Nineteen years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has ordered a new inquiry headed by a leading barrister into allegations that police corruption hampered the original failed investigation.
Ms May effectively overruled Scotland Yard and the police watchdog whose own inquiries both ruled on Thursday that there was no new evidence to warrant further investigation, after reports in The Independent. She has spoken to Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the black teenager killed in the racist gang attack in Eltham, south London, in 1993, to tell her that a Queen's Counsel will now review Scotland Yard's investigations into alleged corruption.
Mark Ellison, QC, the barrister who secured the first convictions of any of Stephen's murderers earlier this year, will head the review. It is not clear what the extent of his investigatory powers will be, or whether they will include the right to summon witnesses, or hear evidence in public. The Home Office said the scope of the inquiry had yet to be determined but Mr Ellison, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the case, would be able to do "whatever he sees fit". He declined to comment last night.
Whitehall sources said that, by asking for a lawyer rather than a judge to head the review, Ms May was seeking a short, sharp investigation.
The inquiry falls short of Mrs Lawrence's request for the reopening of a commission along the lines of the Macpherson inquiry, whose 1999 report criticised the Metropolitan Police for being "institutionally racist".
Mrs Lawrence welcomed the move and, with her legal team, is in talks with the Home Office to clarify the terms of reference. She said: "While I asked for a public inquiry into these allegations, my discussions with the Home Secretary have reassured me that the independent review she has ordered will seek to deal with my concerns. This is because firstly, it will be conducted by someone independent of both the police and the IPCC, organisations in which I have little faith and confidence, and secondly, the person conducting the review, Mark Ellison QC, is someone who has already shown his commitment in getting justice for me and my family."
London's Mayor Boris Johnson and Labour's shadow Home Secretary have both backed calls by Mrs Lawrence for an independent investigation.
The Lawrence family has claimed that corruption played a role in the initial bungled inquiry into the murder and meant suspects were "shielded" from arrest. A botched surveillance operation meant suspects were allowed to take filled black bags from their homes in the aftermath of the killing, without being stopped. However, the public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson found there was no evidence the failures of the original murder inquiry were caused by corruption.
Two members of the racist gang, David Norris and Gary Dobson, were jailed this year for murder, 19 years after the knife attack, after a forensic science breakthrough. They have said they will appeal.
Mrs Lawrence's request for an inquiry followed the publication in The Independent earlier this year of previously secret police intelligence files which alleged that a former detective sergeant on the Lawrence inquiry, John Davidson, was a "major player" in a ring of corrupt detectives "operating as a professional organised crime syndicate". It followed earlier allegations against Mr Davidson by an ex-police supergrass aired in a Panorama documentary in 2006. Those allegations were investigated by the IPCC which found no evidence that corruption had affected the inquiry.
The Met this year carried out an inquiry after reports in The Independent focusing on former Metropolitan Police Commander Ray Adams, a senior officer in the area where Stephen was killed. Mr Adams also faced an earlier internal corruption inquiry but was never disciplined and, like Mr Davidson, has always denied wrongdoing.
Scotland Yard's report – based on an examination of papers in police and national archives and interviews with former officers and counsel from the 1998 Macpherson inquiry – concluded that it had not "uncovered evidence of corruption or collusion which could have adversely affected or otherwise influenced the path of the original investigation or subsequent investigations".
The IPCC – established in part after Macpherson – carried out its own review which found no new evidence or information that would change its view following the 2006 report.
The inquiry: Questions that must be answered
1. Why wasn't information about former Detective Sergeant John Davidson and former Commander Ray Adams passed on to the family of Stephen Lawrence and their legal team to allow them to form effective lines of questioning at both the public inquiry and later inquiries?
2. What was the process that allowed John Davidson to retire from the force despite the “enormous appetite” at the Yard for a prosecution because he was, in the words of the former Assistant Commissioner John Yates, “considered then and still now to have been a major corrupt player” from that era?
3. Was there any attempt to suppress evidence from the Metropolitan Police's corruption inquiries because of concerns for the reputation of Scotland Yard?
4. What is the full extent of the links between the police and the London criminal underworld, including Clifford Norris, the former drug-dealing father of one of the suspects, and Kenneth Noye, serving life for a road-rage murder?
5. Are there plans to re-interview Neil Putnam, the corrupt police officer and whistleblower who, after his arrest in 1998, made damaging allegations of corruption involving John Davidson?
6. Given the explosive nature of Neil Putnam's allegations against fellow officers, why was his debriefing not recorded?
Read The Independent's investigation here: