In the Media

Stephen Lawrence murder trial: jurors told to 'start case with clean slate'

PUBLISHED November 14, 2011

Potential jurors in trial of two men for 1993 murder warned by judge they must disregard previous publicity about the case Potential jurors in the trial of two men for the murder 18 years ago of the teenager Stephen Lawrence were warned on Monday they must start with a "clean slate" when trying such a "notorious" case. As the defendants, Gary Dobson and David Norris, sat in the glass-fronted dock of court 16 of the Central Criminal Court in the City of London flanked by prison guards, Mr Justice Treacy addressed a panel of potential jurors with a swift resume of the killing and its aftermath, which he said, had attracted much publicity and public comment over many years. Describing it as an "important and sensitive case", the judge said: "This case is concerned with the alleged murder by the two defendants in the dock along with other people not within the court, of a young black man called Stephen Lawrence. "Stephen Lawrence was killed in south London in April 1993. There have been ... a series of police investigations, and there has been criticism of the way in which the police went about their task, particularly in the early years." There had been a court hearing, he said, a public inquest and a public inquiry into the way the murder had been investigated, as well as comments about who was responsible for the killing. But the jury had to disregard all of that and try the case only on the evidence presented to them during the trial. Reading up on the case on the internet, or doing any other research was prohibited, he said. Now aged 36 and 35 respectively, Dobson and Norris ? who deny murder ? were teenagers at the time that Lawrence, a promising young A-level student, was fatally stabbed on the night of 22 April 1993 as he stood at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London. They sat in the dock within feet of Lawrence's family; his mother Doreen, father Neville and younger brother Stuart, who watched as a panel of 49 jurors was whittled down by the judge to 24, after answering a series of questions designed to ensure the trial was fair and the jury independent. A further selection process will reduce the 24 to a jury of 12. Focusing on the trial, which will be opened by the prosecution on Tuesday, Treacy said forensic evidence was a key factor in the case. "You must start this case with a clean slate," he said. "It will be largely based on scientific evidence which has emerged in a recent reinvestigation of the case. That evidence will have centre stage in this trial. "A central issue for the jury to consider will be the reliability and significance of that scientific evidence." Dealing with the huge amounts of publicity about the murder of Lawrence, the judge said many cases of such nature had been tried at the Old Bailey. "Having general knowledge of the case is not something I would regard as disqualifying any person," he told the jury panel. "Very often cases which have become well known or notorious ... come to trial." But he said anyone with "close, detailed, specific knowledge or association" should tell him and would be excluded from serving on the jury. In advance of Monday's proceedings, the court had imposed a postcode restriction on the jury panel, which ruled out any individual who lived in the south-east London areas of Bexley, Bexleyheath, Greenwich, Lewisham and Bromley from being picked. Lawrence's murder is one of the Metropolitan police's most high profile unsolved cases. The case is expected to last six weeks, but could extend into January 2012. Crime Sandra Laville Vikram Dodd © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds