Suspect's lawyer defends police

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The Independent Online
A LAWYER for one of the prime suspects in the murder of Stephen Lawrence says Sir William Macpherson's inquiry bordered on a show trial, and that the Metropolitan Police have been unfairly accused of institutional racism.

Michael Holmes, the solicitor for Gary Dobson, also reveals that a senior police officer investigating the crime repeatedly begged Dobson to become a prosecution witness against the other four suspects.

Mr Holmes says in an interview in today's edition of The Lawyer newspaper that the offer was rejected. Dobson maintained that he and the other four were all innocent. "I thought it showed a measure of desperation. Coming from an officer of that seniority in this case I found that amazing," said Mr Holmes.

Detective Superintendent William Mellish, the officer concerned, had approached him "time and time again", he said. The offer was that if he could assure the police that Dobson had not carried or used a knife on the night of the murder, and he would testify against the other suspects, then he could become a prosecution witness.

Mr Holmes said he had personally received four death threats because of his involvement in the case, and was struck by the "hostile feeling" towards himself and his client when they appeared before the Macpherson hearings. "I felt intimidated in the way we were treated, and I am not an easy person to intimidate," he said.

Asked whether he thought the inquiry had bordered on a show trial, he replied: "Yes, I think it probably did."

All of the five tried to avoid appearing before the inquiry by seeking a court order, but this was turned down. Once before the hearing, Dobson remained silent. Asked why, Mr Holmes replied that Dobson and the others lacked "educational advantages" and would have had difficulty expressing themselves fully.

He thought Dobson would be "very probably deeply ashamed" by the racist comments he expressed on a convert police surveillance tape.

"I think why they have remained silent since is ... because every time they seek to put their heads above the parapet they got shot at. Can you blame them for keeping their heads down?" he said.

Mr Holmes also spoke of the suffering of Dobson's parents over having their son labelled a murderer. "They are a thoroughly nice couple who are shell-shocked by what has happened to them. I've never heard them express a racist view over the many hours I've spent with them. They say, `When will it ever end?' And I fear not for a long time yet."

He said he did not not agree with the Lawrence report finding that the police were institutionally racist. "The only prejudice I understand police to have is against criminals."