The nine other suspects in Stephen Lawrence’s murder
GARY Dobson and David Norris murdered Stephen Lawrence. They were the only two members of the gang linked to the murder to stand trial. Brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt were not at the Old Bailey. There are nine remaining suspects in Stephen’s murder. And – yes – they are all linked to the Acourts. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered, Neil Acourt (now called Neil Stuart) was 17; Jamie, Acourt was 16.
Will any of that gang appear in court? There is no evidence against the Acourts. Are they the victims of a smear campaign? Are they among the police’s nine remaining suspects?
Superintendent Jill Bailey says:
“We all know from the evidence that was given in court that there were more than two attackers involved in this attack.”
And they had the police on their side. Bailey adds:
“I am always hopeful because there have been quite a few cases over the years of forensic improvements, the changing of allegiances and new information is reported to us.”
In short, who will grass? Who will tell the truth?
As he left court, Dobson told the jury:
“You have condemned an innocent man here, I hope you can live with yourselves.”
In the hours that followed Stephen Lawrence’s murder 26 people named the Acourt gang. The police then did nothing.
The police received two letters. One said:
“The people involved in last night’s stabbing are: Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, David Norris and Gary Dobson… These b*****ds are definitely involved and must be stopped because they keep getting away with it. Approach these sh*** with care. Do us a favour and prove it. Good luck.”
Another note said: “Be careful when you arrest them. The house is full of knives.”
An anonymous source named Neil Acourt and David Norris as members of a “group of youths on the Kidbrooke Estate who always carry knives and threaten people”.
The police waited over two weeks to arrest the brothers and their pals. Two weeks went by while Dobson and Norris went about unchallenged. Two weeks. It seems incredible. But, then, Stephen Lawrence was black, David Norris father, Clifford Norris, allegedly had some police officers in his pay, and the police were “institutionally racist“.
Four days after the murder, the police did start to watch the Acourts’ home. They saw David Norris and Gary Dobson visit. They saw men carrying black bin bags out of the houses. The police never asked them what was inside. They just watched. They never followed the men. They never saw where they wer going. They just sat and watched.
Why did the police wait four days to watch the Acouts? Well, we’re not sure. But the police had prioritised the surveillance of a young black man wanted on suspicion of theft Stephen Lawrence was lower on the list of to dos.
Fifteen days after Stephen Lawrence was murdered that Dobson and the Acourts were arrested. That was 7 May 1993.
When the police called to arrest David Norris, he was out. To gain access to Norris’s mock Tudor mansion in Berryfield Close, Chislehurst, police had to ring on the intercom.
At the time of Stephen’s murder Clifford Norris was “on the run after being sought on drugs charges, having been so from 1988 until he was arrested in 1994″. (Incidentally, in July 2010, Gary Dobson was jailed for trafficking £350,000 of cannabis. He was two months into his five-year sentence when he was charged with Stephen’s murder.) Was Clifford Norris a factor?
Three days later, Norris went to the police station. Luke Knight was arrested nearly a month later on 3 June.
A mere 20 months after Gary Dobson and David Norris has murdered Stephen Lawrence, the police bugged Dobson’s rented flat, the one he shared with Charlie Martin who was later jailed for eight years for stabbing a man.
The footage was brutal. Neil Acourt was recorded saying:
“I reckon every n***** should be chopped up and left with stumps.”
He was filmed weilding a knife. Dobson said “some [blacks] are all right”. Neil Acourt said they were all “c***s”. Norris expressed a desire to “kill every black c*** … every Paki … every copper”.
“He said ‘The f****** black b****** I am going to kill him’. I cracked up laughing. I went ‘what black geezer?’. He went ‘The Wimpy one, the f****** black n***** c***, f****** black b******. I went ‘What, the P***?”.
Gurdeep Banghal, 22 was working in a Wimpey bar in Eltham – a month before Stephen Lawrence’s murder – when he was stabbed by a white youth who had called him a “P*** b******”. No-one has been convicted for that crime.
