Police today revealed they had closed their investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence 27 years after he was killed in a racially-motivated attack.
The 18-year-old was murdered by a group of racists while waiting for a bus in Eltham, South East London, in April 1993.
Five men were named by the Daily Mail as his killers in February 1997, but it was not until January 2012 that two of the group were convicted of murder.
Gary Dobson and David Norris were jailed for life at the Old Bailey after a trial that hinged on tiny traces of forensic evidence found years after the crime.
Two of the three remaining suspects, brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, have since served jail time for drug dealing, while Luke Knight has remained free.
Stephen Lawrence, 18, was killed by a group of racists in Eltham, South East London, in 1993
Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris (right) were jailed for life at the Old Bailey in January 2012 after a trial that hinged on tiny traces of forensic evidence found years after the crime
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (pictured on April 7) said she is ‘sad that we have been unable to secure further convictions for Stephen, his family and friends’
The original investigation failed to convict those responsible, and the campaign for justice by Stephen’s parents Baroness Lawrence and her former husband Neville led to a public inquiry which branded the Metropolitan Police institutionally racist.
What happened to the five men named by the Daily Mail as Stephen Lawrence’s killers?
GARY DOBSON (convicted)
Gary Dobson was a teenage gang member turned drug supplier already behind bars for dealing cannabis by the time he faced trial over the Stephen Lawrence murder.
A teenage racist, he had been caught on film making hate-filled remarks about black people. He was arrested and charged with Stephen’s murder while he was in custody in 2010.
His previous acquittal for Stephen’s murder was quashed by the Court of Appeal, allowing him to be tried for a second time.
He was forced to admit his racist views in 1994, when he was secretly recorded making vile comments to his friends on a camera planted in the skirting board of his council flat.
Two years earlier in November 1992, Kevin London, then a 16-year-old black youth, was confronted by a gang of white youths and claimed Dobson threatened him with a knife, although no full report was made to the police.
DAVID NORRIS (convicted)
David Norris is a convicted racist and son of infamous south London gangster Clifford Norris.
He was well known on the streets of Eltham by the time Stephen was killed and had had brushes with the law.
Within 24 hours of Stephen’s murder he was named as a member of a knife-wielding gang in two anonymous notes left for police and by an informant who spoke to detectives.
A year earlier Norris had been charged with wounding after allegedly taking part in an attack on two brothers during which one was stabbed with a knife. The charge was dropped in January 1993, three months before Stephen’s murder.
Then on March 18 he was accused of stabbing 20 year-old Stacey Benefield with a miniature sword during an scuffle in Kidbrooke, south London.
But Norris was cleared of involvement after a trial amid allegations there was contact between a juror and a minder connected to Norris.
NEIL ACOURT (not convicted)
Knife-obsessed thug who has never provided a satisfactory alibi for his movements on the night of Stephen’s murder.
He claims he was at home all night but police do not believe his story. His name was linked to Stephen’s murder by a series of informants in the days following the killing.
When officers raided his home just a few minutes from the murder scene, they found a terrifying arsenal of knives. It was routine for him to carry blades while out and about in Eltham in the mid 1990s.
In 2001, he was convicted of possessing an offensive weapon, a baton, which he claimed he needed for protection from revenge attacks. The next year he and David Norris were jailed for 18 months for a racist attack on an off-duty black detective.
JAMIE ACOURT (not convicted)
Along with his elder brother, revelled in the notoriety of being the other half of Eltham’s version of the Krays. He too had an unhealthy obsession in knives.
Like his brother, he was also named by police informants as being one of the murderers. His account of the evening when Stephen died does not match his brother’s story.
In a TV interview, he said he could not remember hearing of Stephen’s death until he saw it on TV the next day. Yet Neil said in the same programme that someone came to the door to inform him of a local stabbing.
Of great interest to the police is the fact that Gary Dobson has admitted going to the Acourts’ home about an hour after Stephen’s murder, supposedly to borrow a Bob Marley CD. Police believe that they met to get their stories straight.
