Stephen Lawrence’s legacy is of ‘hope’ and ‘change’, say parents

Helen William, PA
·5-min read

The legacy of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence is one of hope and that change is possible, his parents have said.

Neville and Doreen Lawrence made the comment 28 years to the day since their son was murdered in an unprovoked attack by a gang of racists in Eltham, south-east London, and as a public inquiry into shadowy undercover policing tactics held a minute’s silence in his memory.

They said: “Despite the brutal circumstances of Stephen’s death, those left behind have campaigned to ensure that his legacy is ultimately one of hope, reminding us that change is both much needed but also possible.”

National Stephen Lawrence Day
The launch of the Never Forget Stephen Lawrence exhibition, where 29 flags were installed in Brixton Village in south London ahead of National Stephen Lawrence Day (Aaron Chown/PA)

Their joint statement was read by Undercover Policing Inquiry chairman and former High Court judge Sir John Mitting, as the day’s hearing began with a minute’s silence to mark Stephen Lawrence Day in memory of the 18-year-old.

Undercover officers spied on his family’s campaign for justice.

Stephen’s parents and his friend, Duwayne Brooks, who was with him on the night he died, were all reported on by undercover police and are all classed as core participants in the public inquiry.

Incompetence, alleged corruption and racism in the police meant that it took nearly 20 years to convict two of his killers, while the remaining three have never been brought to justice.

The Lawrences remembered their son as “a bright and much-loved young man with his whole life ahead of him”.

Profound cultural shifts in attitude, racism, and changes in the law are now part of his legacy, they said.

Legal – Stephen Lawrence Parents – Home Office
Neville and Doreen Lawrence were spied upon by police during their campaign for justice for their son (Michael Stephens/PA)

The family said it also includes the 1998 public inquiry into the handling of his case, leading to publication of the Macpherson Report which concluded that the Metropolitan Police’s murder investigation had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry was set up in 2015 to look at the activities of two shadowy police units after condemnation of undercover tactics.

A public outcry was sparked when it was revealed that women had been tricked into sexual relationships with undercover officers and that police spies had used the identities of dead children without their families’ permission.

Family justice campaigns were spied upon, and there are claims that some officers were arrested or prosecuted for crimes under fake identities, leading to alleged miscarriages of justice for their co-defendants.

The Metropolitan Police have repeated apologies for officers having sexual relationships and using the identities of dead children without their families’ consent.

Sir John Mitting is chairing the inquiry (Undercover Policing Inquiry/PA)
Sir John Mitting is chairing the inquiry (Undercover Policing Inquiry/PA)

Anti-apartheid campaigner Lord Peter Hain are expected to give evidence during the coming weeks.

Matthew Ryder QC said: “It is an historic embarrassment, and should be a matter of deep regret, that the SDS chose to target those anti-apartheid campaigners for surveillance through the use of undercover officers.”

Celia Stubbs, the partner of anti-racism campaigner Blair Peach who died after being hit over the head by a police officer during a protest, will also take part.

Mr Ryder said she is “concerned” to discover that lawyers who helped her over the years including Sir Stephen Sedley, now a retired Court of Appeal judge who was her at the inquest into Blair Peach’s death, were the subject of the interest” of the Special Branch.

A woman named only as “Madeleine” is among the four sexual relationships which have been admitted to by an undercover officer identified as Vince Miller who infiltrated her branch of the Socialist Workers Party in 1977.

She now calls him “Vince the Vampire” and feels she has been “misled” as to the number of his colleagues who have spied on her.

Pointing out that she has committed any crime or act of violence only to find that secret files have been held on her, Madeleine told the inquiry: “I felt degraded and abused and continue to feel a real sense of violation.

“I feel that both my trust and my values have been betrayed by an agent of the state.”

Blair Peach report
Celia Stubbs, former partner of Blair Peach(Fiona Hanson/PA)

In a statement released by the Met on Wednesday, Helen Ball, Assistant Commissioner for Professionalism, said the period included rioting and the start of the IRA bombing campaign in England.

She said the SDS was operating against this “challenging” backdrop and added that “the Met acknowledges that these cases caused significant harm and distress, and for this we are sorry”.

The two units being examined are the SDS, which existed between 1968 and 2008, and the undercover part of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which existed between 1999 and 2010.

During the current batch of hearings, the deployment of 29 undercover officers will be examined, who on average were on assignment for three to five years.

To date the mammoth inquiry has cost more than £36 million, although Tory peer Lord Moylan estimated last week that this could rise to £100 million, including police costs, by the time the inquiry reports in 2023.

The hearing was adjourned to Friday and will begin with a minute’s silence to remember Mr Peach on the 42nd anniversary of the date on which the blow which caused his death was struck.