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Justice deferred
January 3, 2012 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Eighteen years after the death of Stephen Lawrence, Gary Dobson and David Norris have been found guilty of his murder.

Stephen was an 18 year old boy who was studying for his A-levels and wanted to become an architect. As he was waiting for a bus in Eltham, South-East London, he was set upon by a gang of white youths shouting racist abuse, was stabbed, and died of his injuries very soon after. The incompetence - and rumoured corruption - of the subsequent police investigation meant that no solid case could be built against any of the young men thought to be involved (Dobson, Norris, but also Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight) despite immediate identification and tipoffs by witnesses following the attack. The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case before it got to court, arguing that there was a lack of evidence for prosecution.

A private prosecution for murder brought by the Lawrence family was also unsuccessful, with the judge ordering the jury to acquit Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson and David Norris after ruling that identification evidence given by Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks was not admissible.

After an initial inquiry carried out by the Police Complaints Authority weakly criticised the original investigation into the murder, the Home Secretary ordered a public inquiry, which resulted in the Macpherson report. The conclusions that the report reached - among them that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist at the time of the investigation, and that the double jeopardy prohibition against second trials should be removed where there is substantial new evidence - have had a real effect on the administration of justice and on the culture of policing in London.

But have things changed enough? It’s been an important day for SE London, now that justice has begun to be done - Eltham seems edgy but for others it’s a day for reflection. For Stephen’s mother, after 18 years of campaigning with her ex-husband the news is ‘no cause for celebration.’

- A timeline of events
- The Macpherson report’s recommendations
- The Daily Mail calls the two Acourts, Dobson, Knight, and Norris murderers in ‘97 and dares them to sue
- Details of Dobson and Norris’s violent past can only be published now.
- Stephen’s legacy: the Stephen Lawrence Prize for Architecture, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust
posted by calico (49 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
They got rid of Double Jeopardy in the UK? WTF?
posted by yeoz at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2012


I have never understood the protection against "double jeopardy" in cases where significant new evidence emerges. To me, that's fancy talk for "getting away with it."
posted by spitbull at 6:45 PM on January 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I heard extensive coverage of this on BBC World Service during my drive home today.

You don't even mention in your FPP about how the handling of this case resulted in the police being labeled "institutionally racist" and all the changes that wrought upon them in the intervening 18 years.

There was absolutely (from what I heard) mishandling of this case from the get-go. I'm glad the parents have worked so hard not only to bring their son's killers to justice (only 2 out of 5 -- three more still walk free), but also that the noise they made in the process created change which seems to be beneficial to UK society at large.

I'll have to dig through these links later. Thanks for posting this. It's probably got the background I need to flesh out my understanding of this whole travesty.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 PM on January 3, 2012


Yup. No double jeopardy, no right to silence.*

"Adverse inferences can be drawn from refusing to answer questions": i.e. you don't HAVE to answer, but if you don't you'll formally look more guilty in the eyes of thew law.
posted by lalochezia at 6:49 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, oops. I missed your institutionally racist mention. I fail at reading comprehension.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for putting together this post. I heard about the verdicts on the World Service this morning and read the 853 blog post this afternoon, which I thought summed up the ongoing undercurrent of casual and overt racism in southeast London very well.

I grew up not far from Eltham, and remember the National Front marches through Lewisham (see the Battle of Lewisham, 1977) even though I was just a kid.

Last year in San Francisco in one of those random bus conversations, I got talking to a teenager who, it turned out, had the role of Stephen Lawrence in a play about his murder, and SE9 suddenly didn't seem so far away after all.
posted by vickyverky at 7:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for providing excellent context in the post itself, calico.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have never understood the protection against "double jeopardy" in cases where significant new evidence emerges. To me, that's fancy talk for "getting away with it."

As pointed out, Double Jeopardy is an American concept.* Otherwise the government could harass its enemies by constantly "finding" new evidence every year and trying them over and over until it finally got a conviction. In the magical land of pre-Bush/Obama America, people had the right to be tried in a reasonable amount time and, if acquitted, move on with their lives.

Yes, this means guilty people sometimes went free. But at the time we were willing to accept the risk of crime occurring in exchange for freedom from an oppressive security state.


