Who was Stephen Lawrence and why was his murder so significant?

Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence’s murder nearly 30 years ago still has major implications today.

His death in April 1993 led to an inquiry, the result of which – the 1999 Macpherson report – concluded the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.

It took 18 years for the family to secure convictions for the murder.

In January 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder at the end of a six-week trial.

But who was Stephen Lawrence and why was his life and death so significant?

Ambitions to be an architect

Doreen Lawrence and her son Stuart at a memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square to commemorate the 25th anniversary. Credit: David Parker/DailyMail/PA

Stephen Lawrence was born and raised in south-east London, where he lived with his parents Neville and Doreen, his brother Stuart and sister Georgina.

Like most young people, he juggled an active social life, school work, family commitments, and part-time employment.

He also had ambitions to use his talent for maths, art, and design to become an architect, and wanted to have a positive impact on his community, the Stephen Lawrence Trust says of the teen.

When was he killed?

A general view of the bus stop in Eltham, south east London, where teenager Stephen Lawrence was attacked Credit: Ian West/PA

On 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, Stephen was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack while waiting for a bus in Well Hall Road, Eltham, south-east London.

He didn’t know his killers and his killers didn’t know him.

Despite the two convictions, a group of up to six thugs attacked the teenager and his friend Duwayne Brooks.

The campaign for justice has continued so that everyone responsible is taken to trial and sentenced.

But to this day only two have been convicted, despite strong suspicions around specific individuals.

Why has the investigation into his murder been criticised?

The judge in the Stephen Lawrence trial. Credit: Priscilla Coleman

The original investigation had failed to convict those responsible, and the campaign for justice by the Lawrences led to a public inquiry.

The Macpherson report found the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist” in 1999, meaning it was judged that racist beliefs influenced the police’s handling of the investigation.

After considerable campaign efforts and perseverance on behalf of his family, Dobson and Norris were finally convicted but the investigation continued.

Scotland Yard admitted in 2018 it has no new lines of inquiry in the investigation into Stephen's murder.

The force had said that unless detectives receive new information the investigation is "unlikely to progress further".

What has been his legacy?

Baroness Lawrence OBE campaigned tirelessly for reforms of the police service after her son, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered in a racist attack. Credit: PA

April 22 is now considered Stephen Lawrence Day, an annual celebration of the life and legacy of the teenager.

His murder and the subsequent failure from the police brought the nation’s attention to institutional racism and the very real dangers they pose for minorities.

Baroness Lawrence, speaking on the 20th anniversary of his death in 2013, said: “Justice for Stephen is about all of us, every one of us, in society having justice.

“There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams.

“I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope but there is more to do.”

These words are marked on the Stephen Lawrence Trust website.