Met admits errors in Lawrence case

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The Independent Online
SIR PAUL Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, admitted yesterday that his officers made fundamental errors in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, but denied that racism or corruption played any part in the case.

Delivering Sir Paul's final submission to the public inquiry into Stephen's death, Jeremy Gompertz, QC, said the force was determined to learn from its mistakes. But he added: "The Metropolitan Police Service will not `roll over' and accept blame for everything which is wrong in society in Britain today.

"The service accepts that it is a key player in the elimination of racism in this country, but we are not solely responsible for this task."

In a separate submission for the senior detectives who led the murder inquiry, Sonia Woodley, QC, attacked Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, for playing "the race card" and said Mrs Lawrence's mistrust of police contributed to the breakdown of relations. Mr Gompertz said the Met rejected allegations of prejudice. "The service accepts there was some insensitivity by some police officers which may have been perceived as racism, but denies the investigation was `permeated by racism', whether overt or subconscious," he said.

The commissioner also disagreed with the views of Dr Robin Oakley, an eminent consultant to the Met on race issues, who told the inquiry he believes there is a culture of institutional racism within the force.

Mr Gompertz acknowledgedincompetency, saying many mistakes were made, "some of them serious". He added: "But the nature of the crime and the lack of evidence, as opposed to information, were partially responsible for a mediocre investigation."

He also defended the much-criticised decision of senior detectives to delay arresting the five prime suspects - Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, David Norris, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson - for a fortnight. It was a "sound and reasonable" decision, he said.

After Stephen was murdered by a white gang in a race attack in south- east London in 1993, police missed an opportunity to secure useful details from a key informant at an early stage, Mr Gompertz said.

Some important witnesses were not well handled, certain suspects were eliminated too quickly and identification parades were not always properly conducted.

Mr Gompertz said that officers accepted the principal share of responsibility for the rapid deterioration of relations with the Lawrence family. Stephen's friend, Duwayne Brooks, should also have received better treatment, although it had been "legitimate" for police at the scene to regard him initially as a suspect.

Mr Gompertz said there was no evidence to substantiate the Lawrences' claim that detectives colluded with the criminal families of the suspects to ensure they escaped justice. The scenario would have necessitated a widespread conspiracy involving at least seven officers, which was "highly improbable".

In a foreword to the written version of the final submission, Sir Paul acknowledges the significance of the public inquiry, saying it "has fundamental implications for the Metropolitan Police Service, for policing nationally and for society as a whole".

The inquiry continues today.

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