Sentencing of Gary Dobson and David Norris sees tributes flood into memorial plaque, but locals claim area has not changed
"It went well yesterday, didn't it?" mused one of the two white Essex builders standing at the memorial that marks the spot in south-east London where Stephen Lawrence collapsed and died 18 years ago.
"We're from over the water," he explained. "We just stopped by to show a bit of respect to the old boy. No one deserves to get stabbed, do they?"
The pair were not alone in travelling to Eltham on a bitterly cold January morning, driven, like many others, by a vague but strong desire to make their own gesture of remembrance and solidarity.
The memorial stone, set into the pavement on Well Hall Road and eclipsed by bouquets of roses, lilies and carnations, testified to many such visits. Most of the cards were inscribed with messages hoping that Stephen and his family would finally find a measure of peace at the end of a two-decade-long fight.
"Stephen Lawrence, rest in peace", read one signed "A mother".
Another said simply: "For Stephen. Never forgotten."
Others, though, were more insistent in their wishes; their relief at Monday's verdicts and Wednesday's sentences tempered by the knowledge that not everyone involved in the murder had been held to account.
"The start of justice," read one; another: "2 down! 3 to go! Rest in peace, Stephen."
By 11.30, the local florist had already been up the road three times to lay flowers on behalf of people who had rung the shop.
"One woman phoned from Southampton," he said. "It's a noticeable thing. Some people have come in for a single rose and some have come in for a little bunch."
Biwi Ayodeji, a 44-year-old property developer, was driving down Well Hall road Wednesday morning ? as he had done countless times ? when he felt a sudden urge to pull over, buy some red roses and lay them on the memorial.
"It's a case that everyone has followed for the last 18 years," he said. "The verdict is almost like a release for myself in a way." A release? "[From] the injustice of it; I felt this sense of wanting to do something about it ? This guy was cut down right at the start of his life."
But the Lawrences and the courts, he said, had patiently followed exactly the right path to justice. And in doing so they had brought about a fundamental change in race relations in the UK.
"We've moved on a lot and it's a legacy of that terrible day. What used to be the norm is now the exception."
Not everyone who lives in Eltham, however, shares that security of optimism.
One woman, who moved to the area eight months ago and lives close to the scene of the murder, was trying to work out where the border lay between "old Eltham" ? where Stephen was murdered and where the BNP flourished in the 90s ? and the new, tolerant Eltham that has struggled to emerge from the events of 22 April 1993.
"The area looks nice and people are very friendly and I thought things would have changed in 18 years," she said. "And that's what I thought until today when someone told me that people were abusing the people who had come to lay flowers. It beggars belief. I thought that was the old Eltham. I was very shocked to hear it just bubbling under."
Still, she reflected, at least it was nice that people were coming to lay flowers in the first place.
Her husband, who grew up nearby, was a student at Blackheath Bluecoat school at the same time as Stephen Lawrence ? "a very nice, quite warm guy" with whom he used to play football.
"When Stephen was murdered, I was incredibly shocked because we were all so young," he said.
Back then, he added: "Eltham and Welling had some negative stereotypes and there was some foundation to that: they stood out as two hotspots for people who were not very open-minded."
Part of the problem, he thinks, is that people in the area tended to stay put and have little contact with other, more multicultural parts of London. And although London as a whole may have moved on since Stephen's murder, "I don't think that Eltham had evolved as much as other areas".
Another local who, once again, did not want to be named, was far more explicit in her appraisal of Eltham.
"People used to say it was the racist capital of the south-east and I would have believed that," she said.
Despite "quite a lot" of progress, she fears much of Eltham remains the hostage of racial animosity.
"It's still a racist area; they still make up stories of Stephen Lawrence being a drug dealer to condone what the animals did to him."
Near the memorial at the side of the busy main road stood a black family who had come to pay their respects. They moved to the area five years ago from nearby Catford. In spite of some apprehension ? "Oh, Eltham's racist" ? the mother said she had yet to encounter any racism personally. The same could not be said of her children. Her eldest, "the only black person at the bus stop", has been pelted with eggs by a gang of young teenagers, while another received so much racist abuse at school that her parents had to find her a new one.
"They've lived all their lives in Catford," she said. "But coming up here, you know the difference ? you can feel the difference."
Despite the family's experiences, however ? and the stains of Eltham's past ? she has no plans to uproot her children.
"You just have to move on," she said. "You can't let anything stop you."