A MAN has walked free from court after being found not guilty of vandalising the memorial plaque to black teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham.

Paul Peters, aged 33, of Holburne Road, Kidbrooke, was acquitted of racially aggravated criminal damage and a separate charge of criminal damage at Bexley Magistrates’ Court today.

It was alleged Mr Peters deliberately dropped a bottle causing it to smash on the plaque in Well Hall Road where Mr Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death in April 1993.

Mr Peters was caught on CCTV dropping the bottle at around 6.20pm on October 1.

The court heard Mr Peters recognised himself in CCTV images published in News Shopper following the incident.

Magistrates were told that the next day [October 2] street cleaners were called to clear up broken glass and liquid which covered the plaque, pavement and road, costing £20 to clear up.

On the day in question Mr Peters said he was “out of his face” after drinking up to 10 cans of Stella at a friend’s house in Orpington, and did not remember what happened on his journey home, nor did he remember dropping the bottle.

He was returning home with his girlfriend and three children, aged two, four and six, by bus and had to get off the bus early as he was feeling ill, the court heard.

An argument ensued with his girlfriend and as he was walking in Well Hall Road he dropped the bottle that landed on the plaque, which lies on the pavement.

Mr Peters denied both charges and said he did not intend to drop the bottle on the plaque and that he did not even know the plaque was there.

He also said he had “no problem with black people.”

The court heard he did not know anything had happened until he saw his picture in the papers a few days later, after which he went to the police.

Describing the impact of being accused of the offence, Mr Peters told the court: “I felt sick. I couldn’t sleep. To this day now I feel ill about it.”

He added: “It’s not nice being in the papers. I do not think I deserve that from dropping a bottle. I feel sick to the stomach.”

Statements from two witnesses said that while they heard the bottle smash they did not see Mr Peters raise his arm to drop it.

Ghulam Humayun, defending Mr Peters, said: “This was a simple accident caused by someone who had too much to drink. There was no pre-meditation.”

On returning the not guilty verdicts, chief magistrate Sue Adams said: “We accept his actions were careless. We are not of the view he genuinely appreciated the risks of his actions.”