Friday, 22 June 2012

Neville Lawrence: ‘'UNISON has stayed with us'

Interview with Neville Lawrence before his moving speech to UNISON Conference on 21/6/12:
It's a question you dread asking Neville Lawrence. He must have been asked it a million times yet he answered with the thoughtful respect and honesty we've come to know over an inspirational and dignified 18 year campaign.

It is horrific enough for a parent to lose a child. To lose a child in the circumstances in which he lost Stephen is unthinkable. What keeps him going?

"To be honest, I don't know", said Neville. "When I came to this country I had the belief that if you were in trouble you would be helped... It was wrong that something can happen like this just because of the colour of someone's skin."

"I decided that if I could get the support - and that came from UNISON - I would fight this and I will go on trying to fight it as long as possible".

Neville is clear about what needs to change. He is clear that the death of his son marked a change.

"It always takes a tragedy for people to get things done. I don't know why we do that but we were never able to sit down and discuss racism until the death of Stephen".

"Things have changed", Neville explained. "When the young man Anthony Walker was killed in Liverpool, there was a trial in six months. It was 18 years for me".

But behind the strength and dignity, there is the pain and hurt. "I have three grandchildren. But I will never see a grandchild from my first born. It hurts to know that. My family has been robbed", said Neville with a quiet frankness that had eyes filling up around the room.

The emotion was not confined to us. Neville spoke of looking round the Conference hall on Thursday. "I saw some of the faces that had been there supporting us from the start and I burst into tears", he said. "UNISON has stayed with us for all that time. It is very special for me today".

"I've always been a person who never forgets people who have helped. It will be a chance for me to thank those people tomorrow".

"By myself, no-one would have listened to me. UNISON gave us a voice."
Trade unions are seen as mainly focussing on work but "UNISON has looked beyond that" and families can see they are there to help if they are in trouble.

As a young man, Neville reflected that everyone had their union card. "It is better to have the card in your hand and the strong backing of the union behind you all the time", he said.

UNISON's part in the story started in 1993 when members raised the issue of Stephen's murder and support for his family's quest for justice. UNISON was the first union to take a lead, raising the issue at the TUC with President Dave Anderson handing over a UNISON donation of £5,000 to the campaign.

Relations between the black community and the police were very tense. Despite the lack of respect shown to the family in the past (they had to resort to a private prosecution) Neville gave credit to the police officers who led the most recent investigation. "If they had been there at the start we would have had a just solution", he said. He still hopes that the murder weapon can be found to provide the evidence to bring others who were undoubtedly involved to justice.

And he had a warning about privatisation of police services. If that went ahead it would be harder to make complaints and there would be "no control over the police".

When you meet Neville Lawrence he has such a presence that you have to remind yourself that this was an ordinary working father whose world was shattered one day by the racist murder of his son.

That tragic event showed there was nothing ordinary about Neville Lawrence. He and his family took forward a campaign for justice for Stephen, but also a campaign that shook the country into awareness of institutional racism, not just in the police but across society.


On 22 April 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham, south-east London.

In 1999 the Macpherson report made 70 recommendations to break down institutionalised racism.

Earlier this year two men were convicted of Stephen's murder and the Judge told police to hunt down the 'three or four' others still at large.

TUC's Stephen Lawrence Fundraising Appeal

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