Lawrence detective apologises for slurs

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A policeman involved in the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence yesterday apologised to the teenager's family and their lawyer over claims that they hindered the investigation.

Detective Sergeant Peter Flook, now retired, was office manager of the incident room set up to deal with the racist murder. He had accused Stephen's parents of revealing confidential police information about the identities of key suspects in the days following their son's murder. But yesterday at the public inquiry into the murder, Mr Flook admitted: "I made a mistake. I was wrong."

The inquiry has heard that five white youths alleged to have stabbed Stephen in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993 were named by numerous informants in the first 48 hours. But they were not arrested for at least a fortnight.

Under questioning from Stephen Kamlish, counsel for the Lawrence family, Mr Flook conceded they had never been told the confidential information he accused them of revealing: "If I caused any offence to Mr Lawrence I apologise."

He also withdrew claims that Imran Khan, the Lawrence family's solicitor, had "pestered" the investigation team and hindered its efforts to find the killers.

Mr Flook, who retired in 1993 while the inquiry was still ongoing, said that four letters from Mr Khan to the police team investigating the murder had provided helpful information and also contained reasonable requests from the family to be kept informed of progress in the case.

When asked by Mr Kamlish if he wanted to apologise to Mr Khan over claims that the solicitor had adopted an "uncooperative" approach, Mr Flook said simply: "Yes."

His evidence was the latest embarrassment for the Lawrence investigation team whose detectives have admitted to a series of mistakes. Claims of racism and corruption have been levelled at the detectives.

Five men have been named in connection with the murder. Neil Acourt and Gary Dobson, both 22, and Luke Knight, 20, were acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey in 1996. The cases against James Acourt and David Norris, both 21, never came to trial while a private prosecution against them collapsed after a judge ruled identification evidence inadmissible.

The five have been summonsed to give evidence at the inquiry next week, but have said via a solicitor that they will challenge the legality of the summonses in the High Court. So far they have not done so. But even if they do turn up, nothing they say can be taken to incriminate them.

The inquiry's remit is to examine how the investigation and prosecution were conducted - not to establish who killed Stephen. But so far a picture has emerged in which the police investigating the teenager's murder failed to act on early information naming the five men, allowing the killers vital time to dispose of evidence.

Stephen's mother, Doreen, yesterday spoke for the first time since the inquiry began. "It is incredible that it has taken a public inquiry for me to hear officers of high rank make excuses for their conduct," she is reported to have said.