A catalogue of errors and ineptitude was revealed, which police witnesses denied was the result of prejudice or racism
When Stephen Lawrence was killed by a gang of white youths in Eltham, south-east London, on 22 April 1993, it was clear to everyone that the attack was racially motivated. Everyone, it seemed, but the police officers investigating the murder.
Pressure for a public inquiry mounted as more and more evidence pointed to the five suspects ? Neil and Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and David Norris ? and to police incompetence. In 1997, Jack Straw, the new home secretary, agreed to a public inquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson, a former high court judge.
The inquiry revealed a devastating catalogue of errors and ineptitude ? and hints of corruption ? which police witnesses strongly denied was the result of prejudice or racism on their part. These edited transcripts from the Macpherson inquiry, included in my play The Colour of Justice, performed at the Tricycle Theatre, the National Theatre and elsewhere, show how witnesses damned themselves, leading Macpherson to conclude that the police investigation was "marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers".
Linda Bethel was one of the first police officers to attend the scene of the murder. Edmund Lawson QC was counsel for the inquiry.
Lawson: There were no difficulties as far as you were concerned in seeing the blood coming from his body?
Bethel: No, not at all.
Lawson: Did you have a first-aid kit in your police car?
Bethel: To the best of my knowledge, yes.
Lawson: Was it ever taken out of the car that night?
Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the Lawrence family, questioned DS John Davidson, one of the investigating officers.
Mansfield: Did anything strike you about the assault, about the witness statements from people who had been at the scene?
Davidson: In what way, sir?
Mansfield: No, no, no, this is my question: did anything strike you, stand out, when you read those statements?
Davidson: A boy was murdered, a young lad was murdered by four or five other young lads outside a bus stop. What would strike me about that, sir?
Mansfield: I just wondered if it occurred to you that it was a race attack?
Davidson: I do not think in my own mind this was a racist attack. I believe this was thugs attacking anyone, as they had done on previous occasions with other white lads.
Mansfield: I do not want to debate with you about the nature of racism, but do you recognise that thugs who may kill white people for a variety of reasons, but who kill blacks because they are blacks, are committing a racial crime?
Davidson: Yes, sir, I recognise that if they were killed because they were black, that is racist.
Mansfield: That is exactly what this case was about but you refused to recognise it, did you not?
Davidson: I still refuse to recognise it, sir. I am very surprised that anybody knows it is about that, because it has never been cleared up anyway, sir.
After reading a formal statement apologising to the Lawrence family, the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Ian Johnston was cross-examined by Stephen Kamlish, also acting for the Lawrence family.
Kamlish: You are aware of a recent Met report which shows that black people were four times more likely to be stopped and searched in a street as white people?
Johnston: If we look at the people who are likely to be out on the streets, youngsters who are truanting and excluded from schools, who are over-represented in the statistics, it is young black children. If you look at who else is out on the streets, it is the unemployed. If you look at the differential rates of unemployment, black people, for a range of reasons ? some of which are understandable, some of which are abhorrent ? are unemployed. If you look at police, where police do their stop and search, it is in high crime areas. High crime areas tend to be areas of social deprivation. Who lives in areas of social deprivation? For a range of reasons, coloured people.
Jamie Acourt was shown the police surveillance video, seen by the Old Bailey jury at Norris and Dobson's trial. He was questioned by Lawson.
Lawson: Let me ask you about knives first of all. When you were arrested by police on 7 May 1993 at your home, as you know, a number of weapons were found, were they not?
Lawson: They included a tiger lock knife and a Gurkha-type knife that were found in an upstairs bedroom. You are aware of that?
Lawson: Whose was the sword and scabbard found under the cushions on the sofa downstairs?
Acourt: Those was ornaments, those was in the house.
Although Acourt had not been in the room at the time of the surveillance, he had seen the video and was cross-examined about it by Mansfield.
Mansfield: I am going to ask you about a specific passage ? football is the topic of the day. Luke Knight complaining about the commentators wanting the Cameroons, "fucking niggers", to win. Your brother says, "Makes you sick, doesn't it?" Neil Acourt says, while picking up a knife from a window-ledge in the room and sticking it into the arms of a chair, "You rubber-lipped cunt. I reckon that every nigger should be chopped up, mate, and they should be left with nothing but fucking stumps." Now, Jamie, have you forgotten that?
Acourt: Yes, I have, yeah.
Mansfield: Right. Shocked are you? An honest reply, please.
Acourt: I ain't shocked. It is nothing to do with me. I ain't shocked.
Mansfield: David Norris is saying, "I'd go down Catford and places like that, I am telling you now, with two submachine-guns and, I am telling you, I'd take one of them, skin the black cunt alive, torture him, set him alight." Then, a little further down, "I would blow their two legs and arms off and say, 'Go on, you can swim home now'," and he laughs. Neil Acourt, your brother, says, "Just let them squirm like a tit in a barrel." Do you find all this shocking?
Acourt: I have no comment on it.
The Colour of Justice is published by Oberon Books.