Stephen Lawrence inquiry: Police 'planned to disband team'

image captionGary Dobson and David Norris had denied murder

Officers on the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation team were informed before the trial it was to be disbanded, a police source has told the BBC.

It comes as Scotland Yard denied it was planning to break up the dedicated team of detectives.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, were jailed for life for the 1993 racist killing in south-east London.

The Attorney General's Office is reviewing the minimum terms following a request from a member of the public.

The pair were sentenced under guidelines in place at the time of the attack and as juveniles because both had been under 18.

A person - who has not been named and is not believed to be connected to the case - has asked the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, to consider whether the minimum terms or tariffs are "unduly lenient".

It has emerged detectives in the case were given new information during the trial of the two men.

Police said there had been at least five calls from the public and the information was being evaluated.

Britain's top police officer has said the remaining suspects in the case "should not rest easily in their beds".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said the force was "actively reviewing the consequences of what opportunities might be presented" by the convictions.

The Metropolitan Police said: "We are now reviewing what further lines of inquiry are available."

But a police source has told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the 22 officers on the Stephen Lawrence investigation team were informed before the trial that it was to be disbanded.

The BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the team was angry at the decision - not least because much of the knowledge of the case, built up by officers over five years, would be lost.

He said: "It appears the decision to wind down the team is now being reviewed, as police assess new information that's come in since the verdicts were returned."

Our correspondent added: "If no significant lines of inquiry emerge, Scotland Yard will find it hard to justify retaining a team of detectives dedicated to one case when there are other competing priorities."

The Met is scaling back its 30 murder squads because of budget cuts and a decline in the number of homicides in London.

Scotland Yard said on Thursday: "There is no current intention to disband the team investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence."

'Challenging times'

The Met issued a statement saying they faced "very challenging times" due to budget cuts and had to reduce costs as much as possible.

The statement said: "We don't yet know the full impact that budget cuts will have on the [Metropolitan Police Service] and we are unlikely to know our final budget for several months due to the complexity of our funding structures."

But they confirmed the Serious Crime Directorate was reviewing its homicide teams in an effort to agree the best way of saving money.

The statement concluded: "It is important to stress that no final decisions have been made and we will continue to consult both internally and externally with stakeholders and the communities we serve over the coming months."

Det Ch Insp Clive Driscoll, who has led the investigation since 2006, was commended by the trial judge for his work on the latest investigation.

He said: "We have had people who have phoned in during the trial and offered their assistance and we are looking at that to the best of our abilities.

"People will always phone in when you get this type of case."

He said officers would visit Dobson and Norris in prison to see whether they would assist the inquiry.

Dobson was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years and two months and Norris 14 years and three months.

media captionNeville Lawrence urged Norris and Dobson to give up any accomplices to his son's murder

Det Ch Insp Driscoll said he felt "optimistic" about progress in the case and said there were still opportunities to gather forensic evidence.

Officers from the Lawrence inquiry team will discuss the case at a meeting with senior Scotland Yard officers next week.

Dobson and Norris are the first people convicted over the fatal attack on 18-year-old Mr Lawrence in Eltham on 22 April 1993.

In May of that year, brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight were arrested alongside Dobson and Norris.

Three years later Neil Acourt, Mr Knight and Dobson were charged with murder but were acquitted after the CPS decided evidence was unreliable.

28 days

During Dobson and Norris's sentencing hearing Mr Justice Treacy said he hoped their convictions would not "close the file", adding that three or four other killers were at large.

The Attorney General now has 28 days to decide whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal if he feels the minimum terms were too lenient.

Danny Shaw said it was not unusual for the Attorney General's Office to receive such requests.

In 2010 the Attorney General's Office received 342 requests for a sentence review, of which 90 were eventually referred to the Court of Appeal.

In 60 cases offenders had their sentences raised.

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