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The Legacy of Stephen Lawrence

An unedited version of Aamer Anwar’s column published in the Scottish Sun on Sunday on the 21st April 2013


Tomorrow will be the twentieth anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s    murder. Sadly there was nothing unusual about an 18 year old black boy being hacked to death by a brutal racist gang.

It had happened before and many times since, what made it different was that his death became the catalyst for unleashing a tidal wave of change and the Lawrence Inquiry branded the police institutionally racist and exposed to the wider community what racism meant.

This was down to two people, Neville and Doreen, Stephen’s stubborn parents who refused to be silenced in their campaign for the truth. All the institutions from the police to prosecutors closed ranks and watched Stephen’s killers make a mockery of the law, forcing his grieving parents to become campaigners.

17 years after Stephen’s murder two of his killers finally faced justice but Doreen was in no mood for rejoicing because the guilty verdicts did ‘not cleanse Britain of racism

I was asked last week if I thought Scotland had a legacy from the impact of Stephen Lawrence. So I thought of all the years I have now lived in Scotland. When I arrived in Glasgow to study in 1986 I was shocked by the segregation of the community, where racist language was the norm, clubs and bars ran unwritten colour quotas.

I  remember a seating plan in an engineering class where the lecturer divided our class along race lines. Why I even had my teeth smashed out by the police and told ‘this is what happened to black boys with big mouths’ not that it shut me up.

When Mohammed Sarwar sought nomination to stand in the working class area of Govan as the Britain’s first Muslim Labour MP, the vicious racism he faced wasn’t from his constituents, but from his political party who like all the other parties saw Asians as voting fodder, ‘to be seen and not heard.

Sadly over the years we have had our own Stephen Lawrence’s, the names of young Kriss Donald, Imran Khan, Ahmed Sheikh, Simon San and Surjit Chhokar live on in our memories.

The Legacy of Stephen Lawrence in Scotland? 

So is there a Scottish legacy 20 years after Stephen’s murder?- Well we haven’t got rid of racism in but much has changed for the better, our city centres are awash with new languages and nationalities, the colour bar in the city’s night life has gone.

There has been a radical overhaul of the legal system and a change in culture and regime with a determination to stamp out racism and bigotry. The random racism experienced on our streets is the exception not the norm.

There is even the arrival of the young guns; the Scottish Labour Party has as its deputy leader Anas Sarwar, whilst the SNP have Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first Asian Government minister. The fact they are judged on their achievements rather than race is just one example of seismic shifts in attitudes.

As Doreen Lawrence said ‘we have more than earned the right to live and not have our children killed in the way Stephen was.’

But the venom of racism still flows when the surface is scratched. A few weeks ago why were we still debating whether it is ‘racist’ to call an Asian friend ‘my Paki friend?

Immigrants and Muslims are devalued and portrayed as threatening a “civilised” way of life. Black men are still 26 times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched by police and twice as likely to be unemployed.

20 years ago I counted as zero the number of black or Asian High Court Judges, Chief Constables, Senior Prosecutors and Defence QC’s in Scotland, yet it is still zero today. Racism still exists on an industrial scale in our judicial process across the UK.

So tomorrow when the great and good pay ‘lip service’ to Stephen’s memory, some will moan it’s time to move on- I agree but only when our children are celebrated for the lives they live rather than the fact they were brutally murdered.

That would indeed be a fitting legacy of Stephen Lawrence but we still have a long way to go.


This week the ‘Better Together’ campaigning for a no vote came under pressure from the First Minister to return the £500,000 they received from Ian Taylor, CEO of Vitol the world’s largest oil traders.

Vitol had ‘legally’ paid Serbian War Criminal Arkan $1 million to ‘expedite’ an oil deal gone wrong in 1996. But even before Arkan was indicted by the UN for 24 charges of crimes against humanity in 1997, he was actually on Interpol’s most wanted list with convictions or warrants in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy (20 burglaries, 7 armed bank robberies, 4 prison escapes, attempted murder).

He escaped from his 4th prison in 1983 back to Yugoslavia to a life of serious criminality establishing himself as a notorious gangster. He set up the notorious paramilitaries the ‘Tigers’ in 1991 which engaged in mass executions, rape and genocide.  Arkan never stood trial for his war crimes as he was assassinated in 2000.

There is of course absolutely nothing ‘illegal’ about Vitol hiring a man like Arkan to ‘fix’ an oil deal  but I can see why Labour and the Tories would much prefer to discuss Ian Taylor’s investment in Harris Tweed in Scotland than to discuss the curious case of Mr Arkan.