High-profile race murder case opens in Britain

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Two men go on trial in Britain on Monday for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence whose stabbing 18 years ago led to a major inquiry that concluded the police were "institutionally racist".

The 18-year-old 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 his murder, which was witnessed by his friend.

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

The high-profile trial is taking place at the Old Bailey court in London and is expected to last two months. Much of the past history of the complex case cannot be reported at this stage because it has been placed under tight legal restrictions.

A jury panel is due to be selected on Monday but the case will not be opened until later this week.

Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence, who has campaigned to keep the case in the public eye, paused for photographers as she arrived at the Old Bailey.

The teenager's father Neville, who emigrated to Britain from Jamaica in the 1960s, also arrived at the court.

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 judge made 70 recommendations and his 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.

Allegations that Metropolitan police officers acted incompetently or that their judgement was obscured by racism soured race relations for years.

Two internal police inquiries exonerated the Metropolitan police itself.

Stephen Lawrence was a promising student whose home life was shaped by his parents' religious faith. His ambition was to become an architect.

He is buried in Jamaica, 35 miles (56 kilometres) west of the capital Kingston in a grave beside his grandmother.

A plaque near the spot where the teenager was murdered has been repeatedly targeted by vandals.

In October, police said a bottle was smashed on the plaque. In previous years vandals have chipped the memorial and poured paint and flammable liquid on the tribute.

© 2011 AFP

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