It was not the Daily Mail wot won the Stephen Lawrence case

The newspaper's triumphalism undermines the tireless efforts of those who fought to keep the case at

Doreen Lawrence explained it. Yesterday was not a day for celebration at the guilty verdicts for David Norris and Gary Dobson for killing her son. There is some sense of justice in the conviction of these two racist murderers, but Stephen Lawrence remains dead, and others who took part in his killing still walk the streets.

Against that tone of sombre reflection came the rather jarring triumphalism of the Daily Mail, delighted in yesterday's verdicts and calling it "The Mail's Victory". The Mail did more than many other newspapers to fight for the Lawrences and to uncover the truth, but there seemed a slight edge to their coverage, as if it was vindication of the famous MURDERERS splash after all these years. I am not so sure it was.

Back in 1997, the Mail labelled the five suspects as murderers -- "if we are wrong, let them sue us", the front page said. It's been analysed to death down the years, but for me, I still don't see it as a journalistic triumph, as courageous, as brave, or all those other things people say it was. For me, it's the same kind of attitude that has seen people's lives wrecked since -- the certainty of guilt leading to false accusations. But I think most journalists disagree with me.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the MURDERERS front page, the Mail has every right to be pleased with its efforts to help in giving the case maximum publicity. But there was something about the coverage that seemed slightly at odds with the reality of the day. The more I saw the Lawrences, still broken people after all these years, the more strange the video statement from Mail editor Paul Dacre seemed in comparison. There was a whiff of myth-making, of history being written. It was the Daily Mail wot won it. Without that front page, there wouldn't have been justice for the Lawrences.

That's how the story goes, but is it right? I don't know and I don't think anyone knows. It's certainly an inviting narrative to buy into for those of us who believe in the power of journalism or the tabloid newspaper as a force for fairness rather than unfairness. But as much as I would like it to be true, I think it's only part of the story. It's simple to look back and see the front page, then attribute everything that came afterwards to it, but maybe it was just a factor, rather than the defining factor.

There were many, many other people who did everything in their power to keep the Lawrence case at the top of the political agenda. It is perhaps somewhat disrespectful to them to imagine that one newspaper front page was worth more than all of their tireless efforts over 18 years.

So let's return to the Lawrences themselves, ordinary people who have been forced through horrific circumstances to put their grief into the public domain, to share those private thoughts of losing a son. The key to understanding the impact of that crime is in their words and deeds. Yes, two men are in jail, but as Doreen and Neville Lawrence said yesterday, that does not mean the end -- other perpetrators of that disgusting crime still walk free.

There's no right or wrong way to deal with grief, but despite all the setbacks, the stench of corruption and the seemingly hopeless task, the Lawrences never gave up. Never. They only cared about achieving justice, which could and would never bring back their son, but which could bring some kind of peace. No, it is not a time for celebration: Stephen Lawrence is still in a grave rather than being the man he should have been. But perhaps there is hope, after all.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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