White gang 'swallowed up' black British teen in fatal attack

15th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A black teenager was "swallowed up" and knifed to death by a gang of white youths shouting racist abuse, a London court heard Tuesday at the start of a high-profile murder trial dating back 18 years.

Prosecutors said detectives had uncovered new scientific evidence in the case of Stephen Lawrence, 18, whose murder on April 22, 1993 rocked Britain.

The murder and a subsequent inquiry are considered by many to be landmarks in the history of British race relations.

Lawrence was attacked by a five-strong gang which pounced on him at a bus stop, the Old Bailey court in London heard as the trial of two men accused of murdering him got under way.

The college student was stabbed twice in the upper torso and bled to death after two arteries were severed, prosecutor Mark Ellison told the jury.

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

Nobody has ever been convicted over Lawrence's death, which led to a major inquiry that concluded London's Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist".

Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville, sat not far from the accused as the jury of eight men and four women was sworn in.

Opening the case Tuesday, Ellison said one of the white group was heard to say "what, what, nigger?", as they charged towards Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks during the night-time attack at a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London.

Though Brooks managed to run off, "Stephen Lawrence did not manage to get away. The group quickly surrounded him," Ellison said.

"One witness described that he was swallowed up by the weight of numbers and forced to the ground."

The gang had rushed towards Lawrence and Brooks in a "totally unprovoked" way, said the prosecutor, adding: "The only discernible reason for the attack was the colour of his skin."

Following the attack, Lawrence ran about 220 metres or yards and caught up with his friend. But "he collapsed on the pavement, never to get up again", Ellison said.

The prosecution is relying on new scientific evidence which came to light as a result of a review of the evidence that started in 2007, Ellison told the court.

Blood, fibres and hair were found on clothing seized from the defendants as part of the original police investigation in 1993, he said.

Ellison said a tiny bloodstain found on Dobson's grey jacket was a billion to one match to Lawrence's DNA. Minute flecks of blood had also been found by microscopic examination but they did not contain a full DNA profile.

The stain would not have been detected in the 1990s because it was "well below the minimal size capable of useful analysis" then, Ellison said.

Three bloodied fibres containing Lawrence's DNA were found in the exhibit bag holding the jacket.

Two hairs found in an evidence bag used to store Norris's jeans, one of which was two millimetres long, was found to match Lawrence's DNA to a certainty of one in 1,000, the jury heard.

Seven fibres found on Norris's sweatshirt potentially came from two items of Lawrence's clothes, the prosecutor added.

Dobson's lawyer Timothy Roberts said the clothing had been contaminated in police custody and the evidence amounted to "nothing more than a teaspoon".

Norris's lawyer Stephen Batten also said the clothes could have been contaminated and claimed the jeans and sweatshirt had belonged to Norris' brother.

Before the trial began, judge Colman Treacy told the jury to make their minds up based only on what they heard in court and not to research the case independently.

The 1999 inquiry by senior judge William Macpherson into the way the original investigation was conducted by the Metropolitan Police led to significant changes in the way murders involving black victims are handled.

The trial is expected to last through December.

© 2011 AFP

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