In 2006, Faber published Doreen Lawrence’s memoir And Still I Rise. It is a harrowing but important and moving book. The rawness of Doreen’s grief and anger is palpable.
Among many memorable passages is her recollection of the night of her son Stephen’s murder in April 1993 and the days that followed it, when police officers destroyed what should have been an open and shut case through incompetence, corruption and sheer racism.
Perhaps the most famous ‘unsolved’ murder in postwar British history, the Lawrence case had already, by the time the book was published, brought about profound changes in policing and in the way hate crimes are treated, but it was no nearer resolution than it had been ten years before. All roads to justice seemed blocked. Five young men, notorious in south-east London for their aggression, racism and obsession with knives, had emerged as chief suspects within hours of the killing, but their police interviews and searches of their homes were bungled from the start. Despite being named repeatedly and invited to sue for libel if they were innocent, notably by the Daily Mail, they seemed to enjoy immunity from retribution. Their brazen, swaggering contempt was displayed to a huge TV audience as they left the Macpherson inquiry after refusing point-blank to answer any questions about their involvement in the murder.
A private prosecution against three of the suspects had been thrown out in 1996. In 2004, the CPS had announced that it could not continue to build a prosecution for lack of evidence. For a hopeful minute it seemed that some evidence might emerge linking one of the original investigating officers to the father of one of the suspects, David Norris, who was finally convicted this week; but a much-hyped BBC investigation in 2006 produced no concrete evidence, though it undoubtedly contributed to the pressure on the Police Complaints Commission to re-examine the original investigation. (There is still a story to be told about the corruption of police officers by Clifford Norris and other south London gangsters).
This was the depressing context in which we published Doreen Lawrence’s memoir. The reception of the book was surprisingly muted. While the Daily Mail serialized it for three days, most of the other newspapers ignored it, as if they felt that that there was nothing new to be said about the case that could possibly interest their readers.
Mrs Lawrence was becoming a kind of Hecuba, whose unyielding determination and grief for her dead son could not any longer be accommodated. ‘Moving on’ was and is, after all, one of the most fashionable attitudes to the recent past in our society; bankers and lying politicians have done rather well out of this amnesiac habit. Mrs Lawrence refused to move on. She was vindicated this week when two of the suspects were found guilty and sentenced at the Old Bailey.
Her book is still in print and still relevant. As a mother’s elegy and as a call for justice, it has lost none of its power and relevance. There may still be trials of the other three suspects, one of whom seems to have been the leader of their little gang of violent and racist apprentice criminals. Stephen Lawrence goes on haunting the conscience of Britain.
And Still I Rise by Doreen Lawrence is available from the Faber website.