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The cost of friendship

To explore the cost of friendship between Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To explore the cost of friendship between Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks.

Preparation and materials


  1. On 22 April 1993, at 10.35 p.m., two men were waiting for a bus at the Well Hall Road in Plumstead, south-east London. A few minutes later, one of them was dead, stabbed for no reason other than the colour of his skin.

    The dead man was Stephen Lawrence, whose cruel murder was to have a profound effect on British law and society. The other man was his friend Duwayne Brooks.

    When the attack came they were not at the bus stop. They had walked along the road to see if a bus was coming. Stephen was ahead of Duwayne. Duwayne saw a group of youths on the other side of the road. These youths called out, ‘What, what, nigger’ and quickly crossed the road. Stephen was surrounded. The killers ran off after only about 12 seconds. Duwayne called to Stephen to run. Stephen got up and the two friends ran together. But after 130 yards Stephen collapsed and bled to death from two stab wounds.

    Three people standing at the bus stop said in witness statements that the attack was sudden and short and they couldn’t identify the killers. Brooks was the only witness to the crime, and took part in the identification parades and the original trial of the accused. Yet he also had to deal with the crippling psychological effects of that night. To see one’s friend attacked and be unable to stop it or help brings with it a heavy burden.
  2. Following the murder, prime suspects were established within three days but no arrests were made until two weeks later – the explanation being that the police did not have sufficient evidence to make an arrest. However, a basic tenet of British law is that an arrest requires only reasonable suspicion, not evidence. Evidence is needed for a conviction, not an arrest.

    The inability to convict went on until 2012, when two men were convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It is believed that six men committed the crime.
  3. Duwayne Brooks, interviewed by the BBC, said that the past 18 years had been worth it. And the past eighteen years had been tough.

    Brooks suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and was forced to live in a secure safe house because of his connection to the crime and his status as the only witness.

    It is difficult to imagine how hard it can be to see one’s friend die and then see the killers walk free for 18 years. Yet it is important not to be trapped by the past, no matter how tragic, but to look to the future.
  4. Brooks was elected on to Lewisham council in 2009. Lewisham is a multicultural and diverse area with large income inequality. This has traditionally been a recipe for social division but today, thankfully, racism is much less acceptable than it used to be.

    He has championed community cohesion in the Lewisham area.
  5. Rather than being defined by the tragic events of the past, it is important to use those events to create a more positive future. You don’t have to lose a friend to be able to take this message.

Time for reflection

Few of us have seen a friend die, fewer still under such dreadful circumstances. It is worth thinking about the trauma that Duwayne Brooks experienced and the years he spent as the only witness, remembering the death of his friend.

Death always throws up big questions of authority. We ask: ‘What else could I have done?’ And for Duwayne, that question must have been hard to come to terms with.

Now spend a few moments thinking about how Mr Brooks has taken that experience and is building on it to work for good in his community. He now serves as a councillor, representing his community and working to improve the lives of the people of Lewisham.

You might like to use these words as a prayer:

May I take the bad things that happen to me
and work to see that such things don’t happen to others.

Publication date: April 2012   (Vol.14 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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