Lawrences 'treated with contempt'

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THE SENIOR police officer who dealt with Stephen Lawrence's parents on the night that he was murdered was accused yesterday of treating them with "utter contempt" and failing to offer any sympathy.

The public inquiry into the murder heard that Inspector Ian Little approached Neville and Doreen Lawrence at the hospital after their son had been pronounced dead in the resuscitation room.

According to the account he gave to a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) team last year, he told the Lawrences: "We've got a young lad in there, he's dead, we don't know who he is and we'd like to clarify that point. If it's not your son, all well and good, but we need to know and I'm sure you'd like to know as well."

Questioned by Edmund Lawson, QC, counsel to the inquiry, Insp Little said he could not recall offering the family any words of sympathy.

Asked if police receive training on dealing with bereaved relatives, he replied: "I would say it's something you tend to learn from experience." Insp Little said he did not speak to Mrs Lawrence at all, because she was extremely distressed. He accompanied Mr Lawrence to see his son and then explained to him that the body would have to be "preserved" because of the police investigation. "He looked at me directly in the eye and said: 'Do what you have to do'," he said.

Stephen, 18, was stabbed to death at a bus stop by a white gang in Eltham, south-east London, in a racially motivated attack five years ago.

His parents have testified that police did not speak to them at all that first night, and Mandy Lavin, the hospital duty manager, has told the inquiry that no officers were present when Stephen's body was identified.

Cross-examined by Michael Mansfield, QC, counsel for the family, Insp Little acknowledged that he left the hospital without making any arrangements for the family to be looked after. But he said he believed that he had made "a reasonable job" of dealing with the Lawrences.

"I suggest to you that you treated Mr and Mrs Lawrence with utter contempt," Mr Mansfield said. "You ignored them, you didn't speak to them, you didn't explain anything. You were indifferent to this whole scenario."

Highlighting discrepancies between Insp Little's earlier accounts and his evidence yesterday, Mr Mansfield asked: "Are you making all this up now to make it look good?" He replied: "No, with something like this, I don't think I would be wicked enough to make up a story."

Insp Little said he had not used the precise words recorded by the PCA when he asked the Lawrences to identify their son's body. Asked how he might have expressed himself, he said: "Something along the lines of, there's a teenager in the other room, we've got indications from property on him that it may well be your son, I'd like to put your minds at rest and ask you to come in and have a look."

The inquiry continues today.