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Neville Lawrence reflects on 21 years after son’s murder

REFLECTIONS: Neville Lawrence (PA)

TWENTY-ONE YEARS ago, Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham, south London. On the anniversary of his death on April 22, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, who represented Eltham at the time, invited his father Neville Lawrence and other community members to the House of Commons as part of ‘The Voice on the Road’ launch.

The occasion was also used to launch the Neville Lawrence Foundation to support people in the community through education, culture, policing and media.

Addressing the audience on the anniversary of Stephen’s death, Sir Bottomley said: “Britain is not a race, Britain is a nation. I remember saying at the time that if more parents brought their children up the way Neville and Doreen Lawrence brought up their children, and fewer brought up their children the way the attackers were brought up, we would live in a far better world.”

Sir Bottomley paid a special tribute to The Voice for supporting the Lawrence family in their fight for justice through all those years.

But it seems that the better world is yet to come. Only this month, Lee Lawrence (no relation) finally managed to overturn a decision that denied legal aid to the family at the inquest of his mother, Dorothy ‘Cherry’ Groce, who was shot by police in 1985, triggering the Brixton Riots. Lee was at the event, and told the group how his family had been denied legal aid three times, preventing them from playing an active role.

“When I was eleven years old I witnessed my mum being gunned down by the police,” Lee told the audience.

“My mum was paralysed, confined to a wheelchair for 26 years of her life. We, the family, just had to cope. There was no outside help, no support, no counselling.”

A pathology report has since shown that Mrs Groce’s later death in 2011 was a direct result of the injuries sustained then.

“It’s a long process and hopefully we’ll find the truth about what happened,” Lee said, before looking up at Neville Lawrence.

“A few weeks ago Mr Lawrence asked me to come and meet him. He wanted to give me moral support for the battle I was pursuing, to say ‘I’m here, and if there’s anything I can do to help you, here’s my number.’ I just want to say, I really appreciate the fact that he reached out. In this journey you find most of the time you’re trying to reach out to other people.”

Marlene Davis, head of Operations and Strategy at The Voice, gave a background to The Neville Lawrence Foundation and also welcomed Mr Lawrence to address the audience. When he took the podium, the room fell silent as everyone listened attentively to his every word as he tells his familiar tale, as his family have done for the last 21 years.

He told The Voice later that he became emotional listening to Lee Lawrence, remembering how he himself had been supported by a family who had lost their son in a racist killing. “Richard and Audrey Adams, parents of murdered teenager Rolan Adams, actually came to us a week or two after and it made a lot of difference, because we didn’t know what kind of things we were going to face. Families who have been through any kind of disaster... They will know what it is.”

MURDERED: Stephen Lawrence

The Lawrence family has been through a lot. Since that day in 1993, there has been an inquest, a private prosecution, a police officer disciplined for neglect of duty, the Macpherson report talking about “institutional racism”, two men found guilty and sentenced for Stephen’s murder (but three suspects still free), police officers arrested for alleged corruption, revelations about undercover police officers spying on the family, and only last month an independent review conducted by Mark Ellison QC uncovering even more potential police corruption.

When asked how he coped, he said: “You can’t give up on yourself.

“One of the main reasons why I continue to do what I’m doing is because I’ve got three grandchildren now. I want to feel as if what I’m doing is going to make their life a bit better. If I had sat down and did nothing, you wouldn’t be talking to me now would you? But I decided I’m not going to sit down and cry, I’m going to do whatever I need to do. I’m trying to make a difference, and I hope other people will follow from my example.”

He is launching the Neville Lawrence Foundation in memory of his son Stephen Lawrence, to ensure the recommendations made in the Macpherson Report to make Britain a fairer society are established for future generations.

He said: “The work of the Foundation will compliment and support the good work that the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust is doing. We will be looking for a rethink, for example, around the issues around legal aid, to be redressed, which you heard about today. My family had legal aid; we would not have got this far without it. But some people can’t get it now and they may say, well I can’t get it, so I can’t do it, I’ll have to just leave it. I think that would be a disaster for the British justice system.”

Mr Lawrence is passionate about young people: “I used to go to school and give talks. I went to London, Newcastle, all over the country, because I feel that talking to young people is a way to get change. For the next generation to have new attitudes, they need information to prevent ignorance. When I was in Jamaica, some people came over to do a film.

"They were standing around my son’s grave, picking coconuts and drinking the juice, and I said, ‘You’re drinking a fruit, can one of you point out the tree?’ They couldn’t show me because they didn’t know.

“The younger generation just need to learn and experience things for themselves. The older generation are set in their beliefs, but if the younger generation have the right information, if their mother and father say negative things to them about people, they can say no, they can question it.

"That’s my theory. I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said.

Despite his modesty, mild manners and gentle voice, it’s clear that there is a new energy to Mr Lawrence, who is driving forward the formation of his new international civil and human rights focused foundation.

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