*Or was.

posted by drjimmy11 at 8:01 PM on January 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have never understood the protection against "double jeopardy" in cases where significant new evidence emerges. To me, that's fancy talk for "getting away with it."

There are good reasons for that. One of them is to avoid putting citizens through the hell of a trial more than once; it requires the government to bring its best case, and if it doesn't work, well, too bad for the government.

Another, perhaps stronger one, is to prevent judge and/or jury shopping by the government, where they bring the weakest case they think can convict, and then keep adding new evidence and trying new cases until they find a sympathetic ear. And it's also to prevent harassment of citizens ... if someone in the government really didn't like you, they could tie you up in court for a sustantial chunk of your total lifetime, very possibly being able to keep you behind bars for decades, without ever having enough evidence to actually convict you.

No double jeopardy is a strong safeguard against abuse. It's very important. The systemic harm done by letting guilty people "get away with it" is much smaller than the systemic harm in an arbitrary and capricious justice system, one which can keep trying you in court forever.
posted by Malor at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2012 [24 favorites]


Seriously thought they were going to walk, fair play to the jury. From what I've seen, there's a fair chance that Dobson and Norris will give the others up in their mitigation pleas - think I saw Dobson's lawyer claiming now that 'he was there but not the ring-leader'.
posted by Abiezer at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2012


I was living in Eltham when this happened. Such a disgrace that it has taken so long for justice to be done. This was also not long after the BNP were voted into power in a by-election at Tower Hamlets. I found the racism in SE London to be shocking.

My heart goes out to the Lawrences.
posted by goshling at 9:29 PM on January 3, 2012


I could actually see the value in a Double Jeopardy exception for new and damning evidence which was very difficult for the government to meet, but even that seems too likely to be abused for my tastes.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad this pair has been found guilty. I also felt that they might not be, which I suppose was a fear that such a great injustice could not possibly be righted in this imperfect world.

Also, I don't see that a ban on double jeopardy is useful or reasonable, and in any case it never was a total ban. There is no doubt that such an event needs to be well controlled, but it is easily possible to demonstrate that new evidence not previously available would have proven guilty an otherwise acquitted person. The process for allowing a second trial, and the trust we give to the state in allowing it to pursue an option, need to be considered. But I'm happy that the position of double jeopardy in England is not a problem.
posted by Jehan at 10:31 PM on January 3, 2012


People who are convicted are often given re-trails in light of new evidence or egregious behaviour by the prosecution. I'm not sure why in exceptional circumstances, especially if there's been documented wrongdoing by the police and the prosecutor, the reverse shouldn't be an option as well.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:51 PM on January 3, 2012


Also, I don't see that a ban on double jeopardy is useful or reasonable,

This wasn't created out of nothing, it was created because the power was so often abused. If the government doesn't like you, they can hold you in court forever for the same offense, without ever even convicting you.

They may not be doing it now, but it has been done in the past, and the harms were grievous enough that we decided, as a society, that letting some guilty people go free was preferable.

Any justice system will have errors. The thinking in the design of the system we have now was that it's better to err on the side of setting people free.
posted by Malor at 11:08 PM on January 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


with the judge ordering the jury to acquit

I have never understood how this could be. When I was on a jury (in the USA) I had to swear to follow the judge's instructions. How does that NOT undermine what a jury is supposed to do?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 PM on January 3, 2012


Yup. No double jeopardy

That's not really a very accurate description of the state of the law.

On application under s76 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 an acquittal may be quashed (with retrial ordered) by the Court of Appeal. However, under s78, this can only happen if there is "new and compelling evidence against the acquitted person", which is highly probative on the issues the dispute of which led to the acquittal of that person. In this case, Dobson was acquitted on the basis that some identification evidence was ruled inadmissible by the trial judge. Hence the new forensic evidence related directly to the grounds for acquittal.

The currently published version of the Court of Appeal's judgement can be read here. The full version will become available shortly, now the the trial to which is relates has ended.

Whether you believe that this limited abridgement of "double jeopardy" is a good or bad thing is a different matter.

no right to silence.

