Stephen Lawrence

Jump to: Overview

Forensic Casebook

Offence: Murder
Victim: Stephen Lawrence
Suspect(s): Gary Dobson and David Norris

Stephen Lawrence was just nineteen years old when he was attacked and killed while waiting for a bus in south-east London on the evening of 22 April 1993. Despite messages being left on the windscreen of a police car identifying those suspected of stabbing and killing the teenager, it was two weeks before the police made any arrests for the crime.


The five suspects – Gary Dobson, Luke Knight, David Norris and brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt – were subsequently released without being charged, and the Metropolitan Police were soon accused of institutional racism.

What then ensued was a lengthy and complex series of investigations. Professor Angela Gallop and her team first became involved in the case two years later. Stephen’s family were convinced that the original suspects were responsible for his murder, and set out to prove this by planning to take out a private prosecution. Professor Gallop was asked by the Lawrence family’s solicitor to conduct a review of the work undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory (MPFSL) in relation to the crime. She spent time at the laboratory in London, checking the work that had already been done and helping the scientists to undertake more testing in specific areas.

Stephen had been wearing several layers of clothing when he was killed, and it was likely that these had ‘cleaned’ the blade of the knife as it was withdrawn from the two stab wounds made in the upper part of his body. The assumption was that there would have been very little blood transferred to Stephen’s attackers, and indeed no blood was found on any of the suspect’s clothing that could have come from Stephen.

The scientists were hesitant to test for textile fibres on the suspect’s clothing that might have been transferred from Stephen’s. This assumption was made against background data for fibre transfer which shows it to be very unlikely that a useful result for the investigation would be obtained. However, Stephen had run only a few yards down the road before collapsing, meaning that he hadn’t been active before being taken to hospital and the clothing removed from his body. This, in turn, meant that looking for fibres from the suspects’ clothing on his was the next logical line of inquiry.

Still, in her report written for the Lawrence family in 1995, Professor Gallop stated that there was effectively no real scientific evidence (to date) to connect the defendants with the attack on Stephen – only a very weak link with Dobson. What she added, however, was that this finding wasn’t surprising, given the nature of the attack and the time interval that had elapsed before the arrests were made. The private prosecution collapsed when Duwayne Brooks – the young man who was with Stephen at the time of the attack and had run off, expecting Stephen to follow him – was deemed to be an unreliable witness.

At the time of Stephen’s murder, the UK had a law of double jeopardy, which prevented someone being tried again for a crime for which they had already been acquitted. A significant recommendation of the Macpherson Report (commissioned following the Metropolitan Police’s handling of Stephen’s killing) was that the law should be repealed in cases of murder if new evidence comes to light. By the time it was changed in England and Wales in 2005, it had been extended to include other serious crimes carrying a life or very long sentence.

It was in 2006 when Professor Gallop was approached once again about the Stephen Lawrence case, a little over ten years since she’d last been involved with it. Enlisting her team of most senior and experienced scientists, Professor Gallop set out to reexamine all the evidence and ensure that any new work was properly aligned with the old, so that nothing slipped through the gaps.

There were various eyewitness accounts of the attack on Stephen. Among them was reference to one of the attackers wielding a blunt instrument, which was later determined to have been a short length of scaffolding pole discovered in a nearby garden. Professor Gallop and her team began the reinvestigation by examining the piece of scaffolding, noting the types of paint on it, and then looking for traces of paint evidence on Stephen’s upper clothing. Although no paint was found, the team noticed a number of red fibres.

Tapings were then examined that had been taken from the suspects’ clothes, and it wasn’t long before the team began to find red fibres of two different types. Several of them were made of the same twisty cotton and some were of the same polyester as the fibres from Dobson’s clothes, then on Norris’. It was at this point we suspected we were onto something.

The team also discovered flakes of blood on Dobson’s jacket, and one of these flakes had several textile fibres passing through it. They happened to match the fibres found on Stephen’s cardigan. What was even more interesting still was that the fibres were encased in the blood, meaning they had become entrapped when the blood was still wet.

Inside the back of the neck of Dobson’s jacket was a tiny blood stain measuring approximately 0.5 x 0.3 millimeters. It was different in appearance from the tiny flakes of blood, in that it seemed to have penetrated both within and between the fibres of the jacket and was much lighter in colour, just like a normal blood stain. When DNA profiling showed that it matched Stephen’s profile, the loose ends had suddenly been tied up.

The court was satisfied with what we had found, and on the basis of the evidence, Dobson and Norris were arrested in 2010 and charged with the murder of Stepehen Lawrence. When the trial began at the Old Bailey in 2011, our forensic evidence was at the heart of it. And, this time, both Dobson and Norris were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and sentenced to fifteen and fourteen years in prison respectively.

Professor Angela Gallop and the Forensic Access team are working on a number of high-profile cold case investigations. To find out more about our services, visit our forensic services page, or call 01235 774870.