Tabloid justice grabs London's attention
February 20, 1997
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EST (1130 GMT)
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- Justice has taken a new turn in London. A member of the city's tabloid fraternity is unofficially prosecuting a murder case some feel the authorities bungled in court.
Four years after Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death at a southeast London bus stop, his murder remains officially unsolved.
Lawrence's family is convinced that the lack of official interest in their son's slaying is a sign of racial bias.
"Right from the start, on the night our son was murdered, it seems that in the minds of the police, he was only a black boy," said Lawrence's aunt, Cheryl Sloley. "Why bother?"
The family's opinion was only reinforced when the coroner's inquest ruled that white youths killed Lawrence simply because of his skin color.
Tried but not convicted
The suspects refused to testify at the coroner's inquest on grounds they might incriminate themselves. They were tried for Lawrence's murder but not convicted.
Britain's Daily Mail tabloid found the situation so distasteful that it openly called the suspects murderers and challenged them to sue for libel.
"We thought through all the consequences of what we
are doing," said the Daily Mail's Peter Wright. "And we felt in the end that this was the only we could help Mrs. Lawrence secure the justice that she has been denied."
Police say witnesses were afraid to come forward.
"The family expect Stephen's killers to be brought to justice. But this can only be done if the necessary
evidence is found," said Ian Johnston of London's Metropolitan Police. "Sadly, in this case it was not."
The Lawrences lodged a formal complaint over the police investigation. Their lawyer, Imran Khan, makes no apologies for the Daily Mail's involvement.
"The legal system has let them down," said Khan. "And a national newspaper has taken on board that fact and tried to take matters forward."
Trial by tabloid
Some in Britain, particularly the mainstream press, are calling this a trial by tabloid.
"It is the sign of an arrogant press," said the Independent newspaper's Peter Popham. "Today, these people are villains. Tomorrow, it could be an innocent person."
But others say this case is different, that race changes everything.
"It has become a symbol for the black community in southeast London," said Professor Eric Barendt of London's University College. "There you have a minority community in a deprived area who feel that an injustice has been done and the official legal system has failed them."
So it is that in the case of Stephen Lawrence, the questions are no longer simply who did it and why -- but whether justice is part of the media's mission.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.