part documentary series on the BBC in 2018, and it was a comprehensive insight into the many twists and turns in the case. 

In 2023, the BBC aired another documentary about the case, called Stephen Lawrence: The Sixth Suspect, and it investigated the possible involvement of another suspect in the case, Matthew White.

What do you think about what happened to Stephen Lawrence? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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