Detectives have been unable to gather forensic evidence linking him to the murder and he was not positively identified by witnesses.
LUKE KNIGHT (not convicted)
Luke Knight has always maintained his innocence while police suspect a ‘sixth man’ might have been part of the gang
Although police informants suggested he was one of the gang, he has always maintained his innocence.
Along with Neil Acourt, he was charged with murder in 1993 but the case was dropped within weeks because of doubts over the evidence. He was formally acquitted of murder at the 1996 private prosecution.
He was not in the dock with Norris and Dobson because of lack of credible identification evidence, no confession and no forensics linking him to the murder. Because of double jeopardy laws, police would need a major breakthrough to snare him.
When the force announced two years ago that it was mothballing the investigation and it was unlikely to progress without new information, Doreen Lawrence said she wanted the probe closed.
However, Neville Lawrence said he hoped the family could get ‘total justice’ and that he would never give up.
Today, Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick said: ‘This was an appalling racist murder and I am sad that we have been unable to secure further convictions for Stephen, his family and friends.
‘I, and the senior investigator in charge of the case, Chris Le Pere, have met with Baroness Lawrence and Mr Lawrence and fully explained the work the team have been doing, and why we are now at this stage.
‘The investigation has now moved to an ‘inactive’ phase, but I have given Stephen’s family the assurance that we will continue to deal with any new information that comes to light.
‘The investigation into Stephen’s murder will also be periodically reviewed for any further investigative opportunities which may arise, for example with advances in technology.’
She added that the force has told Duwayne Brooks, who was with Stephen on the night he was killed, about their decision.
The original investigation into his death was hampered by incompetence, racism and claims of police corruption surrounding Norris’s father Clifford and his links to the criminal underworld.
In April 1994 the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution, and in September that year Mr Lawrence’s parents unsuccessfully attempted their own private prosecution against Dobson, Knight and Neil Acourt.
Five years later the Macpherson report, produced after a public inquiry into the case, found the Metropolitan Police guilty of institutional racism and made a series of recommendations on changes to policing and wider public policy.
Today there are still ongoing inquiries linked to the case, including an investigation by the National Crime Agency and the Independent Office for Police Conduct into alleged corruption.
The case will also inform part of the public inquiry into undercover policing that is due to start next year, after it was revealed in 2013 that a police mole infiltrated a campaign group supporting the Lawrence family’s fight for justice.
Today, Commissioner Dick said: ‘We were able to secure two convictions following a determined investigation in 2012 but it is well known that other suspects were also involved in the events which unfolded that night and it is deeply frustrating that we have been unable to bring them to justice.
‘As a result of ceaseless campaigning for justice by Stephen’s parents, profound changes have happened in policing, the law and wider society.
‘I pay tribute to them for their courage and achievements. And today my thoughts are with them and all Stephen’s loved ones.’
Stephen was stabbed to death in an unprovoked racist attack by a gang of white youths 27 years ago in April 1993.
In the weeks after, the two Acourts, Dobson, Knight and Norris were arrested in connection with his murder.
In July 1993, committal proceedings were scheduled for Neil Acourt and Knight but the Crown Prosecution Service formally discontinued the prosecution following a meeting with the senior investigating officer.
Then in December that year, the Southwark coroner Sir Montague Levine halted an inquest into Stephen’s death after the family’s barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, said there was ‘dramatic’ new evidence in the case. But in April 1994, the CPS said the new evidence was insufficient to support murder charges.
Five months later, the Lawrence family began a private prosecution against Neil Acourt, Knight and Dobson. This began in April 1996 at the Old Bailey but collapsed after identification evidence was ruled inadmissible – and the three were acquitted.
An inquest in February 1997 found that Stephen was ‘unlawfully killed by five white youths’, while in December that year a Police Complaints Authority report on the original police investigation identified ‘significant weaknesses, omissions and lost opportunities’.
The Macpherson Report in February 1999 found the police guilty of mistakes and ‘institutional racism’ and made a series of recommendations on changes to policing and wider public policy.
