Neville Lawrence 'wary' of undercover policing inquiry

Neville Lawrence: "I will never be able to trust these people"

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The father of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence has expressed his fears that the truth will not emerge from a public inquiry into undercover policing.

Neville Lawrence's comments come after a review of the original investigation into Stephen's murder in 1993 found the Lawrence family had been spied on.

It was one of several revelations to emerge about the Metropolitan Police's Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

Police Minister Damian Green said the unit had been "out of control".

The SDS was a top-secret squad within the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, and was operational from 1968 - in the wake of violent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations - until 2006.

Imran Khan, the solicitor for Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence, said police failings went to "the highest level" and that officers had broken the law and should be "routed out" or "face criminal prosecution".

'I was vindicated'

On Thursday, Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs the findings in the report by Mark Ellison QC had damaged the police and she ordered a judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing.

Stephen Lawrence Stephen was 18 when was he was killed in a racially motivated attack

The Ellison report found an SDS "spy" had worked within the "Lawrence family camp" during the Macpherson Inquiry, which had looked at the way the police had investigated the murder of Stephen.

It also did not rule out that corruption may have compromised the investigation.

The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS)

  • The SDS was a top secret squad within the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, and was operational from 1968 - in the wake of violent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations - to 2006
  • It specialised in the long-term undercover deployment of officers into a range of groups that had the potential to cause serious public disorder or other violence or injury
  • Officers who carried out undercover work for the SDS were given a lifetime guarantee by the Met that their identity would be protected
  • In his report, Mark Ellison QC said there were many examples of SDS undercover officers running great risks to themselves in order to gain very valuable intelligence
  • The group searched gravestones for the names of young children who would have been a similar age to provide an under cover identity
  • The group reportedly became known as "the hairies" because of the long hair and beards considered essential to blend in with some of the the groups being targeted

Mr Lawrence said on BBC Newsnight: "I was devastated when I sat there and listened to the home secretary talking about something that we had been talking about for 21 years.

"To hear this being said on TV so the wider world could hear, I was vindicated.... if people had listened to us earlier on maybe things would have been different."

He added: "From what happened with the Macpherson Inquiry, I'm very, very wary about what's going to happen now.

"It's like the Metropolitan Police seem to be always trying to hide what they are and put a different face out there all the time, and I now feel that I will never be able to trust these people."

Mr Green told the programme all the evidence suggested the SDS had been "out of control by modern standards throughout its existence".

He added that "society as a whole" would feel it was worth carrying on with a public inquiry to find the truth 20 years on from "such an important case".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Khan said: "Despite all the stories we've heard and all the evidence we've seen, and now this report, not a single officer has been held to account for any of the failings - either in relation to institutional racism and now institutional corruption. And this goes to the highest level."

"What we want now is evidence... in the open, [and for] those officers either routed out or to face, as Doreen wants, criminal prosecution. And indeed, as far as she's concerned, those officers at a senior level who made mistakes or otherwise acted improperly - for their heads to roll."

'Nail in coffin'

Stephen, a black teenager, was 18 when he was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993.

However, it was not until 2012 that Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murdering him and sentenced to minimum terms of 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months respectively.

Damian Green said Scotland Yard's Special Demonstration Squad had been "out of control"

Mrs May told MPs: "Stephen Lawrence was murdered over 20 years ago and it is still deplorable that his family have had to wait so many years for the truth to emerge."

Mrs May said she had commissioned Mr Ellison, and the Crown Prosecution Service and attorney general, to conduct a further review into cases involving the SDS.

Stephen Lawrence murder

Stephen Lawrence

Black teenager Stephen Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack by a gang of white youths as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993.

A number of suspects were identified soon after the attack but it took more than 18 years to bring his killers to justice.

Several attempts to prosecute the suspects, including a private prosecution by the family, failed owing to unreliable or insufficient evidence.

In 1997, then Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered a public inquiry into the killing and its aftermath after concerns about the way the police had handled the case.

Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge, led the inquiry. He accused the police of institutional racism and found a number of failings in how they had investigated the murder.

In January 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of the murder by an Old Bailey jury after a review of the forensic evidence.

She said: "In particular, Ellison says there is an inevitable potential for SDS officers to have been viewed by those they infiltrated as encouraging, and participating in, criminal behaviour. We must therefore establish if there have been miscarriages of justice."

Stephen's mother Baroness Lawrence described the latest revelations as the "final nail in the coffin" and said those involved should resign for their "disgraceful" actions.

Mr Ellison's report said that in 1993, at a cost of "millions of pounds", the then Met Commissioner Paul Condon authorised a "top secret anti-corruption intelligence initiative" called Operation Othona.

It operated "fully outside" the Met, gathering intelligence by "various sensitive and covert means" from 1994 to 1998.

The report said the Met "has been unable to locate" the Operation Othona intelligence that existed by 1998, with the exception of a hard drive created in 2001 and found in a cardboard box in 2013 at the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards.

"We have very recently been informed that in 2003 there was 'mass shredding' of the surviving hard copy reports generated by Operation Othona," the report added.

It said the "chaotic state" of Met Police records meant a public inquiry might have "limited" potential to find out more information.

The Ellison report also found:

  • Evidence of corruption by Det Sgt John Davidson, one of the officers who investigated the Stephen Lawrence murder. The report said this evidence "should have been revealed" to the 1998 Macpherson Inquiry
  • No evidence of corruption by other officers - but suggested there "are still some potential lines of enquiry that may be capable of providing such evidence"
  • Some "material evidence relating to the issue of corruption" could not be located by the Met. The report added: "It is clear that there are significant areas where relevant Metropolitan Police records should exist but cannot be found."
  • A 2012 review by the Met was "another example" of the force "providing misleading reassurance to the family and to the public". The Met claimed it found "nothing new" - but it actually "held material of some potential importance"

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