Doreen Lawrence’s world came crashing in around her in April 1993 when her beloved son Stephen was murdered in a racially motivated attack. While trying to come to terms with her devastating loss, Doreen set about campaigning for justice for her first born child - managing to change the UK justice system in the process. This week she visited Derry - and told CLAIRE ALLAN why racism is something we should all be concerned about.
Sitting before me is Doreen Lawrence, a quiet, calm and dignified woman. She speaks softly and calmly. It is clear she has told this story many, many times before. But in a tribute to the son she had such high hopes for, she tells it again.
“Things still have to change,” she says. “Racism is still devastating lives. It is still there - it tells people they are not good enough because of the colour of their skin. It invades every inch of their lives until they believe that they are worthless.
“It leaves people demoralised, hurt. It creates an atmosphere of fear.”
Doreen Lawrence, like all mothers, only wanted the best for her children. Stephen Lawrence was a popular, ambitious and talented young man. He had hopes of being an architect after excelling at school.
On the day he was murdered he had got up, gone to school, wandered round the shops afterwards before travelling to his uncle’s house in Plumstead where he had played videogames with a friend.
As he made his way home he was accosted by a group of white males who shouted racist abuse at him before stabbing him twice. Both of the stab wounds were so deep they severed axillary arteries. Eighteen-years-old Stephen tried, despite his catastrophic injuries, to run for his life, collapsing and dying a short distance later.
Those who killed him were young boys themselves, a similar age to the teen they left to die on the streets of London.
The way in which the subsequent police investigation into the death of her first born child left her with “little or no faith” in the British judicial system - but with a remarkable strength of character she challenged the law, the police and anyone who would listen to help her bring those who had so senselessly robbed her of her first born son.
After six years of campaigning she helped bring about a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of Stephen’s death - which found that the Metropolitan Police were ‘institutionally racist’ and that this was the primary reason they failed to solve the case.
A result of her fervent campaigning and the inquiry into the investigation of Stephen’s death, chaired by Sir William MacPherson led to the overturning of the archaic ‘double jeopardy’ rule when it came to murder investigations.
This cleared the way for a trial to begin late last year, with Gary Dobson and David Norris in the dock. Forensic evidence was able to link the two to the murder and they were both subsequently found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at the start of this year.
Doreen said the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris earlier this year in relation to Stephen’s 1993 murder had brought “some sense of peace”.
“I never thought we would get to this stage. I never dared to believe we would ever see two men behind bars for murdering Stephen. To wait 18 years for that - and to hear those words. It was very overwhelming. It was very emotional.
Doreen said that although almost 19 years have passed since Stephen was murdered, she still thinks of him every day. “It will never leave me,” she said. “I will never stop thinking about him. I will never stop replaying in my head what happened. It is with me all the time.
“You never stopped wondering about the life he may have had. I relive it - wondering if things could have been different. If I could have changed anything. If I could have done something to protect him more.
“It’s still hard to believe.
“In a way my life came to a standstill that day - and it is as if it has been at a standstill since.”
When asked if time has helped heal her wounds at all, Doreen shook her head sadly. “I still get upset. I still cry for him. There are certain things I see or hear which bring it all back.
“Perhaps if he had been ill... perhaps if there was some way...” she trailed off before composing herself. “The hard thing is there was no justification as to why he died. He was taken from us so very brutally.
“There was no need for it to have happened. Those boys, they’re men now, they knew what they were going to do. They set out to do it. Because of the colour of his skin? There is no sense in it.”
Now that justice, for whatever it is worth to the Lawrence family, has been achieved Doreen could be forgiven for taking a back seat and removing herself from public life. However she is determined to continue working - because racism is still very much in existance.
“Campaigning is so important,” she said. “Changing attitudes is so important.” Now a grandmother to the three - Doreen is determined her grandchildren will grow up in a society more tolerant and respectful than that which claimed Stephen’s life.
“I want their lives to be easier,” she said. “I don’t want them to live with the same fears my children lived with. I don’t want them judged because of the colour of their skin.”
As part of her ongoing campaigning and awareness raising Doreen came to Derry to launch the Foyle Film Festival Intercultural & Anti-Racism Programme.
Now in its seventh year the Programme aims to promote a tolerant, inclusive and and shared society through education and entertainment. To launch this year’s 10 day event, Doreen was introducing a screening of ‘Stephen Lawrence: A Time for Truth’ - a documentary covering the final year in her search for justice for her beloved son.
Although Doreen Lawrence come across as a strong and stoic woman, her voice shook a little as she talked of the documentary - how the film makers took her back to Jamaica to see his final resting place.
Her heart, it seems, will never be healed. “He’s 37 now,” she said, recalling his age. “He will be 38 in September.” She will miss him every day of her life.
For more information on Doreen’s campaigning work visit The Stephen Lawrence Trust
For more information on the Intercultural & Anti Racism Programme please visit Foyle Film Festival