Lawrence police chief suspected black teenager

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THE SENIOR police officer in charge at the scene of Stephen Lawrence's murder said yesterday that he initially believed that the victim's friend, another black teenager, might be responsible for his injuries.

Inspector Steven Groves told the public inquiry into Stephen's death that although he saw various people at the scene when he arrived, including police officers and a "civilian" couple, Duwayne Brooks was the only person he regarded as a possible suspect.

Duwayne, a close friend of Stephen's, who was waiting for a bus with him when he was stabbed by a white gang in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993, was "hysterical" and had to be restrained, Insp Groves said.

Ian McDonald QC, counsel for Duwayne, said: "So you arrive at a scene of a crime. There is one black man lying on the floor and one other black man standing close by. Everyone else is white. Of all the people there, he is the one person who you think might be a suspect?"

Insp Groves replied: "That is something that went through my mind, certainly. Duwayne Brooks was there, he might have been a suspect." He denied that this amounted to "racial stereotyping".

Mr McDonald said: "There was absolutely nothing in that situation to suggest that he was behaving like the attacker in some post-pub fight. There was nothing to suggest that he was a suspect, except that he was a young black man, the only young black man still on his feet when you got there."

Insp Groves agreed that he did not find out the nature of Stephen's injuries or his condition. Nor did he cordon off the scene early, order a house to house search or follow up a lead about white youths seen behaving suspiciously in a car, he admitted.

He told the inquiry, which is chaired by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, that he could not elicit any information from Duwayne.

He said he went off to a nearby pub, the Welcome Inn, unaware that Duwayne had already given Stephen's name and address and his own details to another officer, Constable Linda Bethel, as well as telling her in which direction the youths had run off.

"You can learn more from people drinking in a pub than from knocking on doors at 11 o'clock at night," he said. "I thought this was the place to get quality information from quickly."

Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the Lawrence family, said the inquiry would hear that the principal murder suspects had all moved around between each other's houses that night.

Cross-examined by Jeffrey Yearwood, counsel for the Commission for Racial Equality, Insp Groves - who has agreed that he often uses the word "coloured" to describe black people - said he did not believe that the term was offensive.

"Stephen was black, Stephen was coloured, there's no distinction," said Insp Groves, a former racial incidents officer in Stepney, an area of east London with a large ethnic minority population.

The inquiry was adjourned until Monday.