Independent inquiry into leaking of Lawrence report

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JACK STRAW appointed an independent investigator yesterday to carry out an inquiry into the leaking of the Stephen Lawrence report.

The Home Secretary said the leak was "a serious matter" that he "thoroughly deplored". He promised the investigation would be completed as quickly as possible.

The leak - and subsequent injunction obtained by Mr Straw - caused anger ahead of the publication of the report. Police officials claimed it had been leaked to damage Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Downing Street has already expressed doubt that any culprit will be identified for the leak but the inquiry is being used by the Conservatives to continue to put pressure on Mr Straw over his handling over the Lawrence report. "We want this cleared up quickly, and we are determined to keep Jack Straw on the run," said a Conservative insider.

Last night, Sir Norman Fowler, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, tabled five Commons questions. They covered the terms of reference for the inquiry, whether it will question ministers, whether staff and officials who had access to the report will be interviewed, whether the investigator will have the power to question those with access to the report outside the government, and what discussions occured between ministers before the injunction to stop publication.

Sir Norman said the leak was part of a litany of blunders surrounding the report that he blamed on Mr Straw, culminating in the Home Secretary's decision to leave his junior minister Paul Boateng to answer questions from MPs on Friday while he went to the south of France for a weekend break. Sir Norman said it was the Conservatives who called for a statement on Friday and they were still demanding to know who was responsible for the original leak.

Ministers will be questioned about whether they were responsible for leaking the 333-page report. But Mr Boateng has told friends that officials can prove he was not responsible.

Copies of the report were kept under lock and key at the Home Office before it was published. Mr Boateng was logged in and out by a Home Office civil servant as having read the report on Thursday, 18 February, but the report of the leak said that it was read the day before.

Leading article, Review, page 3 David Aaronovitch, Review, page 3