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'Approach with a clean slate'

TRIAL: Stephen Lawrence

THE JUDGE in charge of the Stephen Lawrence trial has issued a stern warning to potential jurors about the seriousness of their role in the high-profile case.

Giving instructions to the 24 members of the jury-in-waiting, Judge Treacy emphasised that in order for there to be a fair trial, jurors had to approach the case "with a clean slate" despite its emotive nature and media attention.

A dozen of them will be picked to hear the evidence against David Norris, 35, and Gary Dobson, 36.

The judge said: "The trial with which we are concerned is the alleged murder of a young black man called Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in south London in April 1993.

"It is a case which has over the years generated a great deal of publicity and a great deal of public comment."

He made reference to an initial court hearing in 1996, a public inquest in 1997 and a public inquiry in 1998, which looked at the way the Metropolitan Police handled the investigation.

"All of those matters have attracted a great deal of publicity", the judge said, before adding: "The case itself has aroused strong feelings in people."

He continued: "Accusations have been made in the media and elsewhere as to who was responsible for the killing of Stephen Lawrence. There have (been) accusations over the competence of the police investigation, particularly in the early stages."

But, Judge Treacy warned, the jury's responsibility was to deliver a verdict based on "the evidence and nothing else," otherwise the case which has been months and months in the planning could be thrown into jeopardy.

The trial is expected to last until January 17, 2012, but could be completed as early as Christmas if all the evidence is heard.

At the heart of the case is forensic evidence, the court heard. A long list of eye witnesses are also expected to be called.

In his final instruction, Judge Treacy told the 24 potential jurors that they were "absolutely prohibited" from going on the Internet to read up on the case.

On Tuesday morning (November 15), the 24 jurors will be whittled down to 12 men and women.

Mark Ellison QC, on behalf of the prosecution, is then expected to "open" the case against the defendants who deny murder.

As part of the opening, the jury will hear an outline of the case as a whole.

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