After 11-year battle, CPS dashes last hope Lawrence family had of jailing son's killers

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The Independent Online

After an 11-year battle, the family of Stephen Lawrence learnt yesterday that they had lost their last hope of winning justice for their murdered son.

Despite a multimillion-pound police inquiry, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that no one is to be prosecuted for stabbing the black teenager to death.

The failure to punish anyone for the racist murder of the 18-year-old is a devastating blow for his parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and their supporters. It also represents an embarrassment for the Metropolitan Police, who, following their original botched murder inquiry, invested huge resources in a newinvestigation.

The murder, by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993, marked a watershed in Britain's race relations and a low point in the reputation of the police. But yesterday the CPS effectively dismissed the new five-year police inquiry and previous investigations, saying they had failed to produce any credible witness who could identify the killers, any forensic evidence and only flawed "confessions".

The inquiry had focussed on the activities of five suspects who were originally arrested at the time of the murder. Three of the men were later charged and acquitted.

Ms Lawrence, in response to yesterday's announcement, said: "It has been a long 11 years since the murder of my son, Stephen. For each and every second of those years, Stephen has not left my thoughts.

"The decision today not to prosecute anyone in relation to Stephen's murder has been a devastating one for me. Whilst I expected this outcome, there was still some glimmer of hope that justice would prevail. My son Stephen deserved better."

The announcement by the CPS that there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges had been widely predicted. But the apparent lack of any compelling evidence - despite one of the biggest and most expensive murder inquiries in British police history - was a surprise.

The CPS issued a statement yesterday, saying thatthe fresh investigation produced a new eyewitness, but "taken as a whole, the material reviewed by the CPS does not provide any clear, credible identification evidence from any witness.

"There is no credible forensic evidence which places any specific individual at the scene of the murder. Accounts of alleged confessions have also been investigated, but almost all have proved to be second-hand hearsay and unverifiable and therefore not admissible. None are sufficient to support a prosecution."

The CPS said there was also insufficient evidence to bring any charges for the attack on Stephen's friend, Duwayne Brooks, who had witnessed the murder.

From the very start, the police investigation into the attack was a disaster. Two separate murder investigations were heavily criticised by an external inquiry that Kent Police had conducted. That prompted the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to set up a public inquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson.

The Met, which was accused of "institutional racism" in Sir William's report, launched a third murder investigation in February 1999, headed by one of its most respected detectives, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve.

Two years later, Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Met, insisted that he knew who attacked Mr Lawrence.

After Mr Lawrence's death five suspects - Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, Gary Dobson and David Norris - were arrested by police and charged with the murder.

Neil Acourt, Mr Dobson and Mr Knight were acquitted when a private prosecution for murder brought by the Lawrence family collapsed when evidence from Mr Brooks was rejected. The case against the two other suspects, Jamie Acourt and Mr Norris, was dropped before it reached court.

The fall-out from Sir William's inquiry has forced the Met, the police service, and other public bodies, to change the way it deals with race issues, hate crimes, and murders. It also triggered a national debate about the level of racism within society.

As Mrs Lawrence acknowledged yesterday: "Whilst I am extremely saddened and disappointed that my family has personally not been able to secure justice, the irony is that society has benefited where we have not."

Mr Brooks added: "This is a day of shame, but I am not surprised. The police investigation was doomed from the start at the scene of the attack."

Imran Khan, the family's solicitor, said that despite the CPS announcement they were still hopeful that there would be a prosecution in the future.

But because of the damage caused by the past bungled inquiries into the case, the collapse of a private prosecution and the weight of prejudicial publicity, the chances of anyone being charged are remote.

The Lawrence family's legal team is now considering whether it can - or should - challenge the CPS's decision with a judicial review.

Sir Ian Blair, the Deputy Commissioner of the Met, said the CPS's decision was "a grave disappointment" to everyone. He added that the legacy of Mr Lawrence's death was a "completely different" Metropolitan Police force.