"Adverse inferences can be drawn from refusing to answer questions": i.e. you don't HAVE to answer, but if you don't you'll formally look more guilty in the eyes of thew law.


This is also somewhat inaccurate. Here we're dealing with s34 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. First we should be clear that this section specifically relates to silence during interview by the police under caution or at the point of charge. In these circumstances, the conditions allowing adverse inferences to be drawn at trial from silence during interview are threefold.

First, the defendant must have been offered access to a legal adviser (legal advice at the police station is still free in the UK).

Second, the defendant must have failed to mention a fact that s/he later relied on in his/her defence.

Third, in the opinion of the court, the defendant "could reasonably have been expected to mention" the fact that s/he later relied on for his defence. Factors to be taken into account in determining this include the age, experience and situation of the defendant at the time of interview, and crucially, the extent of the disclosure by the police of the evidence against the defendant. Adverse inferences will not be drawn unless some specific account is put to the defendant that could be rebutted but which is not rebutted until later.

Only if these three conditions are met may adverse inferences be drawn from silence. The jury or magistrate do not have to draw adverse inferences from such silence. Adverse inferences, here, means an inference that the reason for the defendant's silence was they s/he had no good answer to the allegations at the time of interview, and that the defence presented has been concocted subsequently.

Although the is potential for abuse here, it is not accurate to view this as a simple abrogation of the right to silence. Silence remains a viable option in the police station for lots of people. It is commonplace for people in police custody to decide give a "no comment interview" for a variety of good reasons, without the possibility of any adverse inference being drawn at a later stage.

Again, there are good arguments against this approach, but lets be clear what it is we're talking about before the thread goes off on a tangent.
posted by howfar at 11:12 PM on January 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sorry, we're talking about two societies: America decided at its founding that double jeopardy was never acceptable, and wrote it into the Constitution. Britain decided the same thing, probably somewhere in the same time frame, but because it's not a Constitutional right, it could be undone again, and was discarded in the middle 90s.

It's probably pretty obvious from the tone of what I'm writing, but I think that was a poor decision. Putting people in jail (or into the justice system) when they are innocent is a frightful thing. I think you're buying media demonization of 'the horrible criminals', instead of having the empathy to understand that many of the people differ from you only in being accused of a terrible crime.
posted by Malor at 11:12 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, this means guilty people sometimes went free. But at the time we were willing to accept the risk of crime occurring in exchange for freedom from an oppressive security state.

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:01 AM on January 4


It's a pity the US system is (at least in many states) not similarly sensitive about the risk of innocent people being executed by the state.
posted by Decani at 11:29 PM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


vickyverky, goshling, one of the reasons I wanted to post something about this is because I moved to SE London (East Greenwich then Charlton, not Eltham) 9 years ago and yesterday felt like such an important day for the area. The thing about here is that families stay around and grow up together in a way that isn't really true (in my experience) in other parts of London that I've lived in. My husband and I both follow different sets of local people on Twitter that we know through his old Sunday league football team or bumbling about in pubs or whatever. It became clear as the afternoon went on how much it meant for the people that live round here that justice was done, it was quite touching. I spent about an hour seeing whether I could get what I thought about it all as someone who moved in later into 140 characters and realised I really couldn't, so here I am.

On double jeopardy - right now I would rather have this result than the theoretical protection of double jeopardy but I realise this is probably quite New Labourish of me. Thanks, howfar, for the additional detail about the test for application of double jeopardy and the link to the CoA judgment. I was just looking for this myself and probably would have missed the key thing.
posted by calico at 11:32 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


As pointed out, Double Jeopardy is an American concept.

No it isn't, it goes back centuries in English common law. It's nice for Lawrence's family that these guys have been convicted but I think it was a bad idea to change the law. It would have been a lesser evil just to let the murderers get away with it, the moral responsibility for which would have rested with the police for their incompetence.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:48 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This wasn't created out of nothing, it was created because the power was so often abused. If the government doesn't like you, they can hold you in court forever for the same offense, without ever even convicting you.

They may not be doing it now, but it has been done in the past, and the harms were grievous enough that we decided, as a society, that letting some guilty people go free was preferable.

Any justice system will have errors. The thinking in the design of the system we have now was that it's better to err on the side of setting people free.


