TV interview yields leads on Lawrence

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TWO WITNESSES came forward with potentially crucial information about the Stephen Lawrence case after television interviews were broadcast with the five murder suspects, police sources said yesterday.

An appeal for information, made after the interviews were screened on Thursday, prompted a huge public response.

John Grieve, Deputy Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Lawrence case, said: "Our switchboard lit up like the Spanish City [entertainment arcades] in Whitley Bay.

"We have never seen anything like it, and out of it we got two more nuggets of gold."

Police sources said he was referring to two witnesses who approached police after watching the interviews of Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, David Norris, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson. Mr Grieve said that the interviews, conducted by Martin Bashir for the ITV current affairs programme Tonight With Trevor McDonald, had yielded one new line of inquiry to pursue. "It's one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It's not a crucial piece of evidence."

The new line is thought to be the disclosure by Norris that he was at his girlfriend's house in Eltham, south-east London, on the night Stephen was murdered by a racist gang in April 1993. Norris had previously said he could not recall his whereabouts; the revelation places him half a mile from the murder scene.

Norris and Jamie Acourt have never stood trial for the killing and could thus, theoretically, still face prosecution. The other three were acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1996 after the Lawrence family mounted a private prosecution.

Mr Grieve, who heads the Metropolitan Police's specialist taskforce on racial and violent crime, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that information given to police now could still prove vital. "Six years down the line we can do things with what is occurring at the moment, and we would like to hear from people who have direct knowledge,"he said.

"We know that conversations are taking place, we know they continue to take place. Tell us what you know - trust us."

He said the passage of time could sometimes be helpful to police. "Allegiances change. Girlfriends change, friends change, people change their behaviour. There are some interesting things to discover yet about the jigsaw puzzle that makes up Stephen's murder."

Mr Grieve's team, codenamed Athena, comprises 15 detectives at Scotland Yard and units based in north and south London. It has already achieved some high-profile results, most notably in arresting three men for the murder of Michael Menson, the black musician who died after being set alight in north London.

Mr Grieve is taking a fresh look at the evidence in theLawrence case, gathered during three police investigations. Surveillance teams have also been deployed.

Mr Grieve believes Knight and Dobson were probably not involved in the murder and his team is looking at a number of new suspects.

Asked whether he was hopeful of achieving results, he said: "I wouldn't be doing this job if I didn't think it possible to bring Stephen's killers to justice."