ITV’s new three-part drama series Stephen airs on Monday night and tells the true story of the ongoing legal fight to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice.
The black teenager was attacked and fatally stabbed at a bus stop in south east London on 22 April 1993 by a gang of white men, one of the most shocking crimes in recent British history.
A sequel to the same channel’s The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999), the series sees Hugh Quashie reprise his role as the victim’s father Neville.
Sharlene Whyte, recently seen in the Education episode of Steve McQueen’s acclaimed Small Axe (2020), plays the fearless Doreen Lawrence, whose single-minded pursuit of her son’s murderers won huge admiration but came at tremendous personal cost.
Stephen is directed by Alrick Riley and written by Frank and Joe Cottrell Boyce, based on the book In Pursuit of the Truth (2015) by DCI Clive Driscoll, who is played in the show by Steve Coogan.
Still best known as Alan Partridge, Coogan has proven himself an adept impersonator of real people in more serious projects like Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People (2002), Paul Raymond in The Look of Love (2013), Martin Sixsmith in Philomena (2013) and Stan Laurel in Stan & Ollie (2018).
In an interview with The Radio Times, the real Mr Driscoll revealed that he had spoken to Coogan at length in preparation for his role.
“I spoke to him on Zoom for two-and-a-half hours. He was incredibly lovely and down to earth,” Mr Driscoll said. “We were going to meet up, but that was impossible due to the lockdown. He is a very talented man.
“I thanked him for actually taking the part, being part of the story and keeping Stephen’s story out there. I still think we can all learn from Stephen’s story and we should cherish his memory.”
Coogan himself was equally complimentary: “It was an honour to play Clive really because as an actor I don’t often play nice people. So it was a nice change for me to play someone who had integrity, simple unannounced integrity, if you like.
“He was a very attractive person to play. He has a sense of humour, he doesn’t go around with a sort of shield and sword of truth, he just quietly does his job, and that’s something I thought, ironically, it was nice to celebrate someone who wouldn’t celebrate themselves in this story.”
Mr Driscoll was born in Battersea in 1951 and began his career as a constable in Sutton in 1971 before heading to Brixton as a sergeant in 1985 and forming one of the force’s first domestic violence units in 1987.
Five years later, he joined New Scotland Yard, where he was placed in charge of policy for the Sexual Offences, Domestic Violence, Child Protection and the Paedophile Unit.
By July 1998, he transferred to Lambeth to serve on a specialist Scotland Yard unit dedicated to child protection, working as a detective inspector.
Another promotion followed in 2003 when Mr Driscoll was appointed detective chief inspector and senior investigating officer with the Met’s Racial and Violent Crime Task Force.
High-profile cases he worked oin over the course of his career included: Operation Care, investigating a Lambeth paedophile ring; the arrest of Nicholas “Goldtooth” Stewart, a serial robber who preyed on gay men on Hampstead Heath, in 2004; and Operation Yewpool, a 2007 robe into the “honour killing” of Surjit Athwal, a British Indian woman from Coventry murdered in Punjab in December 1998.
Mr Driscoll retired in 2014, claiming he was forced out by senior officers, and wrote the memoir on which the new series is based.
The book recounts his involvement in the Lawrence case, known as Operation Fishpool, from 2006 onwards and the last-ditch attempt to secure a conviction after two prior cases made against the suspected attackers had collapsed.
Whyte credits Doreen Lawrence’s integral role in helping the detective achieve that aim, which saw new forensic evidence come to light and two of the original suspects – Gary Dobson and David Norris – finally jailed in 2012.
“By 2006, she knows how the Met works; she knows it’s corrupt, and it’s almost like the anger has dissipated. She teaches Clive Driscoll how the Met works,” Whyte told the i newspaper in an interview.
De Montfort University Leicester, which awarded Mr Driscoll an honorary degree, has said of his dedication to the Lawrence case: “He immersed himself; amid the complexity and confusion, he always remembered Stephen, a young man who had been so badly failed. With flask and sandwiches, Clive Driscoll went daily to Well Hall Road, in Eltham, the scene of Stephen’s murder. He read files while sitting on a bench opposite.”
Interest in the murder remains intense 28 years on and was documented extensively, most recently by Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees in their BBC series Stephen: The Murder That Changed a Nation (2018).
Stephen airs on ITV at 9pm on Monday 30 August