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Stephen Lawrence

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Stephen Lawrence

"Stephen Lawrence" redirects here. For other people named Stephen Lawrence, see Stephen Lawrence (disambiguation).

Stephen Lawrence
Photograph of a young Afro-Caribbean male, cropped to show his chest and head. He has black hair, shaved very short, and a slight moustache. He is wearing a navy and white vertically-striped crew neck shirt. He is standing in front of a large indoor plant.
Stephen Lawrence
Born 13 September 1974
Greenwich District Hospital, London,[1] England
Died 22 April 1993(1993-04-22) (aged 18)
Well Hall Road, Eltham, South East London, England
Cause of death Blood loss due to stab wounds
Resting place Clarendon, Jamaica[1]
Ethnicity Black British
Citizenship British
Education Blackheath Bluecoat Church of England School
Occupation Student
Known for Victim of racist murder[2]
Parents Neville Lawrence
Doreen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence (13 September 1974 – 22 April 1993) was a Black British man from Eltham, south east London, who was murdered in a racist attack while waiting for a bus on the evening of 22 April 1993.[2] The case became a cause célèbre and one of the highest profile racial killings in UK history; its fallout included profound cultural changes to attitudes on racism and the police, and to the law and police practice, and the partial revocation of double jeopardy laws, before two of the perpetrators were convicted almost 20 years later in 2012.

After the initial investigation, five suspects were arrested but not convicted.[3] It was suggested during the course of that investigation that the murder was racially motivated and that Lawrence was killed because he was black, and that the handling of the case by the police and Crown Prosecution Service was affected by issues of race. A public inquiry was held in 1998,[4] headed by Sir William Macpherson, that examined the original Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation and concluded that the force was "institutionally racist". It also recommended that the double jeopardy rule should be abrogated in murder cases to allow a retrial upon new and compelling evidence; this became law in 2005. The publication in 1999 of the resulting Macpherson Report has been called 'one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain'.[5] The then-Home Secretary Jack Straw commented in 2012 that ordering the inquiry was "the single most important decision I made as Home Secretary".[6] In 2010 the case was described as being "one of the highest-profile unsolved racially-motivated murders".[7]

On 18 May 2011, following a cold case review,[8] it was announced that two of the original suspects, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were to stand trial for the murder in the light of "new and substantial evidence" becoming available.[9] At the same time it was disclosed that Dobson's original acquittal had been quashed by the Court of Appeal, allowing a retrial to take place.[10] Such an appeal had only become possible following the 2005 change in the law, although Dobson was not the first person to be retried for murder as a result.[11]

A jury was selected on 14 November 2011, and the trial started on the following day. On 3 January 2012, Dobson and Norris were found guilty of Lawrence's murder,[12] and were sentenced on 4 January 2012 to detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure, equivalent to a life sentence for an adult,[13] with minimum terms of 15 years 2 months and 14 years 3 months respectively[14] for what the judge described as a "terrible and evil crime".[15] The sentences would have been far longer but the crime had been committed many years previously and before adulthood, requiring sentencing as juveniles according to the law as it stood at the time of the murder.[15][16]

Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence was born on 13 September 1974. His father was Neville Lawrence, a carpenter, and his mother was Doreen, a special needs teacher.[1] Brought up in Plumstead, South-East London, he was the eldest of three children.[17][18] At the time of his death he was studying technology and physics at the Blackheath Bluecoat School and English language and literature at Woolwich College, and was hoping to become an architect.[19]


Lawrence had spent the day of Thursday 22 April 1993 at Blackheath Bluecoat School.[20] After school, he went to Lewisham to look around shops. After this, he travelled by bus to an uncle's house in Plumstead. He was joined there by Duwayne Brooks, and they played video games until leaving in the late evening.[20] After realising that the bus on which they were travelling would get them home late, they decided to change buses on Well Hall Road.[20] Lawrence walked along Well Hall Road to Dickson Road to see if he could see a bus coming.[21] Brooks was still on Well Hall Road, part way between Dickson Road and the roundabout with Rochester Way and Westhorne Avenue.[21] At this point, Brooks saw a group of five or six white youths on the opposite side of the street.[21] At 10:35 pm, he called out to ask whether Lawrence saw the bus coming. Brooks claimed that he heard one of Lawrence's assailants saying: "What, what, nigger?"[21] as they all quickly crossed the road and 'engulfed' Lawrence, who then received two stab wounds to a depth of about 5 inches (13 cm) on both sides of the front of his body, in the chest and arm. Both of the stab wounds severed axillary arteries. Brooks began running, and shouted for Lawrence to run to escape with him. They both ran in the direction of Shooters Hill, though Lawrence collapsed and bled to death after running 130 yards (120 m).[21]

