In defence of politics & some politicians, in loyal support of Labour and in appreciation of decent political journalism.

4 January 2015

Stephen Lawrence: in remembrance

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ian McKenzie @ 1:46 am

Three years ago someone commissioned the following from me. They didn’t publish it because they were worried it would upset Shami. Meh.

It’s 3 January so I thought I’d let it see the light while raising this year’s glass. Here y’go.


Triple jeopardy

I’m no legal expert but 48 years in South East London has schooled me on where Stephen Lawrence died. My youthful drinking was done in pubs near where, a few years later, he was murdered by Gary Dobson, David Norris and others. Every journey on the 122 bus to visit my first girlfriend ended at the very stop where they stabbed him. I know they are guilty. Defendants and families aside, no one says otherwise. Dobson and Norris are not the Eltham Two, a modern day Birmingham Six. No MP will make a name fighting to clear theirs; no barrister will work for reduced fees to free them. Books may be written but they will only confirm the convictions. Dobson and Norris are where they belong and will, in time, be joined by the others. They weren’t fitted up by the system; they were protected by it: by its incompetence, corruption and institutional racism. For years. Their victims, Stephen Lawrence and friends and family, were stitched up. Until yesterday.

Civil liberties are important. Our legal rights were hard fought and won; some have been around centuries longer than basic political rights. Freedom from double jeopardy (no-one can be tried for the same or similar crime twice) came over with the Normans.

I fear for victims of flawed legal process and the mere idea of mob rule terrifies me. I am fundamentally a liberal (relax, it’s a small L). As a near universal rule, the state should not try someone over and over again, like a bunch of 1980s Trots re-running a debate, until obtaining their desired result. And yet, there are some actions so heinous, some arrogant defiance so monstrous, some events so important to a healthy society that politics must prevail. That is why parliament is and ought to remain sovereign over the courts. The process whereby Stephen Lawrence received some belated justice (his other killers are still loose) is a good example of the wise and mature application of political process to right a wrong, and untangle a cord which, as during some breech births, was strangling the very thing to which it was supposed to give birth: justice.

The National Council for Civil Liberties used to be run by fine people like Pat Hewitt and Harriet Harman. I was a member in the 1980s. Created in 1934 when civil liberties were more difficult to defend, many of its campaigns since have produced real gains for women, gay people, ethnic minorities, travellers, mental patients and many others. Now it’s called Liberty, run by Sneering Shami Chakrabarti and campaigns for the civil rights of suspected terrorists, and to hamper the police use of DNA to catch criminals like Dobson and Norris.

Where is Shami Chakrabarti? She’s always saying that civil liberties are inviolable. She seemed brave enough in TV studios, coalition friends and other assorted Blair haters at her shoulder, attacking a Labour government that simply tried to keep her and the rest of the country safe from terrorists. Why so shy now? Why is she not touring the studios reminding us that Dobson’s civil liberties have been violated and quoting her predecessor John Wadham who said in 2001 that double jeopardy increases the “chances of innocent people being convicted if we remove it”? In fact, removal dramatically increased the chances of murderer Gary Dobson being convicted from zero to very high. The jury did the rest.

The Macpherson Report, the Law Commission, and Parliament itself all agreed the law should be changed. In Dobson’s case, the Court of Appeal and the Director of Public Prosecutions personally, and in writing, had to agree that there was new and compelling evidence. New evidence had come to light, was presented in court, and it took a jury a couple of days to be compelled by it and convict. Plenty of safeguards there.

As with control orders, hand wringers take the extremely rare difficult case and would have us all panic it will become commonplace while hoping evil in our midst will simply dissipate by magic. No, double jeopardy has been with us for seven years and there have been very few cases indeed.

I am overjoyed that Gary Dobson faced a double jeopardy but I fear he faces a third. Jeopardy Two put him in prison with a low life expectancy from Jeopardy Three. I hope those with whom he is locked up do not hang him in his cell or stab him in the showers but ensure that he lives a long, long life of tortured reflection. He and Norris both deserve it.

Last night I went to the pub with an old comrade and we raised our glasses to Stephen Lawrence, to the steely dignity of his loyal, loving parents, to the political courage of Tony Blair and his Labour Ministers Jack Straw, David Blunkett and others, and to my country that is today a slightly safer, perceptibly more civilised place than it was yesterday. I’ll be repeating that toast every 3 January henceforth until I am no longer able to raise anything, let alone a glass.

So, once more everybody, loudly so racist thugs finally get the message: “to Stephen Lawrence, you were one of us and we let you down. Justice was delayed and diminished but at least now you can rest in peace, my brother.”

Ian McKenzie, 4 January 2012

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