Murdered Stephen Lawrence's brother has a message for Sheffield schoolchildren
Stuart Lawrence was just 16 when his older brother Stephen was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus – brutally targeted purely because of the colour of his skin.
It took years to bring his killers to justice, and the Metropolitan Police’s response to the murder was denounced as ‘institutionally racist’ in a report following a landmark public inquiry.
But Stuart refuses to dwell on any feelings of anger.
Speaking to students at Parkwood Academy in Sheffield, he recalled having to sit for nearly six months in a courtroom during the trial and confront his brother’s killers.
“I saw no guilt in their faces, in their actions,” he said. “I get asked quite a lot about how I feel towards them but again, I don’t like to give them any airtime or think about these people. If I do that, they are winning in my world, and I don’t have any time or place for people like that to be winning.”
Stephen, an aspiring architect, was set upon in Eltham, South East London, on April 22, 1993. He was 18.
Five men were accused of taking part in the violence but only two were convicted.
Stuart, who spearheads the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, said he always considered how his brother would react whenever he was asked about taking revenge.
“What would my brother want me to do? I’m not a violent person, I never was,” he said. “Obviously, there is a sense of anger that comes over me but I wasn’t brought up like that to be hateful towards others.
“All I can do now is to use my experiences and what I have been through and talk to young people and other families so hopefully you never have to experience what I did.”
Stuart, who used to be a schoolteacher, revealed his son has yet to learn of what happened to his uncle, and that he dreaded the inevitable conversation as he grows older.
“I have an eight-year-old son who has no idea what’s happened to his uncle but one day I’m going to have to sit him down and explain to him that Stephen was killed simply because of the colour of his skin and that is going to shatter his world,” he reflected.
“I’m a firm believer that we’ve just got to be accepting of everyone.”
Stuart, who is now a motivational speaker, was invited by Parkwood as part of the school’s ongoing campaign to raise awareness of knife crime and racism.
Knife-related deaths have risen markedly in the UK. Between April 2015 and March 2016, such fatalities in the UK increased by 14 per cent, from 186 to 213, before rocketing to 285 in 2017-18, the highest figure since 1946.
In his three-hour talk, Stuart told the students they need to be prepared to drive any positive change in society themselves.
“We need to make sure the police represent the community that they serve,” he said. “Would you ever consider being a police officer? I can tell by your reaction that most would say no. So why complain about not being diverse enough if we are not willing to partake in those institutions and be a member, to force the change that is necessary?
“It is going to take us as a society, being a volunteer, being a police cadet, to bring about positive changes in the future.”
Each year, April 22 has been designated National Stephen Lawrence Day to remember the slain teenager.
Parkwood Academy headteacher Gemma Cottingham said Stephen’s story needed to be shared, even 26 years after his death.
“It happened before any of our children were born and I think it is absolutely imperative that we as a school raise awareness and we ensure that our students have some understanding of what could happen,” she said.
“The students might think it can never happen to them but I think it’s important to get someone directly affected by these kind of incidents of these tragic events to actually come and speak to them.”
Stuart was joined by a panel comprising Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh; Bill Thomas, the first black police officer in South Yorkshire, who is now retired; Bradley McAnearney and Saeed Brasab, of Project 0114, a scheme aimed at tackling criminal exploitation of young people; and Special Chief Inspector Dave Turner, of South Yorkshire Police.