January 6 2012
– The Attorney General is today reviewing whether the jail terms handed out to Stephen Lawrence’s killers are ‘unduly lenient’.
The surprise move by Britain’s top legal officer came after the trial judge suggested he would have doubled the minimum sentence of Gary Dobson and David Norris if the law had allowed.
A member of the public, unconnected to the Lawrence family, applied for the review within hours of the killers being jailed at the Old Bailey. It is the only referral made so far.
Stephen’s mother Doreen had yesterday described the 15- and 14-year sentences as ‘quite low’ but acknowledged: ‘The judge’s hands were tied.’
The judge was restricted by defunct legislation when he imposed the stiffest sentences allowable for offenders who were juveniles back in 1993.
Flashpoint: Neil Acourt (number 1) his brother Jamie (2) and Luke Knight (3) are among the gang who came out fighting after the public inquiry in 1998
Attorney General Dominic Grieve will examine the sentences to see if they are unduly lenient. Once a request is made, he has no choice but to review the sentence as part of his public interest function.
Mrs Lawrence added: ‘They took my son’s life, so I feel they should be given life with a minimum of 20 years.
‘Their age had nothing to do with it. They had the same mindset at 16 and 17 that they probably still have now. I would have liked longer sentences but the law is the law.’
Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, said he was ‘satisfied’ with the outcome – after being told the convicted men would be made to serve their full minimum term. He added that he hoped the pair would ‘give up the rest of the people’ involved.
Once a request is made to the Attorney General he has no choice but to review the sentence as part of his public interest function.
The development came after it emerged that police are assessing new information as part of efforts to hunt down other suspects in the 1993 racist murder.
Scotland Yard has denied claims the investigation was being scaled down, with Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe saying other suspects will not be allowed to ‘rest easily in their beds’.
Dobson, 36, who is already serving a five-year sentence for drug-dealing, was sentenced to at least 15 years and two months.
Norris, 35, was given a minimum of 14 years and three months for the murder, which the judge said was a ‘terrible and evil crime’.
Mr Justice Treacy urged police not to ‘close the file’ on catching the rest of his killers after the court heard that a gang of five or six white youths set upon the A-level student in Eltham, South-East London.
Flashpoint: David Norris, (left to right) Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, (Gary Dobson obscured) and Neil Acourt leave the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry
Stephen in his favourite T-shirt when he was about 16 years old
Police are following up new information they have received from five phone calls since Tuesday’s guilty verdicts.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that we have received a number of telephone calls in light of the verdicts and today’s sentencing. This information will be evaluated.’
Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, who has been the senior officer in the case for a number of years, has said officers would be visiting Dobson and Norris in prison to see whether they would be willing to assist the inquiry and said he remained ‘optimistic’ about further progress being made in the case.
Mr Justice Treacy said the murder was committed ‘for no other reason than racial hatred’.
Referring to the length of sentence, he said: ‘In short, the law dictates that I must sentence you by reference to your age and maturity at the time of the crime. I cannot sentence you as the mature men you now are.
‘In addition I must sentence you in accordance with the practice in force before the coming into force of Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which now governs sentencing for more modern murders …
‘It may be, therefore, that the resultant sentences are lower than some might expect, but the law as laid down by Parliament must be applied and I am constrained by it.’
The one glimmer of hope that modern-day justice may yet prevail even if the Attorney General decides the sentences are not ‘unduly lenient’ is that Dobson and Norris were both detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
The judge explained: ‘There is no guarantee of release once the term is served. An offender will only be released if, on the basis of a stringent assesment by the Parole Board at that time, he is deemed no longer to pose a risk to the public.
The group run as they are pelted with eggs after leaving the public inquiry. Luke Knight (2nd left), Neil Acourt (far left), David Norris (centre), Jamie Acourt (right, with white shirt), had to run the gauntlet of an angry crowd after they had given evidence
‘Otherwise he will remain in prison. After release, whenever that is, an offender is not free of his sentence. He will remain subject to licence for the rest of his life and may be recalled to prison at any time.’
