Clifford Norris: "Evil influence" who was a malign presence during the inquiry

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The Independent Online

Clifford Norris was a major player in the south London drugs trade who reputedly used his contacts and his criminal know-how to keep his son out of the dock for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

David and his two brothers grew up in an £800,000 mock-Tudor mansion in a leafy part of Bickley, Kent. Police who searched the house commented on the luxurious fixtures.

However, Clifford Norris was not there. Mr Norris – cited as an "evil influence" in the Macpherson report – had been on the run for five years at the time of the murder. But he remained a malign presence during the inquiry that followed.

His reputation was reputedly enough to keep witnesses from coming forward. The Independent last year met one man who had moved house for fear of reprisals after accusing David Norris of an assault.

Clifford Norris was run to ground in 1994 when a new team of senior officers realised the effect he was having on the inquiry. They hunted him down to a cafe in Sussex and then found a sub-machine gun and ammunition in cottages where he had been staying.

He was convicted of smuggling cannabis worth £1.3m in 1995 and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison. But some claimed that by that time, he had already had a major effect on the inquiry. It is alleged that he schooled the suspects before they were brought before police interviews, in which most of them said nothing more than "no comment".

In 1993, Clifford Norris was also accused of trying to fix a trial involving David, who was accused of stabbing a young man in the chest. Even though Mr Norris was at that time on the run, he allegedly twice met the victim, Stacey Benefield, in south-east London and offered him thousands of pounds to change his story. David Norris was later cleared at trial.

Clifford Norris was pursued by the authorities for £400,000 from the proceeds of his crime. The house was sold and he now lives alone above a hardware shop in Ashford.