Prosecutors to open British race murder trial

15th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prosecutors were to open the trial in London Tuesday of two men accused of the murder of a black teenager 18 years ago in a case that was a key chapter in the history of British race relations.

Final jury selection was taking place before prosecutors were to outline their case in the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a day after a judge urged potential jurors to put past press coverage of the case out of their minds.

The 18-year-old college student was stabbed to death at a bus stop in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths in Eltham, southeast London, in April 1993.

Nobody has ever been convicted for the murder, which prompted a major inquiry that concluded London's Metropolitan Police were "institutionally racist."

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

The trial, taking place at the Old Bailey court in London, is expected to last two months.

Much of the past history of the case cannot be reported at this stage because it has been placed under tight legal restrictions.

A panel of 24 potential jurors has been selected and the final 12 who will hear the case are to be chosen at random Tuesday.

Judge Colman Treacy told the jurors on Monday that the name of Stephen Lawrence "will have rung a bell with some of you.

"There has been and no doubt will be during the course of the trial quite a lot of press interest in this case.

The case had "aroused strong feelings in people" over the years, the judge said, but urged jurors not to do anything that might jeopardise the trial.

"In order to have a fair trial I must be sure that the members of the jury panel are people who are independent and who don't have any links to any aspect of the case which might disqualify them from sitting as an independent juror," he added.

Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence, who has campaigned to keep the case in the public eye, and his father Neville listened intently in court Monday.

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 Metropolitan police 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.

The force faced allegations of incompetence and racism, although two internal police inquiries exonerated the London force itself.

© 2011 AFP

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