Lawrence murder suspects may face stabbing charge

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The Independent Online

The five suspects in the Stephen Lawrence case could be charged with a serious violent offence which prosecutors have failed to consider fully, lawyers for the murdered teenager's father said yesterday.

A senior police officer who reviewed the heavily-criticised initial investigation into the 1993 murder believes that evidence exists which could lead to the chief suspects being prosecuted for conspiracy to stab or commit grievous bodily harm.

The five men, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, David Norris and Gary Dobson, are alleged to have been members of a gang, set up by the Acourt brothers, called "the Krays"; anyone hoping to join its ranks had to commit a stabbing.

David Clapperton, a former assistant chief constable of