ITV's Stephen: The true story of what happened in the Stephen Lawrence trial

30 August 2021, 18:00

The true story behind Stephen Lawrence's trial
The true story behind Stephen Lawrence's trial. Picture: ITV/Getty Images

Is Stephen based on a true story? Here's what actually happened in the Stephen Lawrence murder trial...

ITV is airing a brand new drama called Stephen, which will focus on the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence.

On April 22, 1993, 18-year-old Stephen was killed while waiting for a bus.

Six years after his death, ITV produced a drama called The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.

And now the sequel of the drama is being released which will pick up in 2006 and focus on Stephen’s parents Doreen and Neville.

Stephen is airing for three episodes on ITV this month
Stephen is airing for three episodes on ITV this month. Picture: ITV

But what really happened during the trial and were Stephen's murderers brought to justice?

What happened to Stephen Lawrence?

On 22 April 1993, black teenager Stephen Lawrence was waiting at a bus stop in south-east London with his friend Duwayne Brooks, when they were attacked by a gang of white youths.

Duwayne managed to escape, but Stephen was stabbed multiple times and died.

Several witnesses came forward over the following days and gave evidence that connected a local gang to the crime.

The suspects were Gary Dobson, brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris.

Stephen Lawrence was killed in 1993
Stephen Lawrence was killed in 1993. Picture: Getty Images

In May and June, all five were arrested by police and Neil Acourt and Luke Knight were charged with murder after Duwayne identified them.

In July, the CPS said the ID evidence was insufficient and the charges were dropped.

With Stephen’s family becoming increasingly frustrated over the investigation, Nelson Mandela met with them and made calls for justice.

By September the following year, Stephen’s mum and dad, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, had launched a private prosecution against Dobson, Neil Acourt and Knight.

The murder trial collapsed in April 1996 when the judge said Duwayne’s identification was inadmissible.

Stephen Lawrence's mum Doreen and his brother Stuart
Stephen Lawrence's mum Doreen and his brother Stuart. Picture: Getty Images

This led to The MacPherson inquiry being launched by the Home Secretary at the time Jack Straw, which looked into the murder and the police’s subsequent investigation.

The 350-page report stated there was ‘professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership’.

It also called to scrap the ‘double jeopardy’ law, which prevented defendants being tried for the same charges again and this was enforced in 2005.

What happened to Stephen Lawrence’s killers?

Some members of the gang ended up in prison for other crimes, but the change to the double jeopardy law meant Dobson and Norris could be tried for Stephen’s murder.

After discovering new forensic evidence - including a blood spot on Dobson’s jacket and hairs found in Norris’ bedroom - the men were put on trial.

Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder in 2012
Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder in 2012. Picture: Getty Images

More than 18 years after Stephen’s death, the trial began at the Old Bailey in November 2011 and lasted six weeks.

Dobson and Norris were both found guilty of murder in January 2012 and recieved life sentences.

In August 2020, the Metropolitan police declared the investigation ‘inactive’ and said ‘all identified lines of inquiry have been completed’.

This means no other suspects can be taken to trial unless the case is reopened.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, said at the time: "The investigation has now moved to an 'inactive' phase, but I have given Stephen's family the assurance that we will continue to deal with any new information that comes to light."

Despite the outcome, Stephen's mother said she'll continue to seek justice for her son.

"Whilst the Metropolitan Police have given up, I never will," she said. "I am truly disappointed that those others who were equally responsible... may not be brought to justice."

Stephen's father said that his son's murder 'opened the country's eyes' to racism, while Doreen also set up a charity in his name to give young people the opportunities Stephen missed out on.