Murder convictions are hardly occasions for celebration, but more than a few glasses will be discreetly raised tonight to the jurors in the Dobson/Norris trial.
Two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were found guilty today of participating in the racially-motivated gang killing of Stephen Lawrence 19 years ago in Eltham, a suburb of south-east London.
The post-trial comment of Lawrence’s mother Doreen was at once appropriate and poignant. “Today is not a day to celebrate,” she said. “How can I celebrate when my son lies buried?” Her sentiments will not be widely shared by those who found in the murder and its aftermath a cautionary tale of a latent racism in Britain, one that embraced what an official enquiry into the response of the police called the “institutional racism” of the Met.
That well-aimed chunk of mud stuck to the wall of Scotland Yard, and the brown stain remains visible to this day, despite the considerable and worthy efforts of successive commissioners to scrub it clean.
Dobson, now 36 (seventeen at the time of the murder) and Norris, now 35 (then sixteen) will engender little sympathy outside their sordid circle of friends and bigoted bed-fellows everywhere. Both come across as what most normal people in these parts would call “a nasty piece of work.”
Very nasty indeed by all accounts. Dobson was already serving a five-year sentence for drug dealing. Norris, homeless and serially unemployed, had twice been acquitted of charges in earlier knife attacks, and was convicted in 2002 of throwing a coke bottle at a black policeman at whom he yelled “nigger”. Norris’s pattern of behaviour seems firmly rooted in family tradition: his father, Clifford, has been described as a south London drug baron; his mother has been investigated for attempting to hide evidence. Witnesses in the Lawrence case were allegedly warned off testifying.
So, not the kind of families that one would wish to find moving in next door.
Not the kind of people with whom one wishes to share the planet. That we have no choice in the matter is only ameliorated by the knowledge that they will be sharing it at Her Majesty’s pleasure.