You only quoted part of my comment and deliberately left out the bit where I voiced the same concerns as your reply to me. I don't regard that as good faith, so please don't do it in the future.

However, I stand by what I said. To elaborate, double jeopardy made sense when there was no other evidence but oaths, witnesses, and juries. I would never agree that a new trial should take place just "to see what a different jury says". But we don't live in that world anymore, and real serious evidence can become available which was simply impossible at the time of the original trial. The ban on double jeopardy is outdated by new science, and while we should tend against its use, we do more damage by pretending that it is inviolable.
posted by Jehan at 12:06 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michael Mansfield QC, who has represented Stephen Lawrence's parents throughout this case from the onset gives a good summing up: Stephen Lawrence verdict is about society as much as his murderers.
posted by adamvasco at 12:11 AM on January 4, 2012


This wasn't created out of nothing, it was created because the power was so often abused. If the government doesn't like you, they can hold you in court forever for the same offense, without ever even convicting you.

As opposed to now, where the US government can hand you over the military for indefinite detention without even a trial?

The US constitution is only as powerful as the politicians and supreme court allow it to be.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:44 AM on January 4, 2012


I think it's useful to recognise that civil and criminal law was once more unified than it is now, and the equivalent of double jeopardy is still around in civil trials: you can't generally sue someone twice over the same incident. There are a number of reasons for this: you don't want people to be harassed by being dragged to court all the time; you want prosecutors to be forced to do their best the first time around; you don't want repeated court cases to give inconsistent results. Basically, finality in law is a good thing. It seems perverse to uphold this principle when arguing about property and personal injuries, but abandon it when human lives and freedom are at stake.

The proper way of dealing with an institutionally racist police force is to prosecute anyone guilty of malfeasance and to clear out anyone who will not uphold the law. This would be far better for society than merely locking up a couple of criminals.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:30 AM on January 4, 2012


Yup. No double jeopardy, no right to silence.

I don't think it's a good idea to run those two together like that. Howfar has clarified the changes relating to retrying suspects far better than I could, and fundamentally I think most people here agree it was a positive change, precisely to enable us to capture scumbags like these, but with a high standard of protection against misuse.

No right to silence is a whole different kettle of fish, and not particularly relevant to this case.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 1:33 AM on January 4, 2012


What I fear is an appeal in due course that finds the forensic evidence is open to question and the conviction therefore unsafe, Dobson and Norris released and showered with compensation.

Could that happen?
posted by Segundus at 2:08 AM on January 4, 2012


As opposed to now, where the US government can hand you over the military for indefinite detention without even a trial?

Well, regardless, preventing abuse was why the concept of double jeopardy was created. There are a myriad of other potential abuses: this just stops a couple. It's not especially meaningful on its own, it needs the support of other rights, like habeas corpus, and the right to examine the evidence against you, and the right to confront your accuser.

It still offers quite a bit of practical protection, at least for now, because the government won't want to paint too broadly, too quickly, with the 'terrorist' brush. Once secret evidence being held against you to prove violation of secret laws becomes at all commonplace, no double jeopardy will become completely worthless, but it still matters in the present.
posted by Malor at 2:54 AM on January 4, 2012


Another important point that the OP refers to is that the Daily Mail, often villified on Metafilter (and elsewhere - try googling Daily Heil) called the defendants murderers and dared them to sue for libel.
posted by Kiwi at 3:02 AM on January 4, 2012


Clarification - I'm not saying this vilification isn't usually justified.
posted by Kiwi at 3:03 AM on January 4, 2012


Doreen Lawrence comes across as a wonderful person, I can only assume that her son was as good a person as she says he was. A great loss to the world.

I hadn't realised how much it affected me until I heard the guilty verdict and felt a great sense of relief.

It is interesting that Norris said 'you have convicted an innocent man today' as he was led off. I wonder if he will be plea bargaining regarding evidence against the Acourt brothers?

