Never give in when your cause is just – RIP Stephen Lawrence (1974–1993)

Stephen LawrenceRodney Bickerstaffe gives his personal view on the verdict in the Stephen Lawrence murder trial to UNISONActive on 4 January 2012.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So goes the old saying. And so it has been for the family, friends and supporters of Stephen Lawrence’s cause. And so it’s been for the community of Eltham, in South London. And further afield, so has it seemed to the scores of thousands in no way related to the young victim, but touched and angered by his murder and by its unhappy and unsettling aftermath.

Now, with a verdict given, and the sentences to be shortly announced, many will feel that there can be some ‘closure’. There’s more than a glimpse of justice being served. But it took over 18 years.

To me it seems a long time since Monday 14th November 2011, as I waited at the Old Bailey – The Central Criminal Court – as part of over a hundred jurors in-waiting, called to do our civic duty in the age old system. My name was called by random selection into a smaller group of forty nine, from which a final dozen would be selected to sit in a case. The case it turned out, was to be that of Stephen Lawrence.

I immediately thought of my own past and the great and principled stand of our union, UNISON, in support of Doreen and Neville, Stephen’s Mum and Dad in their long struggle for justice. I could not, of course, sit on this jury, and face the possibility of a challenge some weeks into the hearing. A mis-trial would be good for no-one, well certainly not for the Lawrences. I was stood down from the trial jury.

History has been made. Not only the momentous decision taken yesterday, 3 January 2012, but in the major changes to police practice, public policy on race equality and the UK criminal justice system arising from this case. Hopefully we are now a better country than we were in 1993 but there is still much to be done.

It’s a strange world but some things are certain. Democracy demands constant vigilance. Fascism and racism have to be challenged and beaten in every generation, and each time they raise their ugly faces. And as Doreen and Neville Lawrence have shown us all, never give in when your cause is just.

Rodney Bickerstaffe

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