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Vol. 76/No. 3      January 23, 2012

UK racist murder conviction
used to curb rights
LONDON—Gary Dobson and Davis Norris, two men accused of involvement in a well known racist killing nearly 19 years ago, were found guilty Jan. 3.

Stephen Lawrence, 18, who was Black, was stabbed twice and killed in April 1993 in Eltham in southeast London. Together with his friend Duwayne Brooks, also Black, he was attacked by a gang of thugs, one shouting racist epithets.

The murder prompted widespread outrage among working people. So did the response of the Metropolitan Police, who refused to pursue the killers and instead treated Lawrence and Brooks as criminals.

In the years that followed, however, bourgeois politicians and newspapers used the racist murder and the reaction among working people to take aim at hard-won workers’ rights, such as the presumption of innocence and the right to protection from double jeopardy.

The Lawrence family, fighting to keep the murder in the news, brought private criminal charges against Dobson and Norris, who were arrested in 1993. They were acquitted after the judge ruled crucial identification evidence was inadmissible.

In 1997 the right-wing Daily Mail, which had barely covered the killing before, launched a campaign around the case. It ran a front-page banner headline “Murderers,” above the picture of five alleged suspects, including the two just convicted.

Five days later the Mail ran an editorial commenting on the debate triggered by its coverage. It suggested the law against double jeopardy, trying the same person twice for the same offense, be repealed.

Some newspapers and political figures supported the Mail. Writing for the Socialist Worker, Paul Foot said, “It’s probably the first time that I’ve felt unequivocal support for the Daily Mail.”

Others disagreed. The Voice, a Black weekly, said a repeal would lead to “a breakdown in the justice system,” and make it easier for Blacks to be framed up even if they had been acquitted in court.

A 1999 public inquiry into the Lawrence case, headed by former judge William MacPherson, which detailed the racist character of the police investigation, also called for ending double jeopardy. The law was gutted in 2005.

This led to the new trial and conviction.
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