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Tribunal clears Lawrence detective

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR Ben Bullock the only police officer to face severe disciplinary action for the gross mishandling of the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation was cleared of almost all charges yesterday.

The ruling by a police tribunal means no Scotland Yard officer will be punished for the debacle. Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the black teenager murdered by a racist gang, condemned the disciplinary hearing as a "whitewash". The Lawrence family are suing the Metropolitan Police for damages and may take civil action against the Commissioner or individual officers.

The Met tribunal yesterday cleared Det Insp Bullock of 26 of the 28 elements of the internal disciplinary action brought after the bungled inquiry into the 1993 murder at a bus-stop in Eltham, south east London. Det Insp Bullock, second-in-command of the investigation, was found to have failed to brief officers properly by not directing them to look under the floorboards for knives during a search of suspects' homes, despite being told that the suspects, Jamie and Neil Acourt, usually hid them there.

He was also found to have failed to investigate adequately the source of an anonymous letter which named several suspects in the case. The officer was acquitted of a third charge of neglect of duty at the end of the two- and-a-half week tribunal held in private.

Four of seven neglect-of-duty charges against the 50-year-old officer were thrown out a week ago by the panel of three, chaired by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Des Flanders. He will write a report recommending punishment which could range from dismissal to admonishment. But because only two elements of the charges were proved Det Insp Bullock is expected to receive a lesser punishment, probably a caution, reprimand or admonishment. He was described as being "relieved" at tribunal's findings.

Whatever the outcome, which will be decided upon at a hearing on 22 July, Det Insp Bullock will retire two days later. Four other senior officers severely criticised by the Sir William Macpherson inquiry into the Lawrence investigation, retired several years ago.

Stephen's mother, Doreen, said: "It's just a laugh. It's just a whitewash, the whole thing from the word go. We knew nothing was ever going to come out of it. It was police investigating police. The questions asked of the witnesses were never intensive enough to get to the truth properly."

She said until an independent body was set up to investigate complaints against the police, rather than using fellow officers, nothing would change, adding: "It also has to be remembered that this man will face no real punishment for his wrongdoing, whereas my family and I have to live with the effect of this forever. He will retire with a very good pension. He will never be punished."

Det Supt Bullock, said to be suffering high blood pressure and heart problems, delayed retirement to clear his name.Five officers have been admonished for their actions.