Jurors retire in British race murder trial

29th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Jurors in the high-profile case of a black teenager murdered in Britain 18 years ago retired on Thursday to consider their verdict, after an emotionally charged six-week trial.

The unprovoked knife attack on 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence by a gang of white youths in Eltham, southeast London, in April 1993, became a defining moment in race relations in Britain.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, both white men from south London, deny murdering the promising young student.

During his summing up at the Old Bailey court in London, where the two men have been on trial since November 14, judge Colman Treacy set out the key issues that the jury need to consider to come to a verdict.

These included considering whether forensic evidence found on clothes taken from the suspects' homes were the result of police contamination, as their lawyers argue, and whether they were present at the time of the attack.

If the jurors decide the men were present and did participate, they must also decide whether the group intended to kill Lawrence or simply to hurt him, which could see the suspects found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Earlier, the judge had urged the four women and eight men not to let emotion influence their deliberations.

"Emotion such as sympathy for the Lawrence family has no part to play. Equally, anger at the nature of the attack on Stephen Lawrence cannot guide your decision," he said.

Nobody has ever been convicted of Lawrence's murder but it has remained high in the national consciousness.

An inquiry by a senior judge into the way that the case was conducted by London's Metropolitan Police led to significant changes in the way murders involving black victims are investigated.

The hard-hitting report by William Macpherson, published in 1999, gave a damning assessment of the "institutional racism" within the Met and policing in general.

The report is regarded by many as a defining moment in British race relations and one of the key moments in the modern history of criminal justice.

© 2011 AFP

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