Twenty-Five Years Later: The Murder of Stephen Lawrence

By Rebecca Bowden, Associate Acquisitions Editor

‘The community was already in mourning… they were really frightened when their young ones go out, because they don’t know when the police be knocking the door.’

Interview with an anonymous source by Dr Gavin Bailey, Manchester Metropolitan University and Dr Ben Lee, Lancaster University, 2015, which will be featured in Gale’s new archive Political Extremism and Radicalism in the Twentieth Century archive, releasing in June 2018.

April marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence. Using an interview with an anonymous anti-racism activist from Gale’s upcoming new digital archive, Political Extremism and Radicalism in the Twentieth Century, I’m going to explore the impact of the event on the community and the nation.

“Murderers.” Daily Mail, 14 Feb. 1997, p. [1]+. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004, Accessed 1 May 2018
Eltham, South East London, 22 April 1993. Stephen Lawrence is stabbed to death at a bus stop by a gang of white youths. The murder of the 18-year-old is one of the most high-profile racial killings in UK history – the resulting investigation and Macpherson Report led to significant changes in attitude surrounding institutional racism, police procedure and to the partial revocation of double jeopardy laws. Twenty-five years later, with the Met announcing that the investigation is unlikely to progress without new leads and only two of his killers having been brought to justice, Stephen Lawrence is still very much at the forefront of public thought.

Yet Stephen’s murder was not an isolated incident. An oral interview with an anonymous source from the Searchlight archive, which will be featured in Gale’s upcoming new digital archive, Political Extremism and Radicalism in the Twentieth Century, delves into the atmosphere in the area prior to the horrific event, and reveals the effect it had on the community.

‘Before Stephen Lawrence there had already been four murders in the borough,’ reveals the anonymous interviewee. One of those murdered was Rolan Adams, 15, who, in 1991, was attacked in Greenwich by a large gang shouting racial slurs. Only one man was convicted of Rolan’s murder. Another, 15-year-old Rohit Duggal, was killed in Eltham in 1992, stabbed by a white youth in an attack that the police never recorded as racially motivated, although his killer, Peter Thomas, was found guilty of murder. So the area was arguably already rife with racist activity, with parents afraid when their children left the house that they would be the next to be attacked. What was different about the murder of Stephen Lawrence? Why had it taken so long to spark change?

Ungoed-Thomas, Jon, and Michael Harvey. “The estate struck dumb by fear.” Daily Mail, 14 Feb. 1997, p. 6-7. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004, Accessed 1 May 2018

Previously, ‘the families have at least seen, one way or another, that justice has been done, by putting these people behind bars. With Stephen Lawrence it’s harder, it’s entirely different,’ the speaker continues. ‘Stephen Lawrence, there were no arrests.’ He elaborates, giving an insight into the atmosphere that accompanied the events: ‘it put a lot of pressure on the communities and the police as well.’

Popham, Peter. “Murdered because he was black.” Independent, 15 Feb. 1997, p. 20. The Independent Digital Archive, Accessed 1 May 2018.

The 25th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence comes at a time when race is still central to current events. In the US, the Black Lives Matter campaign has been working since 2013 to end violence and systemic racism towards black people. Last year, American athletes knelt during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and racial inequality. This week UK news outlets have been reporting on the controversy surrounding the Windrush Generation and their right to stay in the UK. On a more positive note, Marvel’s Black Panther film was lauded earlier this year for its largely black cast, and for its celebration of black culture, giving black role models a central position on the big screen. Yet, even with the reforms brought about by the Macpherson Report, the discussion surrounding race has a long way to go.

It will be possible to listen to more of the interview explored above, and discover other important events from the last decade, including the real Black Panther Party, in Gale’s Political Extremism and Radicalism in the Twentieth Century archive, available in June 2018.

Blog post cover image citation: “The Economist.” Economist, 27 Feb. 1999, p. 1. The Economist Historical Archive, 1843-2014, Accessed 1 May 2018.

About the Author

Having joined Gale in December 2017 with a background in business to business publishing, I am enjoying learning more about the world of digital archives. I love the diversity of Gale’s archives, and discovering the unique stories hidden within them. In my spare time I like doing a variety of unusual sports, a lot of baking, and curling up with a good book.