Lawrence bungle detective escapes with `slap on wrists'

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The Independent Online
A VERBAL "slap on the wrist" was the final punishment for the only police officer to face disciplinary proceedings over the bungled Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, it was announced yesterday.

Detective Inspector Ben Bullock, who retires today, was cautioned at a Metropolitan Police punishment hearing for neglect of duty. The verbal telling off will go on his record.

The 50-year-old officer was found guilty by a tribunal last week of two minor elements in relation to the failed murder investigation. The decision to give him a caution, rather than a more serious punishment such as demotion or the sack, was widely predicted. A representative of DI Bullock said the caution punishment meant "practically nothing whatsoever".

DI Bullock was given his caution at yesterday's ratification hearing before the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, Anderson Dunn. The parents of the black teenager, who was stabbed to death in a racist killing in Eltham, south-east London, 1993, condemned the tribunal's findings, describing them as a "whitewash".

Stephen's father, Neville, who was at police area headquarters in Lambeth, south London, to hear DI Bullock's punishment, said yesterday: "I feel it's really sad. As far as I'm concerned, as my family are concerned, he's guilty on all counts.

"I think it's time we got the police force under the Race Relations Act and also got an independent tribunal to look at the way they behave. Until we do that officers like this will get away with, I call it murder. This man should have done his work... if he had done his work in the early days and arrested these people [Stephen's alleged killers] then they wouldn't be walking the streets."

Imran Khan, the Lawrence family's solicitor, said he was "incredibly disappointed" at the result of the disciplinary proceedings. He added: "The outcome of these proceedings strengthens the resolve of Mr and Mrs Lawrence to pursue a civil action against the Metropolitan Police."

Glen Smyth, of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that he was satisfied with yesterday's findings.

Speaking on behalf of DI Bullock, he said: "Our reaction is that it reflects accurately the view that the independent tribunal took... when they unanimously agreed that Mr Bullock was not `wantonly negligent' or `grossly incompetent'.

"They said if it was in their power not to discipline him at all, then they would have done that."

Mr Smyth said that the caution was the minimum punishment the officer could have received after being found guilty of the two elements of the neglect of duty charges. He said that the caution punishment meant "practically nothing whatsoever... It's an indication to the officer that perhaps with hindsight he might have done slightly better than he did."

He questioned whether the case should have been brought, and said Mr Bullock's health had suffered as a result, arguing: "It would be completely unfair for DI Bullock to be punished for the errors of an organisation that not only failed Mr and Mrs Lawrence but frankly failed Mr Bullock and others involved in this inquiry."

At the tribunal DI Bullock, who was second-in-command of the murder investigation, was found to have failed to brief officers properly by not directing them to look under the floor boards for knives during a search of suspects' homes - despite being told that the suspects, Jamie and Neil Acourt, usually hid them there.

He was also found to have failed to investigate adequately the source of an anonymous letter which named several suspects in the case.