Stephen Lawrence and the Daily Mail
By Phil McElhinney at Jan 06, 2012
Stephen Lawrence was an 18 year old black student who was attacked and killed by a gang of up to six white youths in Eltham in south east London in April 1993, before stabbing him while he waited for a bus they shouted racist abuse at him and his friend who was also attacked but survived. The original police investigation was was dogged by incompetence and there was an underlying feeling of cynicism and racism towards the victims. Two men have just been convicted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence but up to four other involved in the attack have still not been convicted.
With the guilty verdict of two men for murdering teenager Stephen Lawrence in London in April 1993 many people are paying tribute to his parents Doreen & Neville Lawrence for their perseverance ensuring their son got justice after eighteen years of campaigning (although at least three men involved in the murder have still not been convicted).
Also being credited is the Daily Mail, on 14th February 1997 under the headline Murderers the Mail named and published photographs of each of the suspects and accused them of being the killers of Stephen Lawrence adding "if we are wrong let them sue us"
Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has recorded a video in which he says the "headline had almost subconsciously been brewing in my mind for some time" and decided to run with it when "the coroner's jury had taken just thirty minutes to decide unanimously that Stephen had been unlawfully killed – the victim of a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths"
Neville and Doreen Lawrence have acknowledged the help the Mail played in publicising the case, Doreen Lawrence said "If the Mail hadn’t been publicising what was happening around Stephen and getting it out there, a lot of people wouldn’t have known about the injustice around him as a young man" an Neville Lawrence said "The fact that the Mail – which is a very influential newspaper – went out on a limb for us showed how committed you were to the case. Not a lot of editors would have done that. Not a lot would have chanced it." The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times all praise the Daily Mail for its role in securing the convictions. But while Paul Dacre describes the two convictions as "a glorious day for Neville and Doreen Lawrence……for the police……for British Justice……for the politicians……for British newspapers" Doreen Lawrence was more restrained "How can I celebrate when my son lies buried?"
The Daily Mail can also take some credit for the setting up of the MacPherson Inquiry in 1999 (a public inquiry into the original Police investigation) which found the Police investigation into the murder to have been incompetent and officers had committed fundamental errors which meant that nobody stood trial for the murder for nearly two decades; the inquiry also found the Metropolitan Police to be 'institutionally racist'. One outcome of the inquiry was the scrapping of the 800 year old double jeopardy law which meant that a person could not be put on trial for the same crime twice.
However it is also true to say that the Daily Mail, while sympathetic to the Lawrence family, did originally not believe the story was worth much coverage. A Guardian leader column published the day after the Mail's front page accusation against the five men in 1997 claimed "the Mail's coverage of the shameful killing had been somewhat peripheral. The murder was only mentioned in three stories in the last year before the inquest, only six the previous year, and just 20 since the murder was committed". The Guardian goes on to say "while hoping the guilty would be caught, [the Mail] was quick to sneer at the supporters campaigning for the Lawrence family: 'What is not helpful is the gusto with which the more militant of the anti-racist organisations have hijacked this human tragedy…….is there not also something contemptible about professional protesters who capitalise on grief to fuel confrontation?"
Peter Bottomley, member of Parliament for Eltham at the time of the murder, also spoke about media indifference to the murder speaking to the BBC news channel he said "Some of the police reaction did have a racist bias to it and they weren't the only ones" he then says that a white woman had been shot in Hertfordshire and the shooting received national coverage but when Stephen Lawrence was murdered "there was no [media] reaction at all" and when he asked why "the media said to me in effect 'you know what it's like in south east london'…the media jumped to the same conclusion that perhaps some of the police had"
It later turned out that Neville Lawrence had worked as a plasterer on Paul Dacre's London home when it was being redecorated but Dacre denies this was the reason the Mail launched a campaign for justice he says that it was "the sickening sight on the TV news of those men strutting and staggering as they left the court... swearing, F-ing and blinding in defiance, it was the catalyst."