Lawrences sue suspects and police

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THE PARENTS of Stephen Lawrence yesterday began the process of suing those suspected of his murder and the Metropolitan Police for bungling the investigation into his death.

Writs were lodged in the High Court by the family's solicitors, the day before today'ssixth anniversary of Stephen's death, to beat the six- year deadline for launching civil actions.

Although the Lawrences failed in their attempt to pursue private prosecutions against the suspects, the option of a civil action for damages is still open to them.

The actions would be examined by a judge on the balance of probabilities. If the case goes ahead, it could lead to the five suspects being cross- examined in a court for the first time.

The five, who were unco-operative at the public inquiry into Stephen's murder, have recently angered the Lawrences by taking part in television and radio interviews.

Yesterday, the Lawrence family solicitor, Imran Khan, said: "I can confirm on behalf of Mr and Mrs Lawrence that I have today issued protective writs in the High Court of Justice, London, against certain individuals considered to be responsible for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

"This is for damages arising out of and in consequence of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

"I can also confirm that I have today issued a protective writ ... against the Metropolitan Police. The writ is for damages arising out of the failed investigation into the murder."

Three of the suspects, Neil Acourt, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson, were acquitted of the murder of Stephen three years ago when a private prosecution brought by the Lawrences collapsed. That meant they could not face further criminal charges for the murder. The case against Jamie Acourt and David Norris was dropped before it reached court.

The action against the police comes amid ongoing negotiations with Scotland Yard over compensation. Hearsay evidence would be admissible, including that from the dozens of witnesses who told police they had heard, or knew, who the killers were.

Mr Khan announced immediately after publication of the Macpherson Report that the Lawrences would be seeking a payment from the force. The police have offered the Lawrences pounds 50,000 each for mishandling the investigation into their son's murder in south London.

A remembrance service to commemorate the anniversary of Stephen's death is planned this weekend.