It is surprising that he managed to get 130 yards with all the injuries he had, but also the fact that the deep penetrating wound of the right side caused the upper lobe to partially collapse his lung. It is therefore a testimony to Stephen's physical fitness that he was able to run the distance he did before collapsing.[21]
—Richard Shepherd (pathologist), Macpherson Report



All three witnesses at the bus stop at the time of the attack said in statements that the attack was sudden and short; none were later able to identify any of the suspects.[20] In the days following Lawrence's murder, several residents came forward to provide names of suspects and an anonymous note was also left on a police car windscreen and in a telephone box naming a local gang[22] as the five main suspects.[23] The suspects were Gary Dobson, brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris.[23] In February 1999, officers investigating the handling of the initial inquiry revealed that a woman who might have been a vital witness had telephoned detectives three times within the first few days after the killing, and appealed for her to contact them again.[24]

Initial investigations, arrests and prosecutions

Within 3 days of the crime, prime suspects had been identified. No arrests were made, however, until over two weeks after the killing. The officer who had been leading the murder investigation from its third day, and who would ultimately lead the murder squad for 14 months, explained to an incredulous public inquiry in 1998 that part of the reason no arrests had taken place by the fourth day after the killing (Monday 26 April) was that he had not known the law allowed arrest upon reasonable suspicion – a basic point of criminal law.[25][26]

On 7 May 1993, the Acourt brothers and Dobson were arrested. Norris turned himself in to police and was likewise arrested three days later. Knight was arrested on 3 June. Neil Acourt, picked out at an identity parade, and Luke Knight were charged with murder on 13 May and 23 June 1993 respectively, but the charges were dropped on 29 July 1993, the Crown Prosecution Service citing insufficient evidence.[27]

An internal review was opened in August 1993 by the Metropolitan Police. On 16 April 1994, the Crown Prosecution Service stated they did not have sufficient evidence for murder charges against anyone else, despite a belief by the Lawrence family that new evidence had been found.[25]

Private prosecution

In April 1994,[26] Stephen Lawrence's family initiated a private prosecution against the initial two suspects and three others: Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson and David Norris. The family were not entitled to legal aid and a fighting fund was established to pay for the analysis of forensic evidence and the cost of tracing and re-interviewing witnesses. The family were represented by counsel Michael Mansfield QC, Martin Soorjoo and Margo Boye who worked pro bono.[28] The charges against Jamie Acourt and David Norris were dropped before the trial due to lack of evidence. On 23 April 1996, the three remaining suspects were acquitted of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court, after the trial judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Curtis, ruled that the identification evidence given by Duwayne Brooks was unreliable.[5] The Macpherson report endorsed the judgment, stating that "Mr Justice Curtis could [have] properly reach[ed] only one conclusion" and that "[t]here simply was no satisfactory evidence available".[4]

Subsequent events

An inquest into the death of Stephen Lawrence was held in February 1997. The five suspects refused to answer any questions, claiming privilege against self-incrimination.[29] The inquest concluded on 13 February 1997, with the jury returning a verdict after 30 minutes' deliberation of unlawful killing "in a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths"; this finding went beyond the bounds of their instructions.[30] On 14 February 1997, the Daily Mail newspaper labelled all five suspects "murderers". The headline read, "Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us." Underneath this headline appeared pictures of the five suspects: Dobson, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Knight, and Norris.[31][32] None of the men ever sued for defamation and strong public opinions rose against the accused and the police who handled the case.[33]

In 2002, David Norris and Neil Acourt were convicted and jailed for a racist attack on a plainclothes black police officer.[34] In 2005 the law changed. As part of the findings on the Lawrence case, the Macpherson Report recommended that double jeopardy (the ancient common law that once acquitted an accused person could not be tried for the same crime a second time) should be abrogated in murder cases, and that it should be possible to subject an acquitted murder suspect to a second trial if "fresh and viable" new evidence later came to light. The Law Commission later added its support to this in its report "Double Jeopardy and Prosecution Appeals" (2001). A parallel report into the criminal justice system by Lord Justice Auld, a past senior presiding judge for England and Wales, had also commenced in 1999 and was published as the Auld Report 6 months after the Law Commission report. It opined that the Law Commission had been unduly cautious by limiting the scope to murder and that "the exceptions should [...] extend to other grave offences punishable with life and/or long terms of imprisonment as Parliament might specify."[35]

