It is reported that Gary Dobson, one of the two men convicted of the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, has dropped his appeal against conviction (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2293994/Gary-Dobson-drops-fight-appeal-conviction-Stephen-Lawrence-murder.html#ixzz2Nhn1xdoO). However, the dropping of the appeal does not necessarily mean Dobson has admitted the crime. It is unclear from media reports including the Daily Mail report (see url above) whether he has simply dropped the appeal or has made a confession. If it is the latter, this raises the possibility that he may turn Queen’s evidence in an attempt by the state to prosecute others for the crime.
It is worth noting that the man convicted with Dobson, David Norris, has not withdrawn his appeal. This could be a pointer to Dobson simply having dropped his appeal. Why would Dobson simply drop an appeal if he was innocent? Mental and emotional exhaustion, perhaps, but it could also be because he has been advised that the appeal if unsuccessful could extend his stay in prison because of the latitude given to the Parole Board over the release or otherwise of life sentence prisoners. This latter consideration could also have a role to play if Dobson has admitted to the crime.
If Dobson has admitted to the murder why would he do so now when he had denied it for some twenty years, including at the trial which convicted him in 2011? (https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/stephen-lawrence-gary-dobson-david-norris-and-a-political-trial/). Almost certainly it would be in the hope that his judge-recommended minimum sentence (the tariff) of 15 years and 2 months (as he has a life sentence it could be much longer) would be reduced or even that he will get out when the recommended minimum sentence has been served. Indeed, Dobson would have good reason to believe that as things stand he will not be released after the minimum sentence has been served, because when the sentences were handed down there was a good deal of media and political frothing about the length of the minimum sentences handed down to Dobson and his fellow defendant David Norris, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8994957/Stephen-Lawrence-murder-Attorney-General-to-review-sentences.html), despite the fact that they were aged 17 and 16 at the time of the killing and were consequently sentenced as juveniles (http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/sentencing_-_mandatory_life_sentences_in_murder_cases/#an07).
There is also another reason. The English parole system no longer requires as a matter of course an admission of guilt before someone with a life sentence is granted parole : ”It is encouraging that the typology has been embraced by the prison service and the parole board for prisoners maintaining innocence while serving indeterminate sentences (where the prisoner has no release date and does not get out until a parole board decides he or she is no longer a risk to the public). Previously, such prisoners were treated as “deniers” with no account taken of the various reasons for maintaining innocence, nor the fact that some may actually be innocent.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/08/innocence-network). However, this is a recent development and only those deemed to have a strong chance of being innocent are likely to escape the innocent prisoner’s dilemma of choosing between admitting guilt or not being released when the minimum sentence has been served. Bearing in mind the general atmosphere surrounding the Lawrence case, it is improbable that Dobson would have had any real chance of being released when his minimum sentence was served if he had not confessed.
If Dobson has admitted the murder and is willing to appear as a witness for the Crown in the prosecution of others he claims were also responsible, it is far from clear what weight his evidence could be given. To begin with there would be the problem that he is a proven liar. In addition he would be vulnerable to questioning about vested interests in making the admission and of giving evidence (leniency in the application of his life sentence and possibly the gaining of privileges within prison).
Then there is the nature of the evidence he could provide. Unless he could do something dramatic such as reveal where the murder weapon was kept and that weapon could be found and be shown to have contained the DNA of Lawrence and the DNA or prints of others, presumably all Dobson could offer would be his testimony of having been engaged in the murder with others who he has now identified. Then it would simply be his word – the word of a proven liar – against the word of others. That would surely not meet the Crown Prosecution Tests of a better than 50% chance of conviction before they proceed with a prosecution.
Even if a prosecution did go ahead simply with Dobson’s testimony as evidence, there would be grave pitfalls for the prosecution over and above Dobson’s record of lying, assuming that any admission he made was genuine. The killing took place twenty years ago. Consequently, there would be every chance that defence lawyers would be able to throw considerable doubt upon anything Dobson said in evidence simply by confusing him under cross examination by catching him out on contradictions, wrong dates and so on. If Dobson’s admission was not genuine, but just made to try to obtain leniency from the Parole Board the position would become next to impossible for the prosecution because the it is rare indeed to find anyone who can produce and maintain a coherent and consistent story if it is untrue. (Inconsistency can be misleading because a too consistent story is suspicious in itself because it suggests fabrication and coaching. However, juries will not generally realise this. All they will see is the contradictions in evidence).
Would all this mean that no one would be convicted simply on Dobson’s testimony? Sadly, no. The trial of Dobson and Norris was severely flawed both because it was impossible for the two defendants to get a fair trial because of the intensive political and media hate campaign directed at the pair for 18 years and because of the feeble new forensic evidence which was the justification for the trial. The full details of that trial can be found at https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/stephen-lawrence-gary-dobson-david-norris-and-a-political-trial/. Because of the politicisation of this case it is not unreasonable to suspect a prosecution on Dobson’s evidence alone would be made and convictions gained from a jury simply because of the background to the case. Let us hope that is not the case.