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UK: British court convicts pair in landmark race murder case


Two British men have been sentenced to jail after being convicted of murdering a black teenager almost two decades ago. The killing and subsequent police investigation had profound implications for UK race relations.

The judge in a racially-charged murder case in London sentenced the two defendants, Gary Dobson and David Norris, to a minimum of 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months, respectively on Wednesday.

The day before, a jury at London's Old Bailey criminal court found the two defendants guilty of the murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence more than 18 years ago.

The verdict represents some closure in one of Britain's highest profile criminal cases. The crime became a defining moment in British race relations - a judicial report finding the police guilty of "institutional racism" over their failure to convict the killers.

"Had the police done their job properly, I would have spent the last 18 years grieving for my son rather than fighting to get his killers to court," said the victim's mother Doreen Lawrence.

Dobson, 36, and Norris, 35, had denied involvement in a knife attack on Lawrence at a bus stop in southeast London in April, 1993.

The pair was among five men to be arrested within weeks of the murder, but prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence to pursue murder charges against any of them. Police were accused of incompetence, with allegations that the case had not been treated seriously because the victim was black.

Those accusations were backed up in a 1999 judicial report which found that the murder had exposed institutional racism, incompetence and a failure of leadership within London's Metropolitan Police.

Fresh evidence, legal changes

The most recent trial was made possible only after fresh forensic evidence linking each man separately with the murder. Changes to British law also meant that one of the defendants - Dobson - could be tried twice. He had already stood trial once in a private prosecution by the Lawrence family, which fell apart.

Britain's The Times newspaper called the decision "a qualified victory for civilized values."

"It looked as though in Britain, in the late 20th century, you could kill a black man for fun and get away with it," said the newspaper's editorial.

Since the initial case, the Metropolitan Police have overhauled policies on racism and launched a recruitment drive for officers from ethnic minorities.

However, concerns about race relations between police and the black community surfaced over the outbreak of riots in London in August last year.

Author: Richard Connor, Matt Zuvela (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel,,15643328,00.html

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