Debut author Lee Lawrence has won the Costa biography award for a memoir about his battle for justice for his mother, Cherry Groce, who was left paralysed after being shot by police in 1985.
Lawrence, who runs Brixton-based Mobility Transport Ltd which provides accessible transport for disabled people, beat Booker winner Julian Barnes to win the £5,000 biography category for his book The Louder I will Sing.
The Costa judges said: “This moving account of one family’s quest for justice is acutely timely and exceptionally important – a revelatory book and a terrific story.”
It tells the story of how his mother was shot in her Brixton home by police looking for Lawrence’s brother Michael Groce on September 28 1985 – when Lawrence was 11 years old.
The bullet shattered Groce’s spine, and she never walked again. The wrongful shooting sparked two days of rioting. When she died in 2011, the pathologist found that it was bullet fragments left in her spine that caused the renal failure which killed her.
Lawrence said: “It was totally unexpected.
“I didn’t come into the project thinking I was an author writing books. I wasn’t looking for accolades. The book was more about telling an important story that needed to be told.
“It was about creating more awareness of these types of incidents as well as trying to evoke positive change and to inspire other people to speak up.”
The author, who today consults with the Metropolitan police to help improve community engagement, first thought about writing the book as a teenager. He had seen documentaries about Brixton uprisings – but focusing on the events of 1981, and skimming over his mother’s story and its aftermath.
“My mum’s story is just as important as what happened in 1981 – why was there nothing about it in detail?” he said. “But it wasn’t until my mum passed in 2011, and I got hold of the internal investigation report into my mum’s shooting, I knew I had to start documenting what’s going on.
“The police internal investigation and report highlighted what happened to make them come to my house. It brought up a lot of memories for me. I wanted to get them out of my head and onto a piece of paper.
“I had this gripe about Brixton in the 1980s as being a scary place. But I felt safe there – until that incident. I wanted to get that across.”
He tweeted of the shortlisting in November: “To be shortlisted to the final four out of thousands of biographies and memoirs is an honour but sadly shows how relevant Mum’s story still is.”
More than 700 books were submitted for this year’s Costa awards, which recognise the most enjoyable books in five categories. One overall winner will be chosen later this month as the Costa book of the year, winning £30,000.
Lee also founded the Cherry Groce Foundation, based in Ferndale, Brixton, which supportis members of the BME community of South London with a physical or mental impairment/disability to enable them to live full lives. It hopes to build a memorial in stone for her in Windrush Square, Brixton.
He is now thinking about a follow-up. possibly about the cathartic effects of Restorative Justice. One concrete form will be the unveiling of a memorial to his mother – postponed from the 25th anniversary of the shooting, which fell last September.
It is now due on April 24, the 10th anniversary of Cherry’s death. “We want it to happen then even if it has to be just me and my siblings!” said Lee.
Pictured: The family of Cherry Groce (left to right), daughter Lisa, son Lee Lawrence, daughter Rosemary, and granddaughter Charmaine, deliver a petition to Downing Street, calling for legal aid for her inquest in 2014. PA IMAGES
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