Lawrence family felt scorned by police

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A SENIOR police officer investigating the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence was handed a list of suspects by his parents, which he screwed up into a ball before their eyes, the judicial inquiry into his death was told yesterday.

Doreen Lawrence, 45, Stephen's mother, made an impassioned attack on police in a statement to the inquiry. They had treated the family with disdain, she said, and had kept them in the dark about the progress of the investigation into Stephen's death.

Two liaison officers assigned to the Lawrences seemed more interested in gathering information about her son than in providing support, she said in a statement read to the inquiry in south London. The officers repeatedly asked them about Stephen's friends and whether he had belonged to a gang.

"They never actually told us what their role was." said Mrs Lawrence. "We were never given any information. As the days went by, we were never made aware of anything that was happening."

The inquiry, chaired by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, is examining the issues arising from the death of Stephen, 18, who was stabbed by a white gang at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

Mrs Lawrence told the inquiry panel that the names of murder suspects were passed to the family by visitors and relatives in the days after Stephen died. Two weeks later, when arrests had still not been made, she gave a list of the names to a senior officer on the investigation, Detective Chief Superintendent William Ilsley. "He rolled the piece of paper up into a ball in his hand," she said. "I don't think I said anything, I was so shocked."

Mrs Lawrence alleged that police officers were patronising and unsupportive from the outset. When the family first heard from a neighbour that Stephen had been attacked, they telephoned 999 for more information and were told: "It's news to us."

At the hospital, she said, officers did not speak to them at all. "The police did not come and say to us that your son has died, and this is how he died, this is what happened."

The liaison officers appeared mainly interested in people who congregated in the Lawrences' home after Stephen's death, including members of anti- racism groups, she said, adding: "The people in our house were all black. The people who killed my son were white."

Five white local youths were eventually charged with murdering Stephen, but the case never reached trial. Mrs Lawrence said that the family found out about the first arrests from the media.

Constable Linda Bethel, one of the first officers on the scene after Stephen was attacked, told the inquiry yesterday that she did not find out that he had been stabbed until three hours later.

Although he was lying on the pavement in a pool of blood, she did not fetch her first-aid kit from the patrol car. "I did not appreciate that he was in a bad state, that he was going to die," she said.

The public inquiry continues today.