Stephen Lawrence murder: Handbag strap at scene 'part of weapon'

Stephen Lawrence
Image caption Stephen Lawrence was 18 when he was murdered at a south-east London bus stop in 1993

A handbag strap found at the scene of Stephen Lawrence's murder may have been part of a homemade weapon used by his killers, the Met Police believe.

The strap was recovered a few metres away from the south-east London bus stop where the 18 year old was attacked by six white men in August 1993.

Detectives discounted the strap for years because it was mistakenly logged as being found 80 metres away.

The DNA of an unknown woman has been found on the bag strap, the Met said.

Detectives believe the DNA is that of the main user of the bag and are attempting to trace her, although they are not linking the woman with the murder directly.

Mr Lawrence was stabbed to death in an unprovoked racist assault on 22 April 1993 as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London with a friend.

In January 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of being involved in the attack and jailed for life but detectives have always maintained others were involved.

Image copyright Me Police
Image caption A misunderstanding of a crime scene examiner's field notes meant the strap was thought to have been found much further away from the murder scene than it actually was

They now want to find who owned the bag from which the strap came and discover why it was at the murder scene.

Chris Le Pere, the senior investigating detective, said: "She [the bag owner] is a witness. There is no evidence to suggest a female was involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence."

One theory being investigated is that the strap was left at the scene by the murderers and it came from an "adapted offensive weapon".

A similar strap with a hammer-head attached was found at David Norris's house when he was arrested in 1993 on suspicion of murder.

Attempts to link the DNA found on the strap have failed.

Female associates, friends and relatives of all the key suspects have been asked to provide DNA but most have refused, the Met said.

Victims of bag theft in the area at the time of the murder have also been traced.

Analysis: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs Correspondent:

Could the black leather bag strap be the breakthrough which proves that a suspect was at the scene of Stephen Lawrence's murder?

The strap, which only investigators and crime scene examiners appeared to know about, has suddenly assumed enormous significance given that it was far closer to the attack than was previously thought. It could have been ripped off a bag during a mugging or taken from a bag belonging to a friend or relative of one of the suspects.

If detectives can find out who it belongs to, they'll be closer to establishing who brought it to the murder scene. Little strands like this, threaded together with other evidence, can solve crimes.

But the fact police are appealing for information now, not 23 years ago, puts them at a huge disadvantage - and is another reminder of how tragic it is that the original investigation into Stephen's murder was so badly flawed.

Image copyright Met Police

The black leather strap is believed to have been left in Dickson Road, by the junction with Well Hall Road.

It was initially recorded as having been 80m away from the murder scene but in 2014 officers established it was discarded only a few metres from where Stephen was set upon.

Mr Le Pere described the discrepancy as an "honest mistake", adding: "In my judgment there is no misconduct involved in this."

The location of the strap was correctly recorded in notes by examiners who recovered exhibits at the scene.

But when their statements were written up by colleagues "the punctuation hasn't been read correctly" Mr Le Pere said.

Mr Lawrence's own bag was found around six metres (20 feet) from a footway, his blood was 10 metres (32 feet) away and the strap was 15 metres (50 feet) away, according to the revised position.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder in 2012

The latest developments come on the eve of what would have been Stephen Lawrence's 42nd birthday.

The Met Police has offered a reward of up to £20,000 to identity and prosecute perpetrators of the murder.

His father, Neville Lawrence, has also appealed for further information about the murder.

Officers have spoken to around 110 people in connection with this line of inquiry, and gathered 50 DNA samples.

Police are still trying to trace a man reportedly seen in a distinctive green jacket with a V emblem near Well Hall Road roundabout at about the time Mr Lawrence was attacked.

CCTV footage, recently digitally enhanced, showed the man in a nearby off-licence hours before the murder took place.

In a sketch by a police artist, based on their accounts, the wearer of the jacket has light reddish hair. However the man in the CCTV pictures is dark-haired.

Police believe the man could be a witness.

Image copyright Met Police
Image caption The image of the jacket was previously circulated to the media in 1993 and 2013

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