Lawrence friend gets go-ahead to sue police

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The Independent Online

Duwayne Brooks, the surviving victim of the racist attack on himself and Stephen Lawrence, today won the right to sue the police over his treatment in the aftermath of his friend's death

His solicitor, Jane Deighton, described the Court of Appeal ruling as "ground-breaking" – the first time that the rights of the victims and witnesses of crime against the police had been recognised in law.

Claims against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and five policemen by Mr Brooks, 27, who saw his friend murdered by a racist gang in April 1993 in Eltham, south–east London, were struck out by a judge at Central London County Court in 1999.

Today three appeal judges reinstated the claims – and refused appeals by other police officers that the cases against them should be struck out.

Now Mr Brooks has been given the go-ahead to sue the Commissioner for wrongful arrest and negligence, and 13 police officers for breaches of the Race Relations Act.

Mr Brooks, who has said he was a victim who was treated as a criminal by the police, and has been diagnosed as having post traumatic stress, was "very, very happy" today after the court ruling.

Ms Deighton said: "He has suffered so much but he has brought something good out of this. Because of Duwayne's persistence, for the first time police officers can be held to account for the way they treat victims and witnesses of crime."

Lord Justice Kennedy, giving the appeal court ruling, said Mr Brooks and Mr Lawrence were both black and were 18 when they were attacked by a gang of white youths.

Mr Brooks telephoned for an ambulance after his friend was fatally injured and the police were notified.

The judge said: "As is well known, there have been many complaints about the way in which the matter was handled by the Metropolitan Police, and in 1997 Sir William Macpherson was appointed by the Home Secretary to hold an inquiry."

Mr Brooks took action over the way he was treated by police in April 1999 in civil proceedings at the Central London County Court.

All the police defendants sought to have the proceedings against them struck out and in March 2000, Judge Butter QC found in favour of five policemen and the Commissioner in December 2000.

The claims against the remaining policemen were allowed to continue.

These included an allegation that a policewoman at the scene who spoke to Mr Brooks did not take his account seriously or act upon it.

She was alleged to have failed to ask for descriptions of the assailants, or try to establish if the claimant had been attacked himself or offer him any support or check to see if he was all right.

The police officer did not "appreciate that he was in a distraught and frightened condition as a result of the attack and the condition of his friend lying on the pavement", it was claimed.

Other officers at the scene being sued were alleged to have failed to remedy any of these faults.

Mr Brooks also claims that after being taken to hospital, he was given no choice but to go to the police station to make a statement and during four hours there no one asked about his welfare or whether he would prefer to make the statement at home.