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Police deny attempt to coach Lawrence officers

THE METROPOLITAN Police yesterday denied making a systematic attempt to coach officers giving evidence to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

The denial was made after a "script" used by one witness, Sgt Peter Solley, was obtained by lawyers for the Lawrence family and produced at the inquiry. Headed "Possible questions you may be asked", the typed eight-page document is colour-coded with red indicating dangerous areas. One question asked if officers in the area where Stephen, a black A-level student murdered by racists in April 1993, had been briefed about local race issues.

The document says the officer should: "Give an honest reply. First ask for clarification of this question as it may be a tricky one."

Mr Solley told the inquiry, set up to examine the police failure to secure any convictions for Stephen's racist murder, that the document had, in fact, been written by himself purely as an "aide memoire" to help him give evidence.

Stephen Kamlish, appearing on behalf of the Lawrence family, pointed out that most of the document was written using the second person singular, "you", rather than the first person singular, "I", and therefore appeared to have been written by somebody other than Mr Solley.

Mr Kamlish asked Mr Solley, who is still serving as a community liaison officer at Plumstead in south London: "Did you have to tell yourself to give an honest reply?"

Mr Solley replied simply: "No, not at all."

Outside the inquiry, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police insisted that the document did not prove there was a systematic attempt by the force to coordinate officers' evidence to the inquiry.

"There has been absolutely no coaching of officers by the Metropolitan police," she said.

Also outside the inquiry, Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, expressed their "outrage and disappointment" at comments by a spokesman for the Police Federation, Mike Bennett, who had commented that the inquiry was unfairly portraying the police as racist and incompetent, and had been a gift to left-wing activists.

They added that the remarks of Mr Bennett, whose union represents rank and file officers, showed that the official apology from the Metropolitan Police that they received last week, expressing remorse at the way the inquiry had been held, was not endorsed by most serving officers.

"It shows that the police do not really care about what has come out of the inquiry so far and are not prepared to change," they said in a statement.

The Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign said the document was just one more piece of evidence of the "culture of protectionism" which existed in the Met.

A spokesman for the campaign added: "The stage management of the police response seems to have reached the point where a police witness was shown to be working to a prepared script."