Meeting Doreen Lawrence

Two of the people involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence have been convicted and sentenced and as they start their sentences we hope that any others with blood on their hands will be identified, arrested and sentenced as well
The recent news coverage jogged a memory I have of meeting Doreen Lawrence in person.  It was March 2004 and I had been working for the Prison Service at their London Area Office since April or May 2003.  My line manager had informed me that I was to attend the Stephen Lawrence 10th Anniversary Dinner at the South African Embassy along with other HMPS Staff – my first official function in my new role as Area Drug Strategy Coordinator for the London prisons.
It was a formal occasion so I had to rent a dinner suit and I think it was a Friday night so I stayed on after work, got changed and started making my way from John Islip Street (where HMPS HQ was at the time), to the South African Embassy at Trafalgar Square
There was no public transport and no taxis that night as, unfortunately for me, it was the night there was a major protest against the Iraq war and I felt so self-conscious in my ‘tux’ walking against the tide of thousands of people protesting that night.  I must have said sorry a thousand times as I bumped and jostled my way through the crowd
Finally I got to the venue and the crowds thronged as it started to drizzle.  I couldn’t get in the front door so went round to what I can only describe as the tradesmen’s entrance where I showed my invitation and was met by a rather tall and quite glamorous lady in a fantastic African headdress.  She took me into the embassy and everyone we met stopped and addressed her, respectfully and reverently, and at each meeting she introduced me as Huseyin, from the Her Majesty’s Prison Service.  Unbeknown to me, I was being accompanied by the host, the South African High Commissioner!!
It was in this context that I met Doreen Lawrence; we exchanged pleasantries and business cards (I still have hers) and I must say, for a small woman she was mega.  She had a quiet forcefulness, tempered with a motherly grace that was very evident and very humbling amongst the cut and thrust of career types and all the protesting going on outside.  I’ve never forgotten the meeting and never forgotten her and it is good to see the Lawrence family finally getting a measure of justice, its long overdue
The other highlight from the night was seeing Rio Ferdinand but for completely different reasons.  My son, Harry was quite young and supported Man Utd at the time (I’m from north London and an Arsenal fan).  Anyway, I went up to Rio, (who was serving a ban for failing to turn up for a drugs test) took a deep breath, and with pen and invite in hand said, “much as it breaks my heart, as an Arsenal fan, to ask you this, can you sign my invite for my son, Harry”.  He was very gracious and duly signed, although he did give me a funny look for the Arsenal fan comment
Sadly we have misplaced Rio’s autograph but I still have Doreen Lawrence’s business card from The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and still treasure the memory of that very inspirational evening when I walked through the protesting crowds, to get to a post-Apartheid South African embassy, being introduced to everyone by the High Commissioner, getting Rio’s autograph, and the highlight of the evening, meeting Doreen Lawrence
All the best
Huseyin Djemil 

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