That violent racist gangs had defacto police protection due to institutionalised racism wasn't news to many of us at the time of the attack, but it was still depressing. That some work has been done to deal with this is of course laudable, there is still a long way to go. I would like to believe what Miliband said was true
Britain is a much more tolerant and open country. We have new laws to prevent the stirring of racial hatred
The labour party (and the Tories) along with the tabloid press have been using the traveler community and asylum seekers as scapegoats for all societies ills for the past ten years, so I don't take anything they have to say about 'tolerance' on face value.

NB The Daily Hate Mail 'Murderers' front page could quite easily have reduced chances of a re-trail at that time due to the difficulty in finding an impartial jury, rather than their self-congratulatory nonsense about 'doing a huge amount of good'. Remember how long it took to get a jury that hadn't heard about OJ Simpson's low speed chase etc?
posted by asok at 4:26 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


no regrets, coyote writes "I'm not sure why in exceptional circumstances, especially if there's been documented wrongdoing by the police and the prosecutor, the reverse shouldn't be an option as well."

One of the benefits of a no double jeopardy law is it discourages prosecutors from pursuing marginal cases and such cases are more likely to be brought against innocent people the more marginal they get. Especially in high profile cases such as this one it discourages prosecutors from perusing a case they don't think they can win in order to be able to be perceived as doing something. Not only is that good for justice it is good for the justice system.
posted by Mitheral at 5:00 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the bar for "new and compelling evidence" should be high, but not impossible to get over, even in the US system.

And anyway, the US has a workaround that's used all the times; acquitted in state court? Bring federal charges. Happens all the time.
posted by spitbull at 5:26 AM on January 4, 2012


When I was on a jury (in the USA) I had to swear to follow the judge's instructions.

Yes, and in a directed verdict, the instruction from the judge is "You must find the defendent not guilty."

The power of the Jury is only in findings of fact. In particular, when the prosecution and defense disagree on a fact, it is the Jury, not the Court, that decides which is credible. The most obvious fact they usually disagree on is "Did X commit Y?"

If a judge finds that "there is not a scintilla of evidence", then he can direct a vote of not guilty. In the US, this is known as "Judgement as a matter of law(JMOL). A court can also render judgement non obstante veredicto, or "notwithstanding the verdict." One reason for this was a jury's refusal to follow a directed verdict.

In short. If X is asserted, and the prosecution presents no acceptable evidence for X, then a judge in the US or UK can state that there are no facts in dispute and order the verdict be returned. In both, the judge cannot direct a verdict of guilty, only not guilty.

The proper way of dealing with an institutionally racist police force is to prosecute anyone guilty of malfeasance and to clear out anyone who will not uphold the law.

THIS. I disagree with violating double jeopardy, and agree that the right answer here is to prosecute the officers and managers who were malfeasant in their duties. As much I as think that in the end, justice did prevail here for Mr. Lawrence, those same malfeasants are still at large.

Which means, for society, the truly guilty got away with, err, murder.

...the conviction therefore unsafe, Dobson and Norris released and showered with compensation. Could that happen?

If the evidence was manufactured, yes -- and if it was, then they *should* be released and showered with compensation.

The criminal courts have the power to destroy your life, figuratively in the UK, literally in the US. They *must* follow the law, and we must try to make good when they make honest mistakes, and we must prosecute them when they intentionally act to pervert justice -- and at the very least remove them when they do so through simple incompetence.

And, to be honest, if a higher court were to find that they were improperly prosecuted twice, I don't think I could disagree with them. It does seem that they were guilty, but there are lines that we should not cross. As Malor said, the double jeopardy rule wasn't created because James Madison was busy thinking up worst case scenarios. It was explicitly put into the US constitution, and put into UK statute, because of an explicit history of using repeated prosecution as a weapon against dissent.
posted by eriko at 5:29 AM on January 4, 2012


Sentences. Judge's sentencing remarks (pdf)
posted by Segundus at 6:40 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apart from being glad that something has at last been done to demonstrate justice in this case, I just wanted to thank @calico for this post and ask that everybody takes a look at the Stephen Lawrence Trust link.

I declare an interest in that a great friend of mine is heavily involved in its work, but some great stuff is going on there, which I think has the potential to leave a lasting legacy for Stephen Lawrence and his family.
posted by Myeral at 6:41 AM on January 4, 2012


Howfar: The currently published version of the Court of Appeal's judgement can be read here. The full version will become available shortly, now the the trial to which is relates has ended.

