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Stephen Lawrence: Justice for some

The two convictions for Stephen Lawrence’s murder are far from closing this infamous chapter in British policing and criminal justice.   As Stephen’s father has said, only 2 of the 5 killers have so far been brought to justice.   The police who initially dealt with the evidence so tardily and unprofessionally have yet to be held to account.   It is sobering that this final conviction was brought about only by the relentless persistence of Stephens’s parents, not by police diligence until the very last stage, helped by advances in forensic investigation and changes to the double jeopardy rule.    The inveterate lying of the friends and families of the two convicted killers which delayed justice for 18 years has yet to be dealt with.   The question of police complacency about race remains an open one.

But at least some convictions have been secured, and there may be more to come over this murder.   But that is not the case for a whole string of previous killings where, despite numerous official investigations as in the Lawrence case, still no action has been taken commensurate with the extent of homicide involved.   The Nimrod crash in Afghanistan in September 2002 which killed 14 aircraftsmen was put down by the official inquiry to the need for cuts taking priority over safety, and 10 very senior RAF and MOD personnel were named as responsible, but have yet to be held properly to account.   In the Mid Staffs hospital where in 2006 it is estimated that up to 1,200 persons met premature deaths because of gross negligence and poor treatment, the chief executive Cynthia Bower, so far from being sacked and held to account, was actually promoted to the position of chief executive of CQC.   The killing of the innocent Jean-Charles Menezes in July 2007 did not lead to the disciplining of the two most senior police officers responsible, Ian Blair and Cressida Dick, but rather initially at least to an attempted cover-up by the release of ‘evidence’ which turned out to be fabricated.

Two factors distinguish these killings from the Lawrence case.   One is that they were not instances of wilful murder.    However they were all cases of such negligence, complacency and wrongful decision-making as to justify a charge of culpable homicide.   Secondly, they all involve the authority of the State and those who enforce it, and it needs to be said that the integrity of a State should be measured by how far it brings to justice its own executors of authority.

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