British court orders trial in high-profile racist murder

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A British court ordered two men Wednesday to face trial for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago, reopening an unsolved case of racism that caused a national uproar.

Lawrence, an 18-year-old student, was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London, on April 22, 1993. Nobody was ever convicted of his murder and the case remained open.

Gary Dobson, 35, and David Norris, 34, were arrested in September last year over the murder and are in custody. The allegations against them could not previously be reported for legal reasons.

"There is to be a new trial," said Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, lifting the reporting restrictions and setting the trial date for November at the Old Bailey in London.

Dobson was tried for murder in 1996 in a private prosecution brought by Lawrence's parents, alongside two other suspects, Luke Knight and Neil Acourt. All three men were acquitted.

Dobson's retrial is possible under a new law that allows a fresh trial as long as there is new and compelling evidence.

Speaking to reporters outside court, Lawrence's mother Doreen, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice for his son, said: "It's been a long time in coming but we still have a long way to go.

"And at this moment in time, all I can think about is Stephen and that perhaps somewhere down the line we will finally get justice for him."

In their ruling, the panel of three judges said Lawrence was a "young black man of great promise" killed "just because of the colour of his skin".

They described how he was waiting peacefully for a bus with his friend Duwayne Brooks when "a group of white youths crossed the road towards them. One of the youths used abusive racist language".

"This was followed by a sudden and immediate attack, as the group converged on or charged at them," the ruling said.

Brooks managed to flee but Lawrence was stabbed twice in his upper torso and major blood vessels were severed. He managed to get to his feet and tried to run away but collapsed on the pavement. He died soon afterwards in hospital.

"The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man of great promise, targeted and killed by a group of white youths just because of the colour of his skin, was indeed a calamitous crime," the judges said.

© 2011 AFP

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