The South Bank Works: Duwayne Brooks and Simon Hattenstone

When Stephen Lawrence was stabbed and killed fifteen years ago in Eltham South London the nation went into  shock. After an inordinate pressurised campaign the assailants were taken to court.   As the individuals walked free from court  The Daily Mail made history by printing the pictures and names  of the accused with the headline Murderers it was an unprecedented acknowledgement of their guilt against the rule oflaw.  The mail continued “if we are wrong then we invite any defendant to sue us”

What ensued was a rigrous investigation into the policing of the case against four suspects and particularly into the treatment of the victims best friend.   This resulted in The MacPherson report which changed police practice in Britain forever. Separately Doreen Lawrence the mother of Stephen became a figurehead of  a rights for justice movement and spoke at conferences around the world.  I remember meeting Mrs Lawrence at an Embassy in South Africa and at various other functions around the country where I was reading from my books.  An  entire narrative of this cased seemed controlled by the Stephen Lawrence family.

What many people became less aware of  is that there were two young black boys attacked that evening.  The only living witness was the boy who was with Stephen Lawrence: The boy who had to live with the guilt that he lived. His “best friend” died. 

Doreen Lawrence had always viewed Duwayne Brooks as a bad influence on her son, Stephen. The police would not have been unaware of this. For the first two weeks after the murder  the police questioned Duwayne Brooks as if it was he who started a brawl: Duwayne Brooks, a teenager who didn’t take drugs had never carried a weapon and who had never been to a court or police station in his entire life.

Something was going on here. In his first statement Duwayne identified that a pieceof   scaffold was used to hit Stephen. The police ignored his evidence accusing Duwayne of making it up.  They found the scaffold along with the knife hidden in the possession of the accused two years later.  Two years later.  This and a catalogue of deliberate policeoffences towards Duwayne is a central  reason for  The Macpherson Report. The late Stephen Lawrence did not thankfully suffer the injustice of the legal system. Duwayne did. He was set upon by the police, physically and emotionally and suffered no support from The Lawrence family. Indeed, the opposite.

Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian discovered this story and at the behest of Duwayneapproached Time Warner who commissioned them both to write the story in detail.The result is a book STEVE AND ME  published by Time Warner.  Duwayne made tapes outlining his experience and Hattenstone,  sometimes in floods of tears, wrote them up.  Hattenstone knew that what was unfolding before him was a beautiful human being lcoked in a terrible place – his mind – with only the truth as his tool to get out.   The book was the truest insight into the event and the ensuing relentless  injustices metered  out  by the Lawrence’s,  the legal representation and the police.  But like  Duwayne it is a book about triumph over adversity.  At last some light for the boy  entering manhood through thehorrific tunnel of post traumatic stress disorder. 

On the first day of publication – the healing book Steve and Me  was halted before it left the warehouse. It hadn’t even reached the bookshops. In a final vital blow Doreen Lawrence, agrieving mother,  made a libel action against Duwayne Brooks and his  book Steve and Me. Though checked by Time Warners Lawyers and written with  internationallyrespected investigative journalist from one of Britians leading newspapers Steve and Me  had a defamatory hole in it.  In part of the book Duwayne says he is Steve’s best friend.  The Lawrence team sought someone who stood up in libel court to  say that this fact was in fact a lie because not Duwayne but he  was Steve’s best friend. 

. “Doreen Lawrence wins substantial damages against Duwayne Brooks” went the headlines the day after.  But it just wasn’t so. The court so incensed by this libel judged that Doreen Lawrence would win fifteen thousand pounds in damages. And that the defamed best friend would get ten thousand. Doreen Lawrence was ordered also to give the money to a charity. The next part of this story is unprecedented because the court also gave Duwayne brooks fifteen thousand pounds and asked him to give his to charity!!!That has never happened in a libel court before.

Nonetheless Duwayne waited for the book to go out to the publishers. What Time Warnerdidn’t tell him was that in the libel their lawyers had agreed to another clause that had no relation as to whether it was libellous or not.  They agreed that the book would not bepublished by Time Warner! The books were pulped and Duwayne left out to dry. It was a few years ago.  He still had a few copies though. He had his box of books: twenty, maybe thirty. I met Duwayne and Simon at Camden Library in Winter where I was booked to read poems before they took the stage. This is a few years ago now. It was an electric reading, some are, and they simon and duwayne were incredible: articulate humorous truthful, brilliant.

 I’d met them a few times since then. Two years ago I met Duwayne and Simon at a party. Duwayne prints the book himself, Simon said.  I knew then that I would make something happen in my capacity as a writer who travels. I tried my own publishers, Canongate, but for various reasons they couldn’t oblige.  I didn’t know how who or where.  I play the long game.  It was a year or so until I became writer in residence under the charismatic leadership of arts impresario and artistic director Jude Kelly, who is determined to put artists in the heart of the biggest arts centre in London. 

I swore that as one of the south bank artists in residence This South London born and bred  young man Duwayne Brooks and his co-writer Simon Hattenstone would read and talk of their book at The South Bank.  That night was Tonight.  I sat with Rachel Holmes the literature officer who was transfixed. Martin Colthorpe sat in the audience having made sure the artists were all in position sound checked and had arrived with contracts. Lorna Simpson the production manager was on hand to, with Martin, get the right tone for the stage and seating. The sound people were there. Lucy Macnab from Learning and Participation was in the audience along with various south bank workers!!!

The team! The audience sold out The Blue Room in The Spirit Level, beneath TheRoyal Festival Hall. They spoke to a rapt audience and took questions: all kinds of questions.  Afterwards everyone was high. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Duwayne but as he was leaving for some food witih Simon his family and friends (we’d decided to go home) Duwayne reached out  his left arm and grabbed through the crowd, myoutstretched right hand. We were at full stretch, it was the wrong hands for ahandshake, but he shook it all the same.  I did the same back. He did the same backagain.  I was thinking: “We  did it Duwayne – you did it, you freakin did it!”  And for the first time in a while  he was beaming his fullest most open and unashamed  smile.  

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