Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch with kind words about my piece on the Stephen Lawrence verdict. I was in two minds about whether or not to write it, because of the emotions it stirs, but it was an event that needed marking. My personal connection with Stephen was very, very limited – but I think Bob From Bromley expressed it right. “Although I can’t claim any ownership of this tragedy, I feel as if I have lived closely with Stephen’s death this past eighteen years.”
While people across this country and beyond will have welcomed the news of Gary Dobson and David Norris’s conviction, it’s here in south-east London that the sense of relief was felt the most. The case has cast a long shadow over this area, and one aspect of life under that was the number of people who simply refused to believe that a young black man could be innocent of any crime.
I remember people telling me I didn’t know “the truth” about the case, and hearing dog ends of rumours about drug dealing, rapes, anything that would somehow absolve Stephen’s killers of the racism they were filmed bragging about by a police undercover surveillance camera.
As Mr Justice Treacy told two of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers a week ago:
A totally innocent 18 year old youth on the threshold of a promising life was brutally cut down in the street in front of eye witnesses by a racist thuggish gang. You were both members of that gang… This crime was committed for no other reason than racial hatred. You did not know Stephen Lawrence or Duwayne Brooks. Neither of them had done anything to harm, threaten or offend you in any way, apart from being black and making their way peaceably to the bus-stop on their way home.
With that, 19 years of malicious lies about Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks should have been extinguished forever. Incredibly, the News Shopper has decided to perpetuate them.
Now, you’d think a “local” newspaper would probably not bother running comments beneath the story – after all, the paper’s website is already a magnet for nutters, and moderating such a thread would be more trouble than it was worth.
Instead, the News Shopper, based out in distant Petts Wood, decided it was open season.
A black man walking through Eltham? Three layers of clothing? Asking for it, obviously. It then gets worse, with one person posting a list of the charges the police had tried to pin on Duwayne in the years following Stephen’s death, before asking…
If all this stuff isn’t racist, it’s certainly defamatory. It’s pretty much identical to the bile you’ll find on neo-Nazi websites. But it’s all fine at the News Shopper. Once local newspapers felt a duty of care to communities, and they championed those communities. In south-east London, those days are long gone, and we’re stuck with the News Shopper stirring things from the safety of far-off Orpington, where they’ll never have to live the consequences of the rubbish its website prints.
Hey, at least there’s some source material for the next lazy “Eltham still racist” piece from a national.
We’ve been here before, of course. In August 2010 the News Shopper rewarded an anti-gay rant with a “star letter” prize, while a couple of months back it tried to whip up hysteria about Staffordshire Bull Terriers. We know it likes to turn a blind eye to lunatic comments in news stories, under the belief that it makes people return to their website. (It’s the way the Daily Telegraph runs its website, with once-respected hacks reduced to the status of dancing bears for all sorts of unpleasant nutters.)
But when it comes to leaving racist and defamatory comments in a news story that’s been live all through Monday, that really can’t be an innocent slip-up. This has to have been a conscious decision to keep on stirring the innuendo, purely to boost traffic to the News Shopper website.
We have to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world. But we live in one where those who spread hate are increasingly marginalised. Sadly, though, it seems the racists still have a friend in the News Shopper.
1.30pm update The News Shopper has now deleted the comments from its website. Greenwich and Lewisham reporter Mark Chandler, however, seems to think there’s nothing wrong with his newspaper publishing racist and defamatory innuendo. (McNae’s is the media law bible.)