08:49, November 03 93 0 theguardian.com

2020-11-03 08:49:04
Stephen Lawrence murder: CPS asked to consider new charges against police

Prosecutors are to be asked to consider whether to bring new charges in the Stephen Lawrence case against senior police officers in the first botched murder investigation, it has been announced.

The Crown Prosecution Service will be asked to consider if four senior officers in the original murder investigation, all now retired, committed the offence of misconduct in public office.

Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death by a racist gang of at least five white youths on 22 April 1993 in south-east London. It took 19 years for two members of the gang to be convicted of his murder and a public inquiry found a string of errors by police.

The decision to refer the case to prosecutors follows a criminal investigation conducted by the National Crime Agency.

It began in 2014 into claims Lawrence’s killers were shielded by corruption. But in 2018 it also began examining why officers in charge of the first police investigation into Lawrence’s murder did not make arrests for two weeks after the killing, despite police repeatedly being given the names of suspects.

The four former senior officers are Det Supt Ian Crampton, who was in charge for the first three days after the murder; Det Supt Brian Weeden, who took over as senior investigating officer; Det Ch Supt William Ilsley, who oversaw them; and DI Ben Bullock, the deputy senior investigating officer.

They were the senior management team in the first Lawrence murder investigation. They have always denied any wrongdoing.

The four former Met officers have been interviewed under criminal caution. The fact the case has been referred to the CPS does not mean criminal charges will follow nor that any wrongdoing was committed.

The criminal offence of misconduct in public office “is committed when the office holder acts (or fails to act) in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office”, according to guidance from the CPS.

The Lawrence murder suspects were arrested a fortnight after the murder and only after Nelson Mandela met Lawrence’s parents during a trip to London that embarrassed the Met.

The public inquiry into how police failed to catch Stephen’s murderers, chaired by Sir William Macpherson, was critical of all four men in its 1999 report, and of the Metropolitan police in general.

Macpherson’s report said: “There is no doubt but that there were fundamental errors. The investigation was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers.”

Sarah Green, of the police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said: “At the end of an investigation of this type, the IOPC must determine whether there is an indication that any police officer, during the course of their duties, may have committed a criminal offence.

“Following thorough and careful analysis of the evidence, we have decided there is an indication that four former officers may have committed the offence of misconduct in public office in relation to their actions and omissions prior to the arrests of the five key suspects for Stephen’s murder in 1993. We will be providing a full file of evidence to the CPS over coming days.

“It is important to note that a referral to the CPS does not necessarily mean that criminal charges will follow. It will now be for prosecutors to determine, applying the tests set out in the code for crown prosecutors, whether charges should follow and, if so for whom and what those charges may be.”

In a 2018 interview, Crampton defended the decision-making in the first murder investigation, telling the BBC: “I was made aware that there were phone calls coming in, naming people but not saying how they knew. Many of the calls were of a similar nature, as if a rumour’s going round and people are phoning in the rumour they’ve heard.

“At no stage at that point had we got any actual evidence … information isn’t evidence, there is a distinct difference.

“The strategy was not to arrest – they were juveniles. You had to handle juveniles very carefully, obviously – to get them in to simply release them wasn’t really making a lot of sense.”

In 2012, two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were convicted of the murder. Newspapers claims about corruption led the home secretary, Theresa May, to ordered an inquiry that was conducted by a senior barrister.

It recommended a new criminal inquiry into corruption claims, which was carried out by the NCA and supervised by the IOPC, which began in 2015.

In 2018, the NCA identified potential issues concerning misconduct in public office around the senior management team of the first Met murder investigation following Stephen’s murder in 1993.

The Guardian understands the NCA has not identified evidence that any individual former officer acted corruptly.

Green said of the corruption investigation: “This has been a vast and comprehensive investigation by the NCA, involving the gathering and analysis of several million pages of information and intelligence spanning over 27 years since the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and the attack on Duwayne Brooks on 22 April 1993.

“In 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) referred to us the conduct of one former officer, who had some involvement with the original investigation into Stephen’s murder, to consider whether that officer had acted corruptly during that investigation.

“Following exhaustive inquiries, the officer was advised in early 2019 that they were no longer subject to this investigation because there was no indication of corruption on their part in relation to the investigation of Stephen’s murder.”

Stephen’s mother, Lady Lawrence, welcomed the decision in a statement. She said: “I welcome the decision by the IOPC to refer four senior police officers who were involved in leading the investigation into my son’s murder to the Crown Prosecution Service. It is a matter of record that there were many failures in the investigation into Stephen’s murder which led to decades of heartbreak and anguish for me and my family.

“It may now transpire that some of the officers involved were acting unlawfully. If this is the case then it is truly shocking that police officers have been able to act unlawfully and evade prosecution for almost 30 years. If there is evidence of unlawful conduct those responsible should face the full force of the law and I will be taking very careful notice of what the CPS do and say on this issue.

“Given that there may be criminal proceedings to come I do not consider it appropriate to say anything more and will not be commenting further.”