The trio of men long suspected of joining Dobson and Norris in the ‘racist and thuggish’ South London attack in April 1993 are brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight.
Their names were handed to police within days of Stephen’s murder and all five were named by the Daily Mail as killers in 1997 and challenged to sue if the newspaper was wrong. They never did.
Neil Acourt and his girlfriend Claire Vose: He has repeatedly been in trouble with the law. She is expecting their first child this month
The new phase of the marathon Lawrence investigation is expected to focus on the Acourt brothers and Knight, who were in hiding last night after apparently fleeing their homes. It is also likely to include a renewed attempt to identify a possible sixth member of the gang.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Lawrence’s mother Doreen – referring to the rest of the killers – told the newspaper: ‘I’m hoping that, eventually, Dobson and Norris will give up the others; that they won’t take the whole guilty vote for themselves.
‘I want to get the others, but I also want a life.’
Mr Lawrence’s father Neville told reporters outside court that he hoped the pair would ‘give up the rest of the people’ involved.
Guilty: Dobson, left, and Norris went on trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence six weeks ago. Both men denied the charge
It is understood that a decision will be made on whether to keep the men at Belmarsh prison, South-East London, where Norris has previously been beaten up.
Wherever they end up the pair are expected to be given extra protection in prison amid fears of revenge attacks.
It is likely they will serve their sentences in segregated wings alongside other ‘vulnerable’ prisoners such as paedophiles who are also thought to be at risk of attack.
A legal expert told Mail Online: ‘There is a general duty of care to ensure their safety; how it is fulfilled is a matter for the prison governor.
‘But Rule 45 is likely to come into play, under which they could be put in solitary confinement for their own protection.’
Rule 45 (formerly Rule 43), is the rule that allows the isolation of vulnerable prisoners in the interests of their own personal safety.
In court, Mr Justice Treacy called forward Mr Driscoll, and said that the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr Lawrence’s death had ‘shamed and humbled’ the Met, but praised the hard work done in recent years.
The judge went on: ‘At least a measure of justice has been achieved at last. However, the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris will not, I hope, close the file on this murder. On the evidence before the court, there are still three or four other killers of Stephen Lawrence at large.
‘Just as advances in science have brought two people to justice, I hope the Metropolitan Police will be alert to future lines of inquiry, not only based on developments in science but perhaps also information from those who have been silent so far, wherever they may be.’
Earlier, he had sentenced Dobson and Norris in a packed but silent courtroom.
He called the killing ‘a terrible and evil crime’, and quoted the Lord Chief Justice who called it a ‘murder which scarred the conscience of the nation’.
Mr Justice Treacy told the pair: ‘A totally innocent 18-year-old youth on the threshold of a promising life was brutally cut down in the street in front of eyewitnesses by a racist, thuggish gang.
‘You were both members of that gang. I have no doubt at all that you fully subscribed to its views and attitudes.’
He said the murder was committed ‘for no other reason than racial hatred’.
The evidence in the trial could not prove who wielded the knife, but he said that whoever used it had done so with Dobson and Norris’ ‘knowledge and approval’.
Neither of them had shown “the slightest regret or remorse” since the murder and they had both lied to the court.
When it was over, Dobson left speedily, stepping over Norris who had bent down to pick up his papers.
Norris then kissed his hand and offered it up to the public gallery in a thumbs-up sign before he too was led from the court.
As the judge rose to leave, a few people began clapping in the public gallery.
Dobson’s father, Stephen, called down to the court: ‘Shame on all of you.’
Jamie Acourt and his girlfriend Terri Dean, mother of his two children: On Facebook she says she is in a ‘serious relationship’ but strangely omits to mention his name
Luke Knight: Although out of work, Knight manages to drive top-of-the-range cars and lives in a smart terrace in New Eltham
Murder scene: The bus stop where Stephen was killed in Eltham, South-East London, on April 23, 1993
– David Richards