Jail warning in Lawrence murder inquiry

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The Independent Online
THE five young men arrested for the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence face jail if they refuse to give evidence at a public inquiry into his death, the investigation's chairman warned yesterday.

Three men were formally cleared of the murder in 1993 of 18-year-old Stephen (pictured) in Eltham, south-east London, while the case against two others never came to trial. All five refused to answer questions at last year's inquest.

Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, who is chairing the public inquiry, said: "My intention is that they will be called before the inquiry. If they refuse they are liable to be prosecuted for failure to give evidence before the court. In my view [that includes] both failure to attend or failure to give evidence."

The three cleared at the Old Bailey in 1996 - Neil Acourt, 22, Gary Dobson, also 22, and Luke Knight, 20 - cannot be tried for the murder again. The two whose cases never came to a full trial - David Norris, 21, and Jamie Acourt, 21 - could still face fresh criminal proceedings. All five, however, could face a civil claim for damages from the Lawrence family.

Sir William said the men had been offered a solicitor and had been asked to make statements "as to whether they will give evidence and what they will say". But they had given no indication of whether they would attend the inquiry, which starts next Monday.

Sir William, a former high court judge, said the main aim of the inquiry was not to discover who killed Stephen Lawrence, but to look at flaws in the police investigation. "This is not a trial, it is not an investigation to discover who committed the murder. It is a Police Act inquiry into the policing and all that took place after the murder."

It would not be a failure if at the end of the inquiry he was unable to name Stephen's killers. But he added: "If the evidence emerges that enables me to say on the balance of probabilities, or to be sure, that I know who killed Stephen Lawrence, then I shall say so."