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Project February 19, 2013

Justice Served or Justice Jeopardized: The Murder of Stephen Lawrence

Cover of The Daily Mail, printed January 4, 2012, after David Norris (left) and Gary Dobson (right) were convicted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In the sub-headline, The Mail references its earlier accusation, published in 1997.

In 1993, Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man, was stabbed to death by a group of white teenage boys in a racially motivated attack in Eltham, London. The suspects were found not guilty. The High Court of the United Kingdom reversed double jeopardy in 2003, allowing two of the original suspects to be tried twice for the same crime: the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The decision to re-try Gary Dobson and David Norris was justified by detectives' presentation of new forensic evidence: a microscopic sample of Lawrence's blood on Dobson's sweater and the fibers of Lawrence's hair that were found on Norris' jeans. The two men were convicted of the attack on Jan. 4, 2012.

Britain's press played an influential role in the outcomes of this case, naming five young men guilty of the murder before a jury reached the same verdict. The investigation of this case became an issue of contention, making institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police force a hot topic and the focus of the policy-changing Macpherson Inquiry. As a result, Britain's 400-year-old double jeopardy clause was redefined and Dobson and Norris became two of the first defendants to face the new law. Both were found guilty and received life sentences after 18 years of freedom.