LEGACY: Doreen Lawrence says she is focused on continuing Stephen’s legacy
Last month Gary Dobson and David Norris were sentenced for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence after a nineteen year campaign. Here Doreen Lawrence tells Janelle Oswald about life after their conviction and how she plans to keep her son’s legacy alive.
Do you feel Gary Dobson and David Norris were sentenced fairly?
I think the case was handled fairly, but I do think the sentences could have been longer considering the violence of the attack against Stephen, and their backgrounds. I know that when the judge was looking at sentencing, he sentenced them as though they were teenagers, but their views and their behaviour have not changed, so I think they should have been sentenced as adults.
How did the news that both Dobson and Norris wanted to appeal against their conviction make you feel?
I felt upset, because all the way through the trial, one of the things their barrister said, especially towards the end, is that they had a fair trial. So for them to turn around and ask for an appeal was ludicrous. They had plenty of opportunities to disagree with how the trial was being conducted, and they didn’t. To say they now want to appeal against their conviction, I think that is wrong. Why did they not speak up at the time when they had an opportunity?
Do you believe race relations in Britain has changed or improved over the last 18 years?
In some ways it has improved, but I think there is so much that hasn’t improved. Our kids are still being stopped and searched on the streets. There is still an issue around education and jobs. So for us to say that equal opportunities are out there for everyone would be wrong.
What do you believe are the solutions?
Equality. View people as people, rather than looking at their race or their backgrounds. When I say equality I mean equality for all.
During the trial what types of feelings were going through your mind?
There was a mixture. Sitting there, it’s like things are being played out and it’s not about you, not about your son. It’s as if there is no relation to you, because everything comes across quite clinical, in terms of how the barristers present and how they talk amongst themselves, and how they address the Judge, as if to say we weren’t there, we weren’t part of that. But being in the room and trying to keep that relationship to say that ‘you’re talking about my son here’ was very difficult for me. Also having to be in the same room as (Dobson and Norris) and see how they were waving to their families. It was as if they were on a picnic. It was very hard to sit there and watch them.
As a mother, what would you like to say to the mothers whose sons are responsible for Stephen’s death?
They are mothers with sons, with other children. What would it have been like for them to have lost one of their children and in the circumstances that I lost mine? Every time I look at those mothers when I have seen them I think ‘yes, we all want to protect our children, we want to speak up for them.’ But at the same time if your son has done something wrong, you couldn’t allow him to continue lying. You are lying yourself. In my heart, if Stuart or one of my children had ever done something that is so acute like taking someone’s life I don’t think I would lie for him, because none of us have a right to take someone else’s life. And if he has done something like that then he needs to be punished for it.
CAMPAIGN: Doreen with former husband Neville in 1995. The couple campaigned tirelessly to get Stephen’s killers behind bars
How have you learnt to control your emotions?
I think with great difficulty. Also society has this stereotypical thing of how a black person should behave, in that we tend to shout and we’re always abusive. For the vast majority of us, that is not how we are. I don’t think I want to come across as something that I am not. This is me so I’m not pretending that I am managing just to keep my emotion in check because I’m in this situation. This is me all the time.
You were quoted after the trial as saying that you feel ready to ‘move on’ after your life has been in limbo. What are your plans?
That will take some time. For the past 18 years I have been in a position where my son has been murdered and nobody was charged for his murder so for me to snap my finger and just move on, no. It will take time. I am trying as well to make sure that Stephen’s legacy lives on through the Trust. I have difficulty in relaxing, because I think there is still so much that I need to do, especially around the Trust. My aim now rather than focusing on me is focusing on the Trust.
When will you focus on you?
I don’t know. I’d like to think that perhaps in a few years time when I probably take a break for six months away from work and allow myself to grieve, which I don’t think I have been able to do in the past 18 years. But the way things stand I’ll have to put that break on the back burner for a little while.
When you look in the mirror and you look at yourself, who do you see?
I don’t see Doreen Lawrence as I was 19 years ago. I see somebody who doesn’t make the most of what I have. I think, rather than me being outside and enjoying people as I should, I seem to want to be behind closed doors. I keep finding that restriction.
How have you kept your religious faith? And were there times that you felt your prayers weren’t being heard?
In the beginning I was questioning why Stephen was taken away. Why him? My faith has grown stronger since Stephen’s death, because I think it moved on from why. I have a clearer understanding of what his name has achieved over the years. It has made a difference to so many people and has changed so many people’s lives. As to my prayers not being answered, once the deed had been done, I don’t think that could ever change so I pray for guidance, which I think I have had over the years. I also pray to keep my other children safe, to carry on with what I do and to keep my health, which has deteriorated over the years. Those are the sort of things my faith has helped me through.
GUILTY VERDICT: Doreen and her son Stuart emerge from the Old Bailey after Dobson and Norris were convicted
Do you have a special prayer or scripture that comforts you?
I love ‘Footprints’ because it is very comforting. When the writer says to the Lord, ‘You promised to walk with me. Where were you when I needed you most?’ God replies ‘That is when I carried you.’
How can we the public continue to help to keep the Stephen Lawrence Trust open and Stephen’s legacy alive?
By continuing to support us, especially because of the cuts charities like ours are facing. I think that we have done such good work and have proved that if you put the effort in young people can achieve their goals. We want to continue to do that and help more Stephens. The sad thing would be if his legacy was not able to continue due to finance. It would be such a shame.
What do you think Stephen’s thoughts would be if he could see you and the rest of the family now?
He would be thinking, ‘My gosh mum what have you done, my name!’ Even though he was an extrovert when he was alive, I think he would be somewhat shy to see how much his name permeates across the world. It’s not just in this country that his name is so recognised. Although he may be embarrassed at the same time he would still think ‘Great!’
HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT THE STEPHEN LAWRENCE CHARITABLE TRUST
To donate to the 18:18 campaign: Justgiving.com/slct/donate
ONLINE: At www.stephenlawrence.org.uk
Bank account details: Sort code 30-94-08. Bank account 02963035
BY CHEQUE: Made payable to Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and sent to the trust at 39 Brookmill Road, Deptford, London SE8 4HU.
BY TEXT MESSAGE: Text SLCT18 followed by the £ symbol, then the amount to 70070. Donations will appear on your next phone statement. Pay as you go customers will be debited from funds on their balance.