These recommendations were implemented within the Criminal Justice Act 2003,[36] and this provision came into force in April 2005.[37] It opened murder and certain other serious crimes (including manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, and some drug crimes) to a second prosecution, regardless of when committed, with two conditions – the retrial must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Court of Appeal must agree to quash the original acquittal due to new and compelling evidence.[38]

Between the Lawrence murder and early 2010 Dobson was arrested or charged a number of times for offences such as theft and burglary. Some of these charges were dropped, at least one resulted in a small fine. None led to imprisonment.[39] On 27 July 2006, the Daily Mail repeated its famous "Murderers" front page. In July 2010, Gary Dobson was jailed for five years for possessing and supplying 49 kg of class B drugs with a street value of around £350,000[39] (approximately US $540,000[40]). At the time of Dobson's sentencing for drug dealing, The Independent described the Lawrence killing – despite it having happened more than 17 years previously – as "one of the highest-profile unsolved racially motivated murders".[7]

Cold case review and new evidence

In June 2006, a cold case review commenced, involving a full re-examination of the forensic evidence.[8][9] Initially this was held in secrecy and not publicised;[41] however, in November 2007, police confirmed they were investigating new scientific evidence.[41]

The most important of the new evidence comprised:[42][43]

  • A microscopic (0.5 x 0.25 mm) stain of Lawrence's blood in Dobson's jacket.[44] It had dried into the fibres and its tiny size implied this had happened very quickly. The forensic analysis concluded it had not been transferred there from elsewhere as dried blood or later soaked into the fabric, but was deposited fresh, and would have dried almost immediately after being deposited due to its microscopic size.
  • Fibres from Lawrence's clothing, and hairs with a 99.9% chance[45] of coming from Lawrence, found on the two men's clothes from the time or in the evidence bag holding them.[44] (The defence later argued unsuccessfully at trial that these were present due to contamination or lack of care of evidence[42]).

The police unit manager involved in the matter commented that the new evidence was only found because of scientific developments and developments in forensic approaches that had taken place since 1996 which allowed microscopic blood stains and hair fragments to be analysed for DNA and other microscopic evidence to be found and used forensically.[44]

2011–2012 trial

Gary Dobson and David Norris were arrested and charged without publicity on 8 September 2010[9] and on 23 October 2010 the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, applied to the Court of Appeal for Dobson's original acquittal to be quashed.[10] Dobson was in prison at the time for drug dealing.[39] Norris had not been previously acquitted, so no application was necessary in his case. For legal reasons – to protect the investigation and ensure a fair hearing – reporting restrictions were put in place at the commencement of these proceedings; the arrests and subsequent developments were not publicly reported at the time.[10]

Dobson's acquittal was quashed following a two-day hearing on 11 and 12 April 2011, enabling his retrial.[46] On 18 May 2011, the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment and the reporting restrictions were partially lifted.[10] It was announced by the Crown Prosecution Service that the two would face trial for Lawrence's murder in light of "new and substantial evidence".[9] The judgment of the court stated that "[i]f reliable, the new scientific evidence would place Dobson in very close proximity indeed to Stephen Lawrence at the moment of and in the immediate aftermath of the attack, proximity, moreover, for which no innocent explanation can be discerned".[46] The ruling also emphasised that this was to be "a new trial of a defendant who, we repeat, is presumed in law to be innocent," and suggested a cautious and fact-based reporting style to avoid contempt of court or risk of prejudice to the future trial.[46]

A jury was selected on 14 November 2011,[47] and the trial, presided over by Mr Justice Treacy, began the next day at the Central Criminal Court.[48][49] The case centred on the new forensic evidence and whether it demonstrated the defendant's involvement in the murder, or was the result of later contamination due to police handling.[42][43] On 3 January 2012, Dobson and Norris were found guilty of Lawrence's murder.[12] The two were sentenced on 4 January 2012 to detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure, equivalent to a life sentence for an adult,[13] with minimum terms of 15 years and 2 months for Dobson and 14 years and 3 months for Norris.[15][50] Time spent on remand by Dobson was not deducted from his minimum term to ensure his existing sentence for drug-related offences was served.[13] The judge's sentencing remarks were later published in full online.[13]

The judge stated that the sentences reflected the fact that Dobson and Norris were juveniles at the time of the offence, which took place before the Criminal Justice Act 2003; the starting point for the minimum term was therefore 12 years. The judge acknowledged this was "lower than some might expect".[13][16] A similar crime committed in 2011 as an adult would have justified a sentence with a starting point of 30 years for the minimum term.[13][51] (This is occasionally misreported as 25 years, the starting point for "bringing and using a weapon";[51][52] murder with racial motive incurs a higher 30-year starting point.[51])

Immediate aftermath of trial

Following the 2012 convictions, Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor since 1992, issued a comment on his 1997 headline decision.[53][54]

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if it hadn't been for the Mail's headline in 1997 —'Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing'—and our years of campaigning, none of this would have happened. Britain's police might not have undergone the huge internal reform that was so necessary. Race relations might not have taken the significant step forward that they have. And an 18-year-old A-Level student who dreamed of being an architect would have been denied justice. The Daily Mail took a monumental risk with that headline. In many ways, it was an outrageous, unprecedented step.


