Police watchdog to condemn Met over Lawrence murder inquiry

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A report into police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder will contain stinging criticism. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, says the inquiry into the stabbing of the black teenager will re-ignite a sensitive subject with wide implications.

The Police Complaints Authority report is certain to be controversial with its attack on the way the Metropolitan Police initially handled the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

While it is not expected to uphold the belief of the 18-year old's family that racial prejudice underscored the police attitude, The Independent has learnt it will include trenchant attacks on the force's early reaction to the crime. Ministers will study it carefully for any evidence that some police forces and units are only paying lip service to good race relations practice.

The teenager was stabbed to death at a bus shelter in Eltham, south-east London, four years ago by a gang of white youths. Last year the Lawrence family brought an unsuccessful private prosecution against five white youths.

The PCA investigation was carried out by the Deputy Chief Constable of Kent, Bob Ayling, and a team of ten officers. A spokeswoman for the force said their findings, completed on 30 November, were provisional. She added: "There is still work to be done."

Some senior Met officers are thought to be unhappy about the report. Officers point out that 2,600 people and 500 statements were taken during their investigation and 70 possible suspects investigated.

Police sources say the report is to be published in Parliament on Monday by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. Unusually for a PCA inquiry the entire report, and not just its conclusions, will be published.

The findings will be used to help the public inquiry ordered by Mr Straw and to be conducted by Sir William Macpherson of Cluy, which will start in February.

Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, have been deeply unhappy about the early police attitude towards their son's murder. Mrs Lawrence said earlier this year: "Shock and the horror just wasn't there. They gave us the impression that they believed black families are always into crime. It has made Stephen's killing even more unbearable."

The evidence given at the public inquiry, including any given by his killers, cannot be used in a criminal prosecution. In some cases witnesses may also be allowed to remain anonymous. Though this may mean there will never be a successful prosecution of Stephen's killers, it will at least mean that the full story of how - and why - he died and why his murderers escaped justice can be discovered.

In February an inquest in Southwark, south London, found that the student was unlawfully killed in an "unprovoked racist attack" by five white youths.

At the time family lawyers said they would take civil action against any officers found negligent by the PCA report.