So. Was it racist? Was the murder of black Stephen Lawrence racist? No, said the police. At the time, Detective Sergeant John Davidson said:
“Because these lads had attacked whites before, very very similarly with a similar knife I believe this was thugs. They were described as the Krays. They were thugs who were out to kill, not particularly a black person, but anybody and I believe that to this day that that was thugs, not racism, just pure bloody minded thuggery.”
David Norris told the court he was not longer a racist. But while at Belmash prison a black man serving a life sentence for murder responded to an alleged racial slight by dropping a television on Mr Norris’s head. This damaged Norris’s ears. In court, he wore a heating aid.
Neil Acourt was expelled from Kidbrooke School after two confrontations with groups of black youths; banned from Montague Boys Club in 1992 after brandishing a knife at a black boy; convicted in 2001 for possession of an offensive weapon; and in 2002 sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, along with Norris, for a racist attack on a black off-duty policeman.
The MacPherson Report stated:
We heed this warning, but upon all the facts we assert that the conclusion that racism played its part in this case is fully justified. Mere incompetence cannot of itself account for the whole catalogue of failures, mistakes, misjudgements, and lack of direction and control which bedevilled the Stephen Lawrence investigation.
What about the loveable rogues’ past?
The jury was told that when interviewed by police in 1993, Gary Dobson named the Acourts as his best friends and also mentioned Luke Knight. He also told police he associated with youths named Charlie Martin and Danny Caetano.
What the jury did not hear was how the pair were not around the night Stephen Lawrence was killed because they were awaiting trial for a knife attack on a rival gang member who according to the prosecution they had quite literally tried to skin alive. A surgeon said he had never seen such wounds and the pair were convicted.
Then, 13 years after the murder, police found a fibre at the Acourts’ house. Was it from Stephen Lawrence’s shirt? Even if it was, the fibre proved nothing.
Neil Acourt and Jamie Acourt have always denied any involvement in Stephen Lawrence’s murder. Their names were being bandied about. But there is no proof of any guilt. They are innocent. But they do have form.
The police knew of them and their associates. The jury at the Stephen Lawrence trial did not know about the gang’s past:
* In 1991 Lee Pearson was stabbed outside a kebab shop in Well Hall Road, the same street Stephen was killed on. Mr Pearson refused to sign a statement implicating the Acouts, the main suspects.
* A Darren Witham claimed that David Norris, Luke Knight and Jamie Acourt had stabbed him in 1992. David Norris was charged with wounding and Jamie Acourt charged with possessing an offensive weapon. The matter was dropped.
* Also in 1992, Peter Thompson, an alleged associate of the Acourts, stabbed to death Asian teenager Rohit Duggal.
* Dobson and Neil Acourt allegedly attacked Kevin London, a black teenager, a fellow pupil at Crown Wood secondary school in Eltham.
* Neil Acourt was accused of being with David Norris when the latter allegedly stabbed Stacey Benfield, with a miniature sword. Norris was cleared of attempted murder.
The MacPherson Report noted:
From the point of view of this Inquiry the most sinister aspect of the case concerns the bribery of Mr Benefield. We do not know, and presumably we will never know, what in fact prompted the juror to act as he did. Nor will we know what led the jury to acquit David Norris. The matter of most concern is whether or not the clear evidence of the payment of money by Clifford Norris supports the suggestion that his evil influence must have been brought to bear on the Stephen Lawrence investigation. His presence in the background clearly raises much suspicion…
When the Court reconvened at 14:00 Counsel were informed that a juror had approached one of David Norris’ escorts, who was employed by a private company, and told the escort that the verdict would be one of not guilty. The escort brought this matter to the attention of the Clerk of the Court who made a note of the events, which was passed to the Judge. Counsel then saw the Judge in his Chambers. Counsel later informed DC Hughes, who was the officer in the case, that the Judge had stated that he would discharge the juror should the defence make an application to do so, but that he would “think hard” about it should the prosecution make such an application.
