Opening the Archive

The Crucial Hours: The Stephen Lawrence Newspaper Cuttings Collection – Part 2

By Jo Manby

This is the second post in the two-part series which aims to give an overview of the contents of the Stephen Lawrence Newspaper Cuttings archive collection, gathered together over the decades by AIUC founding director, Louis Kushnick, and now being made available for reference by researchers and members of the public.

The first post looked at the first three of six themes running through the collection (The Metropolitan Police, the Lawrence family and the Macpherson Report). This second post looks at the community reaction, the perpetrators and the criminal justice system.

Montage of newspaper clippings
Clippings from 1999

The community

Several articles reflect on the implications of the Stephen Lawrence case on the wider community – both Black and white. People were giving the issues the serious attention they deserved. One cutting comprises a report by two Black Guardian journalists who went undercover and drove around Soho one night and were stopped by the police for no apparent reason other than automatic racial profiling. Lou points out that:

within a year of MacPherson Report the right wing press were alleging that a decline in overall number of stops and searches had led to increase in crime, even though while there was a decline in stops of whites there was an increase in stops of Blacks.

Many voices come together in the press. In July 1998, a debate was published between Paul Wilson, Chair of the Black Police Association and Suresh Grover of the Stephen Lawrence Campaign, ‘Should Black people join the police?’ In October that year, Winston Silcott, one of the Tottenham Three whose conviction for the murder of PC Blakelock was overturned in 1991 when an ESDA test proved that the police had fabricated the evidence, wrote  an article: ‘For Stephen Lawrence, it’s too late. For Cynthia Jarrett and Cherry Groce, it’s too late… another victim responds to Sir Paul Condon’s apology’. At the time of writing Silcott was still serving a sentence of 12 years for the murder of Anthony Smith despite evidence that he acted in self-defence.

In January 1999, Trevor Phillips wrote a lead article, ‘Icon for a Sceptical Age… How the murdered teenager has become a symbol for a new generation of young black people.’ The Stephen Lawrence case became the subject of a play by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Colour of Justice, which ran at the Tricycle Theatre in London in 1998. He reviews his play for the Guardian in December that year, and in the following January, the Guardian publishes extensive extracts from the play. Benjamin Zephaniah wrote a poem, What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us, which was published on 24 February 1999.

The perpetrators

March 1998 saw the somewhat optimistic headline, ‘Racist killing inquiry will force youths to speak up’. When the inquiry got under way, the youths in question certainly spoke up, but not in a desirable way: ‘Youths “laughed at murder”: Stephen Lawrence inquiry told of neo-Nazi links as police at stabbing scene are accused of lying’ (April 1998); ‘Lawrence five win right to challenge inquiry summons’; ‘White youths face barrage of questions over black murder’ (June 1998); ‘Face to face at last after five-year wait: how the family felt on hearing “can’t remember” from suspects’ (July 1998). Meanwhile in February 1999, the mothers of the suspects were interviewed on Radio 4’s Today Programme giving rise to the headline ‘Our boys are innocent: passion but no new evidence as mothers of Lawrence case suspects break silence’.

The criminal justice system

The long, complex and, for the family, heartbreaking and personally divisive struggle towards justice for the killing, rumbles on. It is a case that is not fully resolved even today, and in fact is still a ‘live’ case for the police. From the earliest headlines ‘Inquest on black schoolboy halted’ (22 December 1993); ‘Officer in Lawrence case faces disciplinary tribunal’ (20 January 1995); ‘First private prosecution for murder held’ (23 April 1995); ‘Lawrence “Five” threaten chaos at inquiry’ (1995), it was clear that it was going to be a contested, drawn-out battle.

By late 1995, the press was picking up on one of the serious problems at issue: ‘James Kelman argues that the Crown Prosecution Service exhibits the racism of the British State: Into Barbarism’. This strand is particularly homed in on during 1997 and 1998. In August 1997, ‘CPS and Police face race inquiry’; December the same year, ‘Lawrence case detectives “lost crucial hours”’ as revealed by the report by Police Complaints Authority, published by the Home Office. In June 1998, one lead article in the Guardian reads: ‘The shadow over justice: conspiracy or just cock-up? As an extraordinary inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence lumbers on, David Pallister finds that the truth is still lost in a mire.’

Final words to Lou Kushnick. Although a first impression might be that the free British press had acted ethically towards the Stephen Lawrence case, Lou describes the kind of situation whereby the police can benefit from a kind of character assassination that can arise in the media.

There have been sporadic exposures of institutions but the press also have other agendas and accountability of police is not always demanded when blacks who have been already adjudged as guilty like Mark Duggan are killed by police there is a trashing of the victim’s character which lays the groundwork for IPCC and other bodies to “explain” events.

Thankfully, we benefit in this country from at least a nominally democratic ‘free’ press. That’s just not the case in other places in the world. But here in the UK, people still need to be reading between the lines.

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, London, 1999, Stationary Office is available at Moss Side Powerhouse Library and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre library (CR.4.01/MAC, for reference only).

The Stephen Lawrence Press Cuttings Archive Collection is available to view by appointment.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

One reply on “The Crucial Hours: The Stephen Lawrence Newspaper Cuttings Collection – Part 2”

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