Stephen review, episode three: A noble piece of television
It seems odd to call a piece of television “noble”, but Stephen, ITV’s three-part semi-dramatisation of the final investigation into the case of Stephen Lawrence, demands the epithet. In stark contrast to the behaviour of the police and the state for so long, there is a constant tangible passion for justice in the way the programme-makers tell the story. There is an instinct for fairness in the way Stephen treats all those involved, even those who don’t deserve it, and it is a rare and refreshing thing to see.
The last episode takes the viewer from the arrest of two of the suspects to the end of the trial, and is basically a courtroom drama. Of course we know the outcome, but rather than treating the two accused as self-evidently guilty, knuckle-dragging racists, ridiculing and humiliating them, the case for their defence is presented respectfully and with due solemnity. Gary Dobson and David Norris (played with surly arrogance by Stephen Patten and Rob Witcomb) were afforded the right to a fair trial, in this case by television. They sit in the dock impassively as their defence lawyers set out the reasons why they are, in fact, innocent of the crime. Their respective mums tell the court how they were snuggled up at home at the relevant time; their barristers insist the forensic evidence – Stephen’s blood and hair on their clothes – is the result of contamination during testing, and that, while they used to be dedicated racists, that was all a long time ago, and their habitual use of the N-word was purely down to listing to too much hip hop. In the witness box, one states, perhaps as a subtle act of satirical defiance, that he was also at a mate’s house on the night of the murder to borrow a Bob Marley CD.
We see, as well, how Neville and Doreen Lawrence (brilliant performances again from Sharlene Whyte and Hugh Quarshie) react to all of this, with their usual dignity but with understandable frustration. As the genuinely honest copper DCI Steve Driscoll (Steve Coogan) advises them, “that’s the defence just doing their job”. Even the press gets a fair hearing. Distressed at some unhelpful and unbalanced headlines during the trial, Doreen Lawrence appeals to Driscoll, who admonishes a tabloid reporter. The reporter calmly informs Driscoll that the doubts being placed on the prosecution come directly from the Met press office, in an effort to “manage expectations” (or, as Doreen remarks, “because they don’t want a conviction”). There’s plenty of tension to keep us watching.
After a fashion, the police are also given their due through this series – that eventually and with much incompetence, carelessness and reluctance, the “institutionally racist” force did secure a couple of convictions. At the end of the trial, the judge commends DCI Driscoll for his work, and for “a measure of justice” that the Lawrence family received, albeit delayed and denied them for 17 years. He also expresses hope that the other murderers would also be caught. More than a decade on, that noble hope seems as far as ever from fulfilment.