Despite convictions, UK's Stephen Lawrence case still not fully resolved

New information about the other suspects in Stephen Lawrence's murder, as well as a complaint about the sentences for the two men found guilty, means the racially explosive case is not yet settled.

Ian West/AP
Members of the public lay flowers Tuesday at the memorial stone marking the murder location of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 in Eltham in south London, following the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for his murder.

A controversial racist murder case was wrapped up in court after almost two decades yesterday. But today, the case seems far from over. The sentences of the two found guilty of Stephen Lawrence's death are being reevaluated, and new information has emerged that could help police track down three more suspects. 

The racially-motivated murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 had a far-reaching effect that prompted a review of Britain's police forces and subsequent changes in many of policing methods. Mr. Lawrence was standing at a bus stop in southeast London when he was fatally stabbed by a group of young white men hurling racist comments at him. 

The Metropolitan Police, London's police force, announced today that detectives on the case have received five calls with potentially new information about the night Lawrence was killed. 

Despite the conviction of two of the men responsible, Gary Dobson and David Norris, the Met is under pressure to secure convictions of three friends of Mr. Dobson and Mr. Norris. The judge presiding over the case and Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville, have urged the police to continue investigating the murder amid news reports that the detective team assigned to the case will be disbanded. The Met's spokesman has denied the team was being dissolved.

The initial investigation was heavily criticized, prompting an inquiry and report that branded the police "institutionally racist," leading to a major overhaul of British policing practices. 

At a press conference today, Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe urged the public to help the police catch the remaining killers. "The other people involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence should not rest easily in their beds," he said. “We are still investigating this case and I would just like to take this opportunity, if anybody out there has any more information or any evidence, even after all this time, please tell us then we’ll do the rest.”

Meanwhile, the Attorney General for England and WalesDominic Grieve, is reviewing Dobson and Norris's sentences after an anonymous complaint that the sentences were "unduly lenient." Dobson received 15 years and two months in prison and Norris received 14 years and three months. During the sentencing, the trial judge hinted at his frustration that the severity of their sentences was limited because they were juveniles at the time of the killing. The attorney general is considering the judge's decision.  

If the crime had taken place after the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which increased sentences for a range of serious crimes, Dobson and Norris would likely have received more than the 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months respectively.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office says, “This is a common request which can be made by a member of the public, victim, victim’s family or an MP when they think a sentence has been unduly lenient in a serious crime. If the Attorney General thinks it might be lenient he can send it to the Court of Appeal to make a decision."

Of the 342 requests for reconsideration last year, 90 sentences were referred to the court, 60 of which were raised.

Commentators are still evaluating the social impact of Monday's conviction in the press. 

Bevan Powell, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, says that the way British society talks about race has changed. The case brought "a social consciousness to the area of race relations," he says. "There are still areas of our society, police, health which needs improving … but it's not the same landscape as when Stephen Lawrence was killed."

The changes have gone far beyond the criminal justice system, says Paul Anderson-Walsh, managing director of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which was created in the young man's memory.

“It has changed the social topography of the country not just in the criminal justice system … but in the way people reacted to the murder of an innocent teenager. When maybe once they’d have just ignored it, many people said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, Stephen Lawrence is one of us – a good guy. Why has he been killed’?”

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