Stephen Lawrence’s Racist Murder: Has The Mail’s Bravery Prejudiced A Trial?
STEPEHEN Lawrence looks out from the Daily Mail’s cover. He is flanked by two men alleged to have murdered him: Gary Dobson and David Norris. They are two of the five “lovable rogues” (as Dobson called them on an ITV interview) who are alleged to have murdered Lawrence at a bus stop in London back in 1993.
Dobson and Norris also feature on the front pages of the Mirror, Sun and Star. But on those paper, their faces are pushed down the news agenda by, respectively, Arnold Swarzenegger’s “SECERET SON” (photos of his lover Mildred Baena and the boy here), Ken Clarke’s rape homage to Whoopi Goldberg (Rape is not always “rape rape”) and Wayne Rooney’s “threat to knock out a fan”.
Only the Mail gives this story of institutional racism, murder and corruption the prominence it deserves. But, then, it did once before, too. In 1997, The Mail named five men as “MURDERERS” on its front page.
These day the Mail is a little more circumspect. The paper’s Stephen Wright opines:
Dobson and Norris are alleged to have been among a group of white youths who stabbed 18-year-old Stephen to death at a bus stop in Eltham, South East London.
“We have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient reliable and substantial new evidence to justify the quashing of the acquittal and to order a new trial. This decision means, and we emphasise that it means no more than that, the question whether Dobson had any criminal involvement in Stephen Lawrence’s death must be considered afresh by a new jury which will examine the evidence and decide whether the allegation against him is proved. The presumption of innocence continues to apply.”
Does the Mail have a problem? In the digital age its headline is easy to find. That front-page photo of Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, David Norris and Luke Knight is but a click away.
Is it prejudicial? The Contempt of Court Act 1981 bars the publication of material which causes “substantial risk of serious prejudice” to a trial. And in 1997, the five were neither under arrest nor facing a murder trial. The reporting restrictions begin at the point of arrest. The Mail published its front page after a private prosecution collapsed. Identification evidence relating to the three youths was ruled inadmissible, and Dobson,Luke Knight and Neil Acourt were acquitted. (Dobson’s aquittal has now been quashed.) One month after the Mail’s headline, the Police Complaints Authority announced it would carry out an investigation into the case
Since 1981, the media has changed. Controlling the flow of information is not so easy. And media interest is not always harmful. Far from it. The media can help build the case by getting witnesses to comes forward and broadcasting reconstructions of any crime. The Mail can highlight injustice. The Mail was brave to do what it did.
Now let justice do its work.