If I'm reading it right, that's an earlier judgment where the judge gives approval for Dobson's retrial.

Here's the sentencing remarks from the latest trial. Looks like the full judgment isn't up quite yet.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:09 AM on January 4, 2012


On a side note, the Guardian piece on Dobson and Norris mentions "repeated attempts by the police to "turn" one or more of their number into a grass" and later refers to someone potentially becoming "supergrass."

From the context I can assume this means either giving information on his colleagues, or actually being a witness for the state at trial. But can someone from the UK side clarify just what this means, the difference between grass and supergrass, and especially provide any hints about the etymology? Why grass in particular?
posted by Naberius at 7:20 AM on January 4, 2012


Usually, these days, the verbal phrase is to "grass on someone".

However. . .

"'Grassing up' has been a commonly used expression in the UK since the mid 20th century, but is less common elsewhere. The first known use of 'grass' in that context is Arthur Gardner's Tinker's Kitchen, 1932, which defined a grass as "an informer". Grass was a well-enough established word in the 1980s to have spawned 'supergrass', i.e. a republican sympathiser who later 'turned Queen's evidence' and informed on the IRA, and which gave the Brit-pop band Supergrass their name in the 1990s.

Informers are variously known as squealers, noses, moles, snouts and stool pigeons. These terms invoke imagery of covert snooping around and of talking. Grass is less intuitive. It could just have arisen from 'snake in the grass', which derives from the writings of Virgil (in Latin, as 'latet anguis in herba') and has been known in English, meaning traitor, since the late 17th century.

There is another route to the word and this is via rhyming slang. Farmer and Henley's 1893 Dictionary of Slang defines 'grasshopper' as 'copper', i.e. policeman. The theory is that a 'grass' is someone who works for the police and so has become a surrogate 'copper'. The rhyming slang link was certainly believed in 1950 by the lexicographer Paul Tempest, when he wrote Lag's lexicon: a comprehensive dictionary and encyclopaedia of the English prison to-day:

"Grasser. One who gives information. A 'squealer’ or ‘squeaker'. The origin derives from rhyming slang: grasshopper - copper; a 'grass' or 'grasser' tells the 'copper' or policeman."

That comes only a few years after the term grass was coined and there seems little reason to doubt it as the derivation. The original users of the term 'grass up' were from the London underworld and would have certainly been better acquainted with rhyming slang than the works of Virgil.

Some have also theorised that the term 'shop', meaning 'give information that leads to an arrest', derives from the same source, i.e. that, as 'grass' derives from 'grasshopper', then so does 'shopper'. The earliest known use of shop in that context dates from around the same time as the emergence of grasshopper. The issue of the magazine Tit-Bits for May, 1899 includes:

"[He] volunteered for a fiver to 'shop' his pals."

source: The Phrase Finder
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks, calico. The people I was living with in Eltham at the time are still there, and I still feel a strong emotional connection the them & to SE9.
There's another incident that stays with me - a car full of 5 or 6 teenagers crashed into a pole & burst into flames killing all occupants. A friend of mine was a teacher at their school. The community emotion was really amazing.
I am torn as for double jeopardy, I am disgusted at the cock up the police made of thw investigation and that the violent thugs responsible were not put away at the time.
I have a child who will be 18 in 2 months, and she also lived in Eltham for 6 months in 1995. I am stunned that it's taken more than her entire lifetime and this case is still not satisfactorily resolved. She is almost the age Stephen Lawrence was when he was murdered.
It's just awful. I wish his family peace, but I done expect they'll ever get closure. I will always remember Stephen Lawrence.
posted by goshling at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2012


I can understand the argument that, as evidence becomes more scientific and less based on often-flawed witness testimony, double jeopardy prosecutions should be allowed in exceptionally rare circumstances, although ultimately I think the dangers Malor highlights are a more compelling case. What I find more troubling is that they didn't merely change the law so that these prosecutions are allowed in the future, they did so and applied it to people who had been acquitted before the new law was passed (and in at least the case of Julie Hogg's murderer, talked about the crime afterward). The notion that you can be legally free, the law can subsequently change, and then you are subject to a life sentence is a frightening precedent to me, even if it appears to have allowed justice in this particular case. I guess I should note that I don't think the US is perfect here either--I think Michael Skakel's case that Connecticut should not have been allowed to try him as an adult due to subsequent changes in the law was fairly compelling.
posted by dsfan at 8:15 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Grass" from "Whispering Grass" the popular song, surely.

