Lawrence inquiry: Murder witness to sue over memorial arrest

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The Independent Online
A PROTECTED witness in the Stephen Lawrence case is to sue the Metropolitan Police over an incident last year in which he was arrested on suspicion of vandalising Stephen's memorial plaque.

Lawyers for the young man, known only as Witness B, will issue a writ next week seeking "substantial" damages for false imprisonment and wrongful arrest. The marble plaque in Eltham, south-east London, where Stephen was murdered, has been vandalised several times, most recently on Wednesday night, when white paint was daubed on it hours after the release of the public inquiry report into the police investigation of Stephen's death.

Witness B was arrested and questioned last May after a hammer attack on the plaque. The hammer was left at the scene, and the incident was captured by a surveillance camera, which has since been replaced by a dummy.

Police later arrested Stuart Hollingdale, 32, from Penge, who was jailed for two and a half months in June. Police found literature from extreme right-wing groups such as Combat 18 and the National Front at his home. Witness B's solicitor, Mark Bowen, said yesterday that the writ would allege that there had been no grounds for arrest. "No reasonable person could say that the person in the video matches my client," he said. "The only similarity is that both are white.

"My client cannot understand why, at a time when he was helping police, he was arrested. The arresting officer knew he was a protected witness." Witness B made a statement in November 1993, seven months after Stephen was killed, in which he said that he had seen Neil Acourt and David Norris, two of the five suspects, near the scene at the time of the murder. He said he had been on a passing bus.

However, he later said that he was not sure if he had seen Neil Acourt or his brother, Jamie, and he was unable to pick out Norris at an identification parade. Mr Bowen said that Witness B was "devastated" by the inquiry report's apparent acceptance of the police's assertion that he was a "Walter Mitty" character and a habitual liar. "He accepts that his evidence was not of the highest quality, but he did his best," he said.

"Since the murder he has lost all his friends, he has rarely been in employment, he has had to move from area to area, and he has had threats to his life. He wishes that he had never got involved."

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, visited the memorial plaque on Thursday soon after the latest vandalism.

Yesterday there was a steady stream of visitors.