Lawrence inquiry detectives 'would have been disciplined'

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The Independent Online

At least five police officers involved in the botched investigation into Stephen Lawrence's murder retired before they could be brought to book for their mistakes.

At least five police officers involved in the botched investigation into Stephen Lawrence's murder retired before they could be brought to book for their mistakes.

In his report into the racist killing 11 years ago of the black teenager in south-east London, Sir William Macpherson concluded that they would have faced disciplinary action, "but such charges could not be pursued because the officers had retired".

Four officers involved in the Lawrence case who escaped such charges through retirement were: Detective Chief Superintendent Roderick Barker, Detective Chief Superintendent William Ilsley, Detective Superintendent Ian Crampton and Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden. Mr Barker, a former head of the Flying Squad, wrote the internal police review of the investigation. He did not include criticism in his report because it would have "damaged morale". Sir William concluded: "Mr Barker's unquestioning acceptance and repetition of the criticisms of the Lawrence family and their solicitor are to be deplored." Mr Barker was accused by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) of neglect of duty but he retired in October 1997.

Mr Ilsley, a senior investigating officer, was criticised during the inquiry for being unprofessional. It was alleged that he screwed up a list of suspects given to him by Stephen's mother but he denied the claim. He retired in March 1995. The report attacked his "failure to supervise and manage effectively". Mr Crampton was the man in charge of the Lawrence murder investigation for the first 72 hours. His failure to arrange early identity parades or issue photofits, together with a decision not to make early arrests, was criticised by Sir William. Mr Crampton eventually admitted that "with hindsight" he should have arrested the five suspects much earlier. He retired in July 1995.

Mr Weeden headed the investigation for 18 months but only met the Lawrence family a year after the murder. The report said he was "confused as to his powers of arrest". He was accused by the PCA of neglect of duties, but he retired from the force in July 1994.

Sir William called for officers to be given new terms of employment to allow disciplinary proceedings to be brought after retirement, to which they are entitled after completing 30 years' service or because they have suffered "stress" or "disability". The apparent loophole has been relatively easy to exploit because the complaints procedure has been cumbersome and protracted.

The Home Office has not acted on Sir William's recommendation; one problem is that any attempt to close it could run into challenges under employment and human rights legislation. The hope is that the new complaints procedure will be faster and more effective, preventing police officers from using the option of retirement to avoid disciplinary action.