Stephen Lawrence killers given life sentences

Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen, arrives at court during the trial.
Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen arrives at court during the trial. ,

By Ian Dunt

The two men found guilty of killing Stephen Lawrence were given relatively lenient sentences today, after the judge admitted he had to sentence them according to their age at the time of the crime, when they were juveniles.

Mr Justice Treacy said Gary Dobson and David Norris would have received a life sentence of 30 years at least if they had committed the crimes as adults now, because changes in the law in 2003 introduced racial aggravation to sentencing.

They were still treated harshly, however, with both men receiving life sentences.

Dobson was jailed for a minimum of 15 years and two months while Norris received a minimum term of 14 years and three months. The men will be around 50 by the time they can apply for parole.

But campaigners complained that the men were being sentenced to less time in jail than the family have spent struggling to get justice.

"The sentencing may be quite low, but at the same time the judge's hands were tied," Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's mother, said outside the court.

Sadiq Khan,shadow justice secretary, said: "The judge heard all the evidence and was fully aware of the sentencing guidelines and options open to him. His remarks before sentencing summarised the horror of the crime."

Read the full statement from the judge for sentencing here.

Branding the 1993 murder a "terrible and evil crime" which "scarred the nation", the judge told the men they committed the crime for no other reason than racial hatred.

Norris made notes in the dock and Dobson stared straight ahead as the judge explained that they could be found guilty of murder despite there being no evidence to show they specifically wielded the knife against the black teenager.

Whoever actually stabbed Mr Lawrence did so with their "knowledge or approval", he continued, highlighting that the attack lasted just ten seconds and the group moved as one.

"You lied to the court and showed no remorse," he added.

As Dobson was sentenced his father shouted: "Shame on all of you."

Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, said: "I'd like to thank all the teams responsible for this case from the bottom of my heart."

The case was only made possible by a change to the principle of double jeopardy under the law, which prevented someone cleared of an offence being tried again.

Dobson's prosecution fell under the reformed laws, allowing suspects to be tried a second time if "compelling" new evidence emerged – in this case microscopic forensic evidence only available under new technology. The possibility of a prosecution in the Lawrence case was widely mentioned at the time of the change.

Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission commented: "Today’s sentences can only be a partial justice for the family of Stephen Lawrence. But following yesterday’s verdicts I would like to pay tribute to the extraordinary determination of the Lawrence family and all those who stood with them through their struggle to achieve justice for their son Stephen.

"While the initial investigation into Stephen’s murder was truly shocking in its negligence, I also want to acknowledge and give credit to the current Metropolitan Police investigation team. While nothing can diminish the family’s pain for Stephen’s loss or compensate for the initial failures of the investigation, the Metropolitan Police have since 2006 worked tirelessly to secure these convictions and to ensure that two racist killers will not be free for many years."

Labour implemented the public inquiry into the case, in which retired High Court judge Sir William Macpherson found the Met police to be "institutionally racist".

Jack Straw, who, as home secretary, implemented the inquiry in 1997, told Radio 4 he was pleased with his role in the aftermath but insisted the problem of racism still haunted Britain.

"We have still got a lot further to go because if you are black or Asian and you are young, your sense of how you are treated is very different and more adverse and is very different from anybody else," he told the Today programme.

"I think we've probably got most of the legislation we need in place. It's about ensuring people are less tolerant of racism, whether it's explicit - of which I think there is much less these days - or just implicit, lazy, uncaring, intruding remarks made in the heat of the moment, on the football field and so on.

"I think everybody accepts that the terrible murder of Stephen Lawrence and, yes, the inquiry I established, have produced a sea change in British society."

The focus is now shifting to the other members of the gang. Detectives believe there were around six youths potentially involved. Ms Lawrence said the police would have "difficulty" pursuing further prosecutions because "they didn't collect the evidence".


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