On 5 January 2012, it was reported that the Attorney General was reviewing the minimum terms at the request of a member of the public, to determine whether he believed them to be "unduly lenient", and if so whether to apply to the Court of Appeal for an increase in the minimum terms.[55] Juvenile minimum life sentences in a 2000 review (i.e. before the 2003 act passed into law) varied from a "most common" minimum of 10 years to a maximum of 20, placing Dobson and Norris in the middle of that range.[55] On 1 February 2012, the Attorney General announced that he would not be referring the sentences to the Court of Appeal, as he believed that "the minimum terms [were] ... within the appropriate range of sentences".[56]

On 30 January 2012, it emerged that Norris and Dobson were seeking leave from the Court of Appeal to appeal against their convictions.[57]

On 23 August 2012, it was reported that Norris and Dobson had lost the first round of their appeal.[58] On 15 March 2013, it was announced that Gary Dobson had dropped his Appeal against his murder conviction.[59]

Other inquiries and investigations

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

On 31 July 1997, the Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered a public inquiry, to be conducted by Sir William Macpherson and officially titled "The Inquiry Into The Matters Arising From The Death of Stephen Lawrence".[60] Its report, produced in February 1999, estimated that it had taken "more than 100,000 pages of reports, statements, and other written or printed documents"[61] and concluded that the original Metropolitan Police Service investigation had been incompetent and that officers had committed fundamental errors, including: failing to give first aid when they reached the scene; failing to follow obvious leads during their investigation; and failing to arrest suspects. The report found that there had been a failure of leadership by senior MPS officers and that recommendations of the 1981 Scarman Report, compiled following race-related riots in Brixton and Toxteth, had been ignored.[4]

Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden said during the inquiry that mistakes had been made in the murder investigation, including his own ignorance that he could have arrested the suspects four days after the killing simply on reasonable suspicion, a basic point of criminal law.[25][26]

The Report also found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. A total of 70 recommendations for reform were made. These proposals included abolishing the double jeopardy rule and criminalising racist statements made in private. Macpherson also called for reform in the British Civil Service, local governments, the National Health Service, schools, and the judicial system, to address issues of institutional racism.[62]

The report was criticised at the time by Michael Gove (later Secretary of State for Education) in The Times, who said, "The tendentious reasoning and illiberal recommendations of that document have been brilliantly anatomised by the ethical socialists Norman Dennis and George Erdos and the Kurdish academic Ahmed al-Shahi in the Civitas pamphlet Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics."[63]

Other public complaints and investigations

In 1997, Lawrence's family registered a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which in 1999 exonerated the officers who had worked on the case of allegations of racism. Only one officer, Detective Inspector Ben Bullock, was ordered to face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty. Bullock, who was second in command of the investigation, was later found guilty of failure to properly brief officers and failure to fully investigate an anonymous letter sent to police, but he was acquitted of 11 other charges. Four other officers who would have been charged as a result of the inquiry retired before it concluded.

Bullock retired the day after his punishment was announced, so that it amounted to a mere caution. Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, criticised the punishment, saying that Bullock was "guilty on all counts." However, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Federation stated that Bullock had been "largely vindicated" in the proceedings.[64]

On 10 March 2006, the Metropolitan Police Service announced that it would pay Duwayne Brooks £100,000 as compensation for the manner in which police had handled his complaints about their actions toward him after the murder.[65][66]

2006 investigation into police corruption

On 25 July 2006, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced that it had asked the Metropolitan Police to look into alleged claims of police corruption that may have helped hide the killers of Lawrence.

A BBC investigation alleged that the murder inquiry's Det. Sgt. John Davidson had taken money from known drug smuggler Clifford Norris, the father of David Norris, a chief suspect in the investigation.[67] Neil Putnam, a former corrupt police detective turned whistleblower, told a BBC investigation that Clifford Norris was paying Mr Davidson to obstruct the case and to protect the suspects. "Davidson told me that he was looking after Norris and that to me meant that he was protecting him, protecting his family against arrest and any conviction," Putnam said.[67] Davidson denied any such corruption.

