Lawrences halt police neglect case

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The Independent Online
THE ONLY policeman facing disciplinary charges over the bungled Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry had the start of his tribunal dramatically halted yesterday after a last-minute legal challenge.

Detective Inspector Benjamin Bullock was due to face a hearing into seven counts of alleged neglect of duty brought against him by the Metropolitan Police.

But only minutes after the tribunal, expected to last four weeks, opened in south London it had to be halted after the lawyer representing the Lawrence family obtained leave to apply for a judicial review of the proceedings. The application is an attempt to allow the Lawrence family's lawyer to be present at the tribunal.

The timing of the application brought immediate condemnation from a police union representative who described it as a "cynical ploy to manipulate the proceedings".

The eleventh-hour move could delay the hearing for several more months.

The tribunal is considered by Lawrence campaigners as a chance publicly to expose the wrongdoings of officers who investigated the murder of the black teenager, stabbed to death by a racist gang in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993.

Det Insp Bullock, however, who denies all counts against him, has delayed his retirement so that he can clear his name. He was accused of failing to follow up vital evidence and evidence from a key informant. Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the police investigation concluded: "He was often passive and not up to his job."

Mr Bullock's tribunal first opened in March, when Imran Khan, the solicitor representing Doreen and Neville Lawrence, unsuccessfully argued that he should be allowed at the hearing to represent his clients. Under the current rules only the complainants - Mr and Mrs Lawrence - and a friend, who is not a lawyer or journalist, are allowed into the hearing.

But Mr Khan has been given leave to apply for a judicial review in the next 28 days in an attempt to overturn the regulations. The Metropolitan Police are expected to challenge the move within the next few days. Any decision is expected to be subject to further appeal. The independent Police Complaints Authority, who make up part of the tribunal panel, is also opposed to greater legal representation in future hearings, arguing that it is expensive and time consuming.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, yesterday clashed with Mr Khan after hearing of the judicial review. He said: "We knew nothing about a judicial review - I find this outrageous."

Outside the tribunal, Mr Lawrence argued: "I feel I am disadvantaged, I want my solicitor at the hearing."

Mr Khan added: "I made this application some weeks ago. The order I got only came in the post this morning."

The tribunal will decide whether Det Insp Bullock is guilty of any of the charges. It is then up to the Metropolitan Police to decide on any punishment, which can range from no action needed to dismissal.

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