DC Hughes reminded Counsel of the history of the case, particularly stressing the Dewar aspect. Understandably he told Counsel that he suspected impropriety, and asked that the application to discharge the juror should be made. Counsel declined to make the application, but the matter was adjourned until the next day in order that DC Hughes could seek advice. At this point DC Hughes contacted Mr Bullock who then spoke to Mr Medwynter of the CPS. Mr Medwynter’s view was that application should be made for the juror to be discharged. It was agreed that a conference should be held on the next day after all parties had received relevant advice.
Mr Bullock attended the conference and told Counsel that the police view was that an application should be made to the Judge to discharge the juror, or alternatively to arrange for a completely fresh trial. After further consultation it appears that the Judge was told what the police view was, but no application was made to discharge the juror or for a fresh trial. Accordingly the trial continued. The Judge summed up, and David Norris was acquitted…
The sinister nature of the Stacey Benefield case and of Clifford Norris’ involvement are self evident. But there is in our view no evidence to support the suggestion that the Benefield case should cast a direct adverse shadow upon anybody involved in the Stephen Lawrence investigation, either witnesses or police officers, in order to support allegations of collusion or corruption in connection with the Stephen Lawrence case.
The Times adds:
Sir William Macpherson’s official inquiry into Stephen’s murder identified other gang members as potential suspects including the Acourts’ half brothers, Bradley and Scott Lamb. Dobson claimed that Bradley and Scott were at the family home when he arrived 90 minutes after Stephen’s murder to visit Neil and Jamie. Sir William said that Blue Stuart, a cousin of the Acourts, matched the description of a fair-haired attacker identified by three of the witnesses to Stephen’s murder. Michael Bunn, another of the brothers’ associates, also matched the description.
Darren Davies, a cousin of Norris, had originally been arrested over claims he allegedly made to work colleagues that were later dismissed. He was arrested again on suspicion of Stephen’s murder in 2001 but no further action was taken.
The jury was not told:
Norris was a passenger in a car driven by Neil Acourt when he threw a drink at Detective Constable Gareth Reid and shouted “n*****” in May 2002. Both men were jailed for 18 months and unsuccessfully appealed against their convictions But the prosecution could not raise the conviction as Mr Reid, 47, was sacked in October 2011 after being found guilty of gross misconduct. The officer had ordered the wrongful arrest of a “love rival vicar” who received a £12,000 out-of-court settlement from the police. Mr Reid had previously sued the force three times claiming racial discrimination.
The Times concludes:
But the Lawrence family suspect that police corruption was also to blame. They believe the Acourts’ criminal connections and Clifford Norris, while still on the run, put pressure on unidentified corrupt officers to hinder the investigation into Stephen’s murder.
The last words are with Doreen Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence’s mother:
“How can I celebrate when I know that this day could have come 18 years ago if the police had not failed so miserably to find sons killers… Despite these verdicts today is not a cause for celebration. How can I celebrate when my son lies buried? When I cannot see him or speak to him. When will I see him grow up and go to university or get married or have children? These verdicts will not bring my son back. These are not reasons to celebrate. All I now feel is relief . Relief that two of my sons killers have finally been caught and brought to justice. Relief that these racist men no longer think they can murder a black man and get away with it. Relief that despite the defence being able to raise issues of contamination the jury saw through it. For some extent I can move forward with my life. Mixed with relief is anger that me an my family were put through 18 years of grief and uncertainty. Had the police done their job properly I would have spent the last 18 years grieving for my son rather than trying to get my son’s killers to court. This result shows the police can do their jobs properly but only if they want to. I only hope they have learned their lesson. The fact is that racism and racist attacks are still happening in this country and the police should not use my son’s name to say we can move on.”
Those are the truest words spoken in the Stephen Lawrence case so far…