The public inquiry into the official handling of the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence opened in March.
Police were accused of incompetence, insensitivity and racism in their response to the stabbing and to Stephen’s parents and the survivor of the attack, Duwayne Brooks. Below is a summary of the main points to emerge by the third week of May.
Police try to turn the tables
The police have responded to the allegations by attacking the grieving parents of Stephen Lawrence, their legal team, and even questioning whether the murder was in fact racially motivated.
Although the gang that murdered Stephen is not disputed to have called out ‘What, what, nigger?’, police claimed at various points during the inquiry that the attack on Stephen was not racist. CS Matt Baggott (who heads the police team at the inquiry) stated, contradicting police guidelines, ‘Words are not sufficient evidence of racial motivation.’
Other police officers, some of whom referred to Stephen as ‘coloured’, said that they felt let down by the Lawrence family and were being treated with distrust and suspicion. They attacked the Lawrence family solicitor, saying that his insistence on seeing every document relating to the investigation meant that police were ‘deflected from the task in hand’.
Sir Paul Condon chipped in to complain that police were being pilloried. The questioning of his officers was too vigorous, unfair and might harm relations between the police and black people. The Lawrence family responded that ‘it is a matter of concern that Sir Paul appears to believe it is the truth coming out that puts community relations at risk rather than the conduct of his officers’.
The inquiry continues.
Summary of the main points so far
On the night of the attack:
- Two sisters who lived opposite the murder scene had no statements taken by police who also refused their offer of medical assistance.
- Duwayne Brooks told the inquiry that police arrived at the scene before the ambulance, but ‘police seemed repulsed by the blood that was there they did not do anything useful’.
- Police never asked Duwayne if he had been attacked, but asked if he had any weapons on him and insisted that he knew who had attacked Stephen. Police pressed him on what he and Stephen had done to provoke the attack. They would not let Duwayne go in the ambulance with Stephen.
- DS John Bevan asked Duwayne if they had been harassing some white girls in a local McDonalds since they had ‘reports of black boys doing that on the night of the murder’.
- Police made repeated reference to Stephen’s woolly hat and gloves, implying that he was a cat burglar.
- At the hospital, police showed little concern for Stephen’s parents, merely telling them to identify Stephen’s body.
- Inspector Groves admitted Duwayne was the only suspect when he arrived on the scene.
- Sgt Nigel Clement claimed he was on the scene within minutes and began questioning locals. But he could produce only one local householder who could remember being questioned and police van-tracking records indicate that he arrived an hour later than he stated.
- 30 minutes after the attack, a cheering carload of white youths twice drove past the murder scene. No attempt was made to pursue them. Two of the people in the car, David Copley and Jason Goatley were involved in the gang attack that led to death of the Rolan Adams. The third, Kieran Highland, was a leading member of local fascist gang, Nazi Turn Out. Evidence which pointed to collaboration between organised racist gangs in the area was therefore never pursued.
The subsequent investigation:
- The day after the murder, a woman went to the Lawrences’ home to give them the names of people she said had been washing blood off their clothes in her house the previous night. Doreen Lawrence was shocked when she went to the police station and gave a police officer a piece of paper with the names on it; he ‘screwed it up into a very tight ball as if he was going to throw it away’.
- On the same day, someone walked into the police station naming the Acourt brothers as members of a gang in which you have to stab someone to join, claiming that Peter Thompson, convicted of killing Asian teenager Rohit Duggal in 1992, was also a member. This informant also gave details of an attack by this gang on Stacey Benefield. Benefield confirmed the attack by Neil Acourt and David Norris in interview.
- Police officers admitted that they had enough evidence to arrest Norris and Acourt but that a ‘strategic decision’ was taken to wait.
- Surveillance of the Acourts’ house began the next day. On consecutive days the surveillance team saw suspects walking out of the house carrying bin bags and driving away. They were not pursued because the team did not have a mobile phone.
- Gary Dobson (one of the accused who later had charges against him dropped) was questioned by police and denied knowing Norris. A surveillance photo of the two men together was never shown to the interviewing officer. Gary Dobson’s father is a former police officer.
- No records were kept of chief superintendent Ian Davidson’s meetings with witness James Grant. It was admitted that ‘very good potential evidence’ had been lost.
- One eye-witness to the murder was not asked for information for an artist’s impression for five years. After the murder he was asked to go to an ID parade but waited at the police station for nine hours, and so left.
- Another witness refused to attend further ID parades after police called his name at the first, identifying him to suspects.
- Police failed to take a statement from a teenager who wrote in her diary on the week of the murder, ‘Acourts stabbed black boy up Well Hall Road, Jamie, Neil, Gary, David and Lukey’.
- It was suggested that the police’s failure to pursue the case vigorously was due to the involvement of David Norris, whose father was locally feared. Clifford Norris had a reputation for buying off and threatening witnesses (he paid Stacey Benefield 2000 to drop assault allegations). When he was arrested in an unrelated case he had two loaded firearms and a sub-machine gun with a silencer. Could he, asked Mike Mansfield, for the Lawrence family, have threatened or bought off police officers too?