LONDON (Reuters) - Two men went on trial in London Monday for the 1993 murder of black student Stephen Lawrence, a landmark case that led to police being branded racist and helped to end a doctrine that prevented a suspect being tried twice for the same crime.
Lawrence, an 18-year-old who hoped to train as an architect, was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in southeast London.
His killing and the police’s handling of the investigation prompted a judge-led inquiry that accused the capital’s force of “institutional racism,” professional incompetence and a failure of leadership.
The report by senior judge William Macpherson, published in 1999, was a defining moment in the history of British race relations and led to sweeping changes in the way public bodies deal with racism.
The trial of Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, who both deny murder, began Monday at the Old Bailey.
Dobson, wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and striped blue tie, and Norris, dressed in a grey suit, light blue shirt and dark tie, spoke only to confirm their names.
They sat behind glass screens in the dock of the wood-panelled courtroom next to four security guards. The public gallery and the media benches were packed as judge Colman Treacy formally opened the proceedings.
The first day of the trial was spent selecting a jury of 12 men and women from a pool of 49. Treacy said the prosecution was expected to open its case Tuesday and the trial could last until January. Lawrence’s parents, Doreen and Neville, were in court.
Lawrence was stabbed twice in the attack on April 22, 1993, in Eltham, southeast London. He managed to get to his feet and run a short distance before collapsing on the pavement, and died a short time later in hospital.
Dobson was cleared of Lawrence’s murder at a trial in 1996. The Court of Appeal quashed that acquittal in May and said he could stand trial again.
A second trial was only made possible after a change in 2005 that ended the legal doctrine of double jeopardy, which prevented a defendant being tried again for a crime they had been cleared of.
Lawrence’s murder still weighs heavily on London’s police, who have overhauled their policies and tried to recruit more black and ethnic minority officers.
The trial continues.
Reporting by Peter Griffiths