It also suggested a rethink of the principle of ‘double jeopardy’, to allow the retrial of acquitted defendants in exceptional circumstances if new evidence emerged of their guilt.
In April that year, the five men arrested in 1993 denied involvement in the murder in a television interview.
Then, in September 2002, Norris and Neil Acourt were jailed for 18 months for a racist attack on off-duty black policeman Gareth Reid.
The campaign for justice by Stephen’s parents Baroness Lawrence (left) and her former husband Neville (right) led to a public inquiry which branded the police institutionally racist
A court artist’s sketch of Doreen Lawrence (left) and Neville Lawrence (third left) sitting near Gary Dobson (third right) and David Norris (second right) at the Old Bailey in November 2011
Stephen Lawrence: Timeline of a racist murder and the 27-year police investigation
April 22, 1993: Stephen is stabbed to death in an unprovoked racist attack in Eltham, South East London. Within days Neil and Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and David Norris are identified as prime suspects.
July 1993: Prosecutors drop a case against Neil Acourt and Luke Knight. Months later an inquest is halted amid claims of ‘dramatic’ new evidence.
April 1996: An Old Bailey private prosecution brought by the Lawrence family against Neil Acourt, Knight and Dobson collapses.
February 1997: An inquest jury finds Stephen was ‘unlawfully killed by five white youths’. The next day the Daily Mail accuses all five men under the front page headline ‘Murderers’.
February 1999: The Macpherson report finds police guilty of an appalling catalogue of mistakes and ‘institutional racism’.
April 2005: The double jeopardy principle, preventing suspects being tried twice for the same crime, is scrapped for certain offences when there is compelling new evidence.
November 2007: Scotland Yard confirms it is investigating new forensic evidence.
May 2011: The Court of Appeal agrees Dobson’s 1996 acquittal for the murder can be quashed and he can be put on trial again.
January 2012: Dobson and Norris are found guilty of Stephen’s murder.
September 2016: Police announce they have received ‘significant information’ after a fresh appeal to identify a woman whose DNA was found on a bag strap left at the murder scene.
April 2018: Scotland Yard admits it has no new lines of inquiry in the investigation into Stephen’s murder and is preparing to shelve it.
Today: Police say they have no further lines of inquiry and the investigation will be moved to an ‘inactive phase’
By May 2004, the CPS announced there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute anyone for the murder.
But in the following year, the double jeopardy legal principle, preventing suspects being tried twice for the same crime, was scrapped for certain offences when there is new evidence.
And in November 2007, police confirmed they were investigating new forensic evidence in the case.
By May 2011, the Court of Appeal agreed that Dobson’s 1996 acquittal for the murder could be quashed in the face of new forensic evidence.
It could then be reported for the first time that Dobson and Norris would face trial, and this began at the Old Bailey in November 2011. They were found guilty the following January.
Then, in March 2013, a major review by Mark Ellison QC found that a Metropolitan Police ‘spy’ was working within the ‘Lawrence family camp’ during the course of the judicial inquiry into matters arising from his death.
Two years later the then-home secretary Theresa May launched an inquiry into undercover policing following the report of the Ellison Inquiry.
And in October 2015, the National Crime Agency announced that the Metropolitan Police were being investigated for alleged corruption over their initial handling of the murder probe.
One year later the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that former police boss Richard Walton, who controversially met an undercover officer during the Lawrence inquiry, would have faced disciplinary proceedings if he had not been allowed to retire.
It was alleged that Mr Walton ‘obtained information pertaining to the Lawrence family and their supporters, potentially undermining the inquiry and public confidence’.
Then in September 2016, Scotland Yard announced it had received ‘significant information’ after a fresh appeal.
Detectives were attempting to identify a woman whose DNA was on a bag strap found at the murder scene and a separate possible witness.
But by April 2018, Scotland Yard admitted it has no new lines of inquiry in the investigation into Stephen’s murder.
And in July 2019, former detective sergeant John Davidson, who was accused of corruption in the original inquiry into Stephen’s death, was cleared by the police watchdog.