Family to sue if Met does not pay out

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN LAWRENCE'S family will sue the Metropolitan Police unless they receive adequate compensation, their solicitor said yesterday.

Imran Khan said he was going to ask Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner, to pay compensation after publication of the report into the murder investigation. But leading civil rights lawyers warned that the family could face yet another long battle.

Geoffrey Bindman, of Bindman and Partners, said the police may refuse to settle out of court for fear of setting a precedent and encouraging a series of other claims.

If they decided to fight the case it may have to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights because of the necessity, under English law, to prove that the police had a duty of care to Stephen. Mr Bindman said the police may try to settle, but it would be dependent on agreeing a sum.

"It is a special case but there are others and I am sure that the police would be thinking of the prosecutors of other cases coming forward and opening the floodgates to similar claims.

"It might be that they would prefer to have the courts decide for that very reason and in that case it could be a long haul for the parents."

Anthony Scrivener QC said that on the face of it the Lawrences would have a hard time with a case of negligence as the police do not have a duty of care but he added that there could be ways around that. "If you could show that the police deliberately did not do something, then you could plead a breach of statutory duty. So, in this case, if you could show that they failed to carry out their duty because of race, then that would introduce a new element and that would be the way round it."

Speaking on BBC radio yesterday, Mr Khan said: "I will be writing to the Commissioner asking him to give compensation to the family for the way in which they have been treated during the course of this incompetent and grossly negligent murder investigation.

"If they do not respond satisfactorily I am prepared to give them seven days and after that we will then take the matter to court."

But Louise Christian, of Christian Fisher and Co, said that although she could not comment directly on the Lawrence case, English law states that applicants must establish that the police had a duty of care to the victim.

"The way the law stands at the moment, if you have not identified yourself as a potential victim in advance - by going to the police and saying that you need protection, then they do not owe you a duty of care so they are not being negligent," she said.

"The other aspect is what you can actually get compensation for and there are very restricted circumstances. The Hillsborough families could not get compensation for seeing their relatives on the television and you cannot get damages for bereavement or emotional distress unless you are present at a traumatic event."

But Ms Christian added that a recent case in the European Court of Human Rights had found that the police had a duty to carry out a proper investigation into an allegation of illegality. This means that the Lawrences may have a case but they would have to take their fight to Europe.

June Venters, a criminal lawyer and senior partner of Venters, said she believed the police would settle out of court. "I would say that if the police are shown in the civil courts to have behaved in a negligent manner and clearly they did owe a duty of care to the family, then the Lawrences would be entitled to compensation."

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "As with any compensation claim, once a claim is received it will be very carefully considered."

The Home Office minister Paul Boateng refused to be drawn on the Lawrences claiming compensation, but acknowledged they had suffered a "grave and terrible wrong. They have been the victims of persistent and pernicious racism - institutional racism in terms of the investigation, actual racism in terms of the loss of their son," he said yesterday. The Government was not, he stressed, seeking to make scapegoats out of the Metropolitan Police.