The Metropolitan Police Service announced that it was to open up a special incident room to field calls from the public, following the BBC documentary The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence. The Independent Police Complaints Commission later stated that the claims made in the programme were unfounded.[68]

The need to re-establish trust between minority ethnic communities and the police is paramount... seeking to achieve trust and confidence through a demonstration of fairness will not in itself be sufficient. It must be accompanied by a vigorous pursuit of openness and accountability.[69][70]
—Sir William Macpherson, Macpherson Report

On 17 December 2009, Independent Police Complaints Commission investigators and officers from the Metropolitan Police's directorate of professional standards arrested a former police constable and a serving member of Metropolitan Police staff on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice by allegedly withholding evidence from the original murder inquiry, the Kent investigation and the Macpherson inquiry. Dr Richard Stone, who sat on the Macpherson inquiry, commented that the panel had felt that there was "a large amount of information that the police were either not processing or were suppressing" and "a strong smell of corruption". Baroness Ros Howells, patron of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, agreed: "Lots of people said they gave the police evidence which was never produced."[71] On 1 March 2010 the IPCC announced that "No further action will be taken against the two men arrested following concerns identified by the internal Metropolitan police service (MPS) review of the murder of Stephen Lawrence" and the two were released from bail.[72]

2013 revelations about undercover police conduct

On 23 June 2013, an interview with Peter Francis, a former under-cover police officer, was published in The Guardian. In the interview Francis disclosed that while he was working undercover within an anti-racist campaign group in the mid-1990s, he was constantly pressured by superiors to "smear" the credibilities of the family of Lawrence so as to put an end to campaigns for a better investigation into Lawrence's death.[73] After the revelation, Theresa May, the UK's home secretary pledged to be "ruthless about purging corruption from the police", and Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Police to investigate the allegations, saying of them that he was "deeply worried about the reports".[74] Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is leading Operation Herne, an ongoing inquiry into Metropolitan police undercover work against protest groups, said he would investigate the allegations as part of the inquiry.[75]

Legacy and recognition

An annual architectural award, the Stephen Lawrence Prize, was established by the Royal Institute of British Architects in Lawrence's memory.

His mother, Doreen Lawrence, said, "I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. He was well loved, and had he been given the chance to survive maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white because he didn't distinguish between black or white. He saw people as people."[50]

In 1995 a memorial plaque was set into the pavement at the spot where he was killed on Well Hall Road. The plaque has been vandalised several times since then.[76]

In 1999, Nicolas Kent designed a documentary play based on the trial, called The Colour of Justice. It was staged at the Tricycle Theatre and was later filmed by the BBC.[77] It was also performed at the Guildford School of Acting for the 20th anniversary of the murder.

On 7 February 2008, the Stephen Lawrence Centre, designed by architect David Adjaye, opened in Deptford, south-east London.[78] A week later, it was vandalised in an attack that was initially believed to be racially motivated. However, doubt was cast on that assumption when CCTV evidence appeared to show one of the suspects to be mixed-race.[79]

The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust is a national educational charity committed to the advancement of social justice. The Trust provides educational and employability workshops and mentoring schemes. It also awards architectural and landscape bursaries.[80] In 2008 the Trust, with architects RMJM, created the initiative Architecture for Everyone to help promote architecture and the creative industries to young people from ethnic minorities.[81]

In October 2012, Doreen Lawrence received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 14th Pride of Britain Awards.[82]

On 31 July 2013 it was announced that Doreen Lawrence was being made a baroness and given a seat in the House of Lords, where she will sit on the Labour benches as a working peer specialising in race and diversity.[83]

In the media

Daily Mail journalist Stephen Wright has written about the Lawrence case, both before and subsequent to the prosecution. He was awarded a Special Campaign Award as part of the 2012 Paul Foot Award for his work in the Lawrence case.[84]

See also



  • Ellis, Dr.Frank, The Macpherson Report: 'Anti-racist' Hysteria and the Sovietization of the United Kingdom, published by Right Now Press Ltd., London, 2001,(P/B), ISBN 978-0-9540534-0-6
  • Green, David G, (Editor), Institutional Racism and the Police: Fact or Fiction, published by The Institute for the Study of Civil Society 2000, ISBN 978-1-903386-06-4
  • Dennis, Norman; Erdos, George; Al-Shahi, Ahmed; Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics: The Macpherson Report and the Police, published by The Institute for the Study of Civil Society 2000, ISBN 978-1-903386-05-7
  • Cathcart, Brian; The Case of Stephen Lawrence published by Penguin ISBN 978-0-14-027905-4

External links

  • Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Macpherson Report)
  • Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

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