Lawrence Inquiry: Straw orders inquiry into leak

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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW, the Home Secretary, announced a formal investigation last night into the leak of elements of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report.

Home Office ministers, their advisers, and the civil servants who received copies of the report by Sir William Macpherson will be questioned during the inquiry, which will be conducted by David Omand, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Only a small number of copies of Sir William's report into the death of the black teenager were made inside the Home Office, and it was not copied to other Whitehall departments. But it was partially leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

Earlier yesterday Downing Street played down the prospect of a leak inquiry, expressing scepticism that the leaker would be found. But Mr Straw condemned the "breach of trust" involved in the disclosure and told MPs: "We are very serious about tracing this leak."

The Home Secretary clashed with the Tory opposition as he made a Commons statement defending his decision to obtain an injunction against The Sunday Telegraph on Saturday night, which forced the newspaper to drop the report from its later editions.

After Sir Norman Fowler, the Shadow Home Secretary, attacked the legal action, Mr Straw accused him of speaking as "chairman of a newspaper company rather than as a member of this House."

Mr Straw was forced by the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, to withdraw his remark and apologise to Sir Norman, who is non-executive chairman of Regional Independent Media Holdings Ltd.

Sir Norman said the unprecedented and "autocratic" injunction was a "shabby exercise that shows this Government at its worst". Dismissing Mr Straw's claim that the Lawrence report should have been disclosed to Parliament, he said: "It is the Government that is the chief leaker in advance of its own announcements."

The Home Secretary said he decided that prior publication of the report was likely to "cause distress to the Lawrence family" and subject the Metropolitan Police and Sir Paul Condon, its Commissioner, to wholly unfair speculation to which they could not respond. In a hint that he will back Sir Paul's fight to avoid resigning over the report, Mr Straw praised Sir Paul and his force for their "very fine work over the years".

He said: "The claims that the freedom of the press has been challenged by this injunction are absurd." He disclosed that the BBC telephoned a Home Office press officer, claiming that The Sunday Telegraph had obtained a copy of the full Lawrence report. A Home Office source said: "We thought they were going to run a ten page supplement on it."