A three-part documentary series on ITV called Cold Case Forensics looks at the work carried out by forensic scientist Dr Angela Gallop and her team. As set out in the ITV Press Release, in the third episode, Dr Gallop and her team describe how Dr Gallop and her team describe how, 3 years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by a group of men at a bus stop in Eltham, they re-examined the forensic evidence in the case.
Four years before Dr Gallop joined the cold case team, Lord Macpherson had reported that the Metropolitan Police’s search for Stephen’s killers had been marred by professional incompetence' and 'institutional racism'. She teamed up with the experienced detective put in charge of the case, Clive Driscoll. Revisiting the scene of the murder with Clive, Dr Gallop says: "It’s the normality of it which makes it even more horrific in a way, isn’t it - a nice suburban street and that sort of awful thing that can happen."
Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, had doubts about the competence of the police investigation from the very beginning. Their solicitor Imran Khan says: "I knew that police and the community and society suggest a stereotype of young black men. And he didn’t fit that at all. Stephen was a high achiever, he was going to be an architect. He hadn’t been in any sort of trouble."
A lack of forensic evidence had dealt a massive blow to the family’s hopes of bringing a prosecution against the suspects in the original investigation. And when the judge ruled that evidence from Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks identifying the suspects was inadmissible, the case collapsed. But Dr Gallop and Clive realised something critical at the scene. She says: "You could begin to see that actually the attack would have taken place over a bit of a period of time and there would have been plenty of opportunity for particularly contact between clothing of the assailants and Stephen’s clothing."
Angela and her team explored the idea that there had been greater contact between the attackers and Stephen than first assumed. She decided to focus on the possible transfer of textile fibres from clothing, saying: "We realised that Stephen’s polo shirt that he was wearing three or four layers down were shedding fibres. What it told us was that these red fibres might be worth looking for on the suspects’ clothing."
Among the clothes were items belonging to two of the original suspects, David Norris, and his friend, Gary Dobson. But Dobson had already been acquitted of the murder in a trial which followed a private prosecution brought by Stephen’s family. Forensic examiner April Robson says: "I started looking at Dobson's jacket for these red fibres, and I found eleven fibres that were very similar to Stephen’s polo shirt. They were then sent for additional analysis. So I then looked at the sweatshirt of David Norris and found one red fibre that was similar and again that was sent off for analysis. The analysis found that these fibres matched Stephen’s red polo shirt."
The team then found fibres from Stephen’s jacket on Gary Dobson’s clothing, and green fibres from Stephen’s corduroy trousers on the sweatshirt that David Norris had been wearing on the night of the attack. But textile fibre evidence alone would not be enough to prove murder - so in a moment of inspiration they checked the packaging the clothing had been kept in, and found a flake of what after testing was found to be Stephen's blood. Particle examiner Roger Robson says: "Finding that tiny fragment of blood… was huge. Almost something that you couldn’t imagine would happen other than in a drama. Blood had never been found before, so it was a great eureka moment."
The bag contained the jacket from suspect Gary Dobson and the team then found Stephen's blood on its collar. A short piece of hair from Dobson's clothing was also sent to the United States to be analysed in a specialist laboratory - later being found to match Stephen's DNA.
Clive says: "That showed that they were there at the time Steven was attacked and Steven was murdered."
Despite his earlier acquittal, the new forensic evidence against Dobson was put before the Court of Appeal and the judges agreed it should be overturned. After a six-week trial in January 2012, a jury found Dobson and Norris guilty of Stephen’s murder, receiving life sentences. Clive says: "I can’t ever feel elation because I haven’t brought Stephen back, have I? I haven’t brought Stephen back - that’s what they would want. You know it was a feeling more of sadness for Baroness Lawrence and Neville Lawrence because of how much they’d suffered."
But the other members of the gang who set upon Stephen that night remain free. Imran says: "What Angela did in getting that material, putting it in a way that was presentable to the jury, finding it in the first place using the new techniques to obtain it - that’s what led to the prosecution. That’s what gave Doreen justice."
Cold Case Forensics is on ITV1 9pm on Thursday 16th February 2023