For me the word is still associated with the nastier kinds of criminal subculture, but I've heard it used on the BBC as though it were the correct technical legal term.
posted by Segundus at 8:42 AM on January 4, 2012


What I fear is an appeal in due course that finds the forensic evidence is open to question and the conviction therefore unsafe, Dobson and Norris released and showered with compensation.

Whether the evidence is reliable or not is a question of fact, and is properly determined by a jury. Appeals of the sort I think you are thinking of deal with questions of law. You can only appeal on the facts if significant new evidence can be shown. Also, compensation for wrongful conviction is much less generous than many might imagine.

If I'm reading it right, that's an earlier judgment where the judge gives approval for Dobson's retrial.

You are reading it right, but possibly not to the end. What I was refering to is that this is not the full judgement from the CoA, because publication of that judgement was delayed, as it would have been potentially prejudicial to a fair trial. The end of the judgement refers to this.
posted by howfar at 9:40 AM on January 4, 2012


Somewhat belatedly:

You only quoted part of my comment and deliberately left out the bit where I voiced the same concerns as your reply to me. I don't regard that as good faith, so please don't do it in the future.

So, in other words, you think so little of the Metafilter audience that you don't think they can scroll up like four comments to get more context? I'm supposed to repeat every word you say, just in case a reader somewhere is stupid? I'd rather have faith in their ability to use their mousewheel, particularly over such a short distance, rather than pollute their screen by repeating the same crap over and over again.

Further, you didn't really hit on my objections. I'd characterize your argument as being "It should be okay for the government to try you twice, if they have new evidence, and didn't get the outcome they wanted the first time. They should just be careful not to abuse that power." This isn't even close to being "the same concerns" that I expressed, which were that being careful is not enough, and that the American system, at least, is designed the way it is for a very specific reason. It's oriented around the principle of letting a fair number of guilty people go free, to minimize harassment of citizens, and decrease the chances of punishing anyone innocent. It's better, to that way of thinking, to err on the side of freedom over imprisonment. Putting someone through the hell of a trial is enough of an imposition that the government is only allowed one try.

I see none of that in the text I didn't quote. So I refute your claim of bad faith in all respects: your original text was within trivial scrolling distance, and your mild caveats, to my reading, were unrelated to my strong objections.
posted by Malor at 12:48 PM on January 4, 2012


For me the word is still associated with the nastier kinds of criminal subculture

This suggests the tantalising possibility of a nicer kind of criminal subculture that is too refined to use the word 'grass' and instead refers to police informants as 'sneaks' and 'tell tom tits'.
posted by howfar at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to know more about the "alleged" police corruption mentioned in the wiki.
Stephen Lawrence murder: inside the violent, racist world of gang led by self-styled 'Krays'
posted by adamvasco at 1:57 PM on January 4, 2012


Segundus: "Whispering Grass" came out in 1940, but the verb "to grass up" is attested from 1932.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:30 PM on January 4, 2012


I would like to know more about the "alleged" police corruption mentioned in the wiki.

You get a flavour of what is alleged to have been going on in this 2006 Guardian article.
posted by Abiezer at 6:52 PM on January 4, 2012


You are reading it right, but possibly not to the end. What I was refering to is that this is not the full judgement from the CoA, because publication of that judgement was delayed, as it would have been potentially prejudicial to a fair trial. The end of the judgement refers to this.

Ah, I see what you mean.

Looks like they've just published the full judgment from the CoA, here. (For anyone else who cares, this is the Court of Appeal judgment in R v Dobson, where the judge quashed the acquittal of Dobson in 1996, allowing him to be re-tried for the murder, along with Norris who was being tried for the first time. Earlier in this thread howfar had linked to the shorter version of the judgment that was then available).
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:12 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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