Lawrence inquiry: Informants will be given safe houses

Home Office moves quickly to limit damage as Straw faces call for resignation
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The Independent Online
POLICE INFORMANTS who may be at risk after being identified in the Lawrence report could be given "safe" houses or help with moving to new addresses, the Home Office said yesterday as ministers came under fierce attack for the series of blunders in the aftermath of the inquiry.

There was anger and dismay among residents, the police and Labour and Tory MPs at the disclosure of the names and addresses of people who had tipped off the police about the key suspects for the killing, in the appendix to the report of the Lawrence inquiry.

The Home Secretary was not in the Commons yesterday to face calls for his resignation, being out of the country on a "long-standing personal engagement". But the Home Office continued to shrug off the blame for the blunder that led to recriminations between the police forces involved in the investigation.

A spokesman for Kent police - whose officers obtained statements from people who refused to trust the Metropolitan Police - spoke of the anger within his force at what had happened. "For them to see the trust they put in us torpedoed by some other organisation makes us extremely angry," he said.

It emerged that Mr Straw is unlikely to have read the appendix. "Get real," said a government source. But the Tories last night claimed a senior civil servant had been seconded from the Home Office to act as inquiry secretary and should have known about the blunder before the report was released.

MPs and police warned that it would also severely undermine the recent appeal by Mr Straw for the public to help the police and end the "walk on by" society. One Labour MP added that it might stop people coming forward with information about the recent killing of a young black man in the Lewisham area of south London, not far from where Stephen Lawrence was killed.

The Metropolitan Police believe a number of those who gave information to police investigating the Lawrence murder could be at risk because they have been identified. Paul Boateng, a Home Office minister, said "appropriate protection measures" had been put in place. "The Home Office stands ready to offer any assistance which the police or the local authority believe necessary," he assured MPs.

Home Office officials confirmed that residents in the Eltham area, where Stephen was killed, would be offered temporary "safe" houses or help to sell up and move to another part of London. "They will be offered relocation, if necessary," said a Home Office source.

Mr Boateng told the Commons that the publication of the names was a "serious and regrettable error" but said the inquiry team under Sir William Macpherson of Cluny had accepted "full responsibility". In one sense, the Home Office was only the "printing shop" for the inquiry, Mr Boateng said. "This is not a matter that can be laid at the door of the Home Office."

Roger Gale, Tory MP for Thanet North, said Mr Straw should have offered his resignation. But Mr Boateng urged MPs not to allow "this error to sidetrack us in our determination to carry forward the recommendations in this report".