Lawrence report to censure 24 officers

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The Independent Online
THE PRELIMINARY draft of the report by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry contains scathing criticism of two dozen Metropolitan Police officers, including the former third highest-ranking officer in the force, The Independent has learned.

Former Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Osland is among witnesses to the inquiry who have been notified that they face censure for their part in the abortive investigation of Stephen's racist murder in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. Letters setting out the substance of provisional conclusions reached by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, chairman of the public inquiry, were sent to the officers' solicitors on Thursday.

The aim is to give them an opportunity to respond to criticisms that Sir William plans to make in his final version of the report, which is expected to be published in mid-February. They have until 11 January to make representations to him.

Sir William and his advisers, who completed eight months of public hearings in November, have concluded that the murder investigation was incompetent. It was also blighted by racism, both individual and institutional, they believe.

The details of their early findings are confidential, but they are understood to be couched in strong terms. Some witnesses are accused of "appalling" failures in their professional duties.

Among the senior officers facing criticism are former Detective Superintendent Ian Crampton, who was in charge of the case for the first 72 hours, and former Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden, who took over for the next 12 months. Both men, like most of the officers connected with the case, are now retired.

Det Supt Crampton took the fateful decision to delay arresting the five prime suspects - Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, David Norris, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson - despite receiving scores of tip-offs soon after Stephen was killed.

Det Supt Weeden, who waited another fortnight before detaining them, admitted to the inquiry that he was uncertain of the legal grounds for arrest. Charges against the five youths were dropped for lack of evidence and a private prosecution, mounted by the Lawrence family also failed.

Sir William recently ruled that witnesses could not see excerpts from the report before he presented it to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw. But he said that, "in the interests of fairness", he would give them advance warning of possible criticisms. Nearly all of the high-ranking officers have been sent letters by the inquiry.

They include former Detective Chief Superintendent William Ilsley, who supervised the investigation, and former Chief Superintendent John Philpot, who was in charge of uniformed officers in the division. Detective Chief Inspector Ben Bullock, who is still serving, is also named. Det Ch Insp Bullock, the inquiry heard, declined to interview a youth who came into the police station to volunteer information less than 24 hours after Stephen was stabbed to death. He turned out to be an impeccable source.

Mr Osland, who is now a Conservative councillor, was in charge of policing in south-east London at the time and as such had overall responsibility for the conduct of the case.

He once advised murder squad detectives to sue Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, for accusing them of racism. He also wrote a memo to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, stating that his patience with the Lawrence family was "wearing thin".

Others singled out include Detective Sergeant John Bevan and Detective Constable Linda Holden the officers appointed to look after the Lawrence family.

nMany police forces are still failing to take race issues seriously, despite an official warning that was issued 14 months ago, a government inspector said yesterday.

Despite the publication, in October last year, of a report by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary that contained 20 recommendations, not enough progress has been made, Dan Crompton, the report's author told a conference on race and policing.

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