Suspects must attend Lawrence inquiry

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The Independent Online
THE five men suspected of murdering Stephen Lawrence are to be forced to attend the public inquiry and answer questions about events surrounding his death, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Two judges dismissed a last-minute attempt by the men to challenge the decision to summons them. But the judges went on to rule that the suspects should not be asked whether they are innocent or guilty of the murder.

Lord Justice Simon Brown, sitting with Mr Justice Hooper, said: "Whilst the inquiry involves in a real sense the trial of police who investigated this crime, it is in no sense a trial of these applicants..." He added: "One might have thought that the applicants, if they were innocent, would be clamouring for the chance to proclaim that innocence and clear their names. But that is not the position, and their rights must be respected. The integrity and credibility of the inquiry demand no less."

Lord Justice Brown said that, subject to this guidance, the scope of questioning was a matter on which the chairman of the inquiry, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, should be left to exercise his "absolute discretion".

The men - David Norris, 21, Neil Acourt, 22, Jamie Acourt, 21, Luke Knight, 20, and Gary Dobson, 22 - will appear before the inquiry a week on Monday. If they refuse to answer questions, they could be jailed for contempt of court.

All five have in the past been charged with killing Stephen, who was stabbed at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993. Mr Dobson, Mr Knight and Neil Acourt were acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1996. Charges against the other two never came to trial.

Lord Justice Brown said questions should be limited to those relevant to the key issue facing the inquiry: why the police investigation of Stephen's murder was so badly flawed.