Who Was Stephen Lawrence? Prince Harry & Meghan Markle Are Paying Tribute To Him

by Collette Reitz
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are getting plenty of attention after they stepped out together in public less than a month before their highly anticipated royal wedding. For fans of the royal family, it's exciting to see the couple together, but the reason why they attended the April 23 memorial service for Stephen Lawrence is because of a devastating murder that took place 25 years ago. The couple paid tribute on Monday to the man who was killed in a racially charged act of violence. So, who was Stephen Lawrence?

According to BBC News, Lawrence, a young black man, was only 18 years old on April 22, 1993 when he was stabbed by a "gang of white youths" at a bus stop. He was reportedly waiting at the stop in Eltham, south-east London, with his friend Duwayne Brooks. In a 1998 BBC News report of the murder, Brooks recounted what he recalled of that night in 1993, and he claimed the two of them had eaten and played Super Nintendo at Lawrence's uncle's house.

Lawrence, who was reportedly a bright young student who earned A's in his English, physics, and design studies, arrived with Brooks at the bus stop in Well Hall Road at about 10:30 p.m. local time, according to an official inquiry into the murder that was published in February 1999. Lawrence stepped out onto the road to see if the bus was coming, and Brooks called out to him asking if he saw a bus, according to the report. That's when one of the gang of five or six white youths allegedly yelled out a racial slur at Lawrence and Brooks, and then the gang allegedly quickly ran toward Lawrence and stabbed him twice.

The official inquiry explained that the entire incident only lasted about 15 to 20 seconds, but the 10-inch knife left an arterial wound that caused Lawrence's death that night. The incident appears to have been unprovoked by Lawrence or Brooks, according to accounts of the murder.

Beyond the fact that Lawrence's murder was, according to the official inquiry, "unequivocally motivated by racism," this specific murder case has also received public attention because there were no convictions for the crime until January 2012 (nearly 20 years after the murder). David Norris and Gary Dobson were tried for murder in November 2011, and the jury was provided new evidence that revealed Lawrence's DNA was found on Dobson's jacket, per People.

Dobson and Norris were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison in January 2012. Prior to the life sentences handed down to Norris and Dobson, the investigation into Lawrence's April 1993 murder was filled with police failings and multiple acquittals of the alleged suspects.

In April 1994, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refused to prosecute Neil Acourt and Luke Knight (who were identified by Brooks as part of the gang that murdered Lawrence) on the basis that Brooks' ID evidence was "unreliable." Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, then launched a private prosecution against Gary Dobson, Luke Knight, and Neil Acourt (who were identified as suspects in the murder on April 23, 1993). That prosecution also failed on the same basis that Brooks' ID evidence was inadmissible.

Lawrence's parents have made sure their son's legacy lives on, and on Monday, April 23, Markle and Prince Harry attended the annual memorial service in honor of Stephen Lawrence. The service was held at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, per The Guardian, and both Markle and Prince Harry greeted Lawrence's parents as they entered the service.

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Inside, Prince Harry read a letter on behalf of his father Charles, Prince of Wales. It said,

I remember vividly the profound shock that I felt at [Stephen’s] senseless murder, a feeling shared by so many people across this country and beyond. I remember, too, just how deeply moved I was by the determination of his family to build something positive from the tragedy they endured and to ensure that Stephen’s story did not end with despair, but continued with hope.

Lawrence's legacy has become a shining light on race relations in the country, and Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Monday that April 22 would be known annually at Stephen Lawrence Day, with the first Stephen Lawrence Day to be celebrated on April 22, 2019. Lawrence's mother was pleased with the news, and said in a statement, "I feel honoured she has recognised the changes that have been made in Stephen’s name and the changes that are still needed."

Prince Harry and Markle's attendance is notable since Markle, who is biracial, was on the receiving end of racist remarks from U.K. media in 2016 when she began dating Prince Harry. At that time, Prince Harry released a statement via Kensington Palace condemning the racist behavior, and it read,

His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public — the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments. Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety … He has asked for this statement to be issued in the hopes that those in the press who have been driving this story can pause and reflect before any further damage is done.

As for Markle's thoughts on the racist comments, she said during the couple's November 2017 engagement interview, "It’s disheartening. You know it’s a shame that is the climate in this world to focus that much on that ... but I think, you know, at the end of the day I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from, and we have never put any focus on that."

With their attendance at the 25th anniversary memorial service on Monday, it appears Markle and Prince Harry are both still committed to fighting the racist "climate in this world."