Stephen Lawrence killing

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
January 10, 2012, 3:01 PM GMT+0

66% Britons say racial murder sentences not harsh enough; 63% feel racist views common in UK

Two thirds of the British population feels that the punishments handed down to the two Stephen Lawrence killers were not harsh enough, our poll has found. Just over a quarter feel that the life sentences given, which stipulated 14-15 years minimum to be served before the pair would become eligible for parole, were about right. Only a very small proportion felt the sentences were too harsh.

Similarly, two thirds say that the police should actively pursue the rest of Stephen Lawrence's killers, versus under two in five who feel that the police should close the case.

Three in five people also say that extreme racist views, of the kind seen by the jury featuring then-defendants Gary Dobson and David Norris, are common in Britain today.

  • 66% of Britons say that the life sentences handed down to Stephen Lawrence killers Gary Dobson and David Norris were not harsh enough
  • 26% feel that they were about right
  • 2% say that they were too harsh
  • 65% feel that there is still a realistic chance that more people could be prosecuted for Stephen Lawrence's murder, and that the police investigation should continue
  • While 17% think that further convictions are unrealistic and that the police should close the case
  • 63% of British people say that extreme racist views are common in Britain
  • Compared to 29% who think that such views are rare
  • Interestingly, 70% of respondents in Scotland feel that such views are common, compared to 56% in London and 58% in the South of England

Murder convictions

Gary Dobson and David Norris are the only people to have been convicted of the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death as he waited for the bus in south-east London.

The murder trial, originally abandoned, was re-opened in May 2011, after a 1998 public inquiry which found that the initial police investigation had been poorly handled due to race, and following revelations that new evidence had come to light since the original trial. A change in the law also meant that Dobson, who had previously been acquitted, could again stand trial for the same crime.

Despite the defence claiming that the forensic evidence had been handled in such a way that would invalidate it, the jury reportedly convicted the perpetrators based largely on DNA findings linking Norris and Dobson to Lawrence.

Juvenile sentences

As for the sentences of the two, the judge explained that because of their age at the time of the crime, he had to treat the defendants as juveniles rather than adults, but nevertheless condemned the killing as a 'terrible and evil crime'.

Lawrence was reportedly ambushed by several men including Dobson and Norris; the police investigation into the case, and the other men involved, is still on-going.

'Less racist country'?

Lawrence's family, who have fought for a conviction for his murder ever since Stephen died, have stated that they are pleased with the trial's outcome and accept that the judge's hands were 'tied' regarding the prison sentences given. Father Neville Lawrence told the BBC that he was 'totally satisfied' with the conviction, but mother Doreen Lawrence also said that she doesn't 'forgive the boys who killed Stephen', as 'there is nothing in their behaviour to show that they regret what their actions have done'.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron also commented on the case, saying that while Britain is a 'less racist country' now than in 1993, racial tension is still a problem.

See the survey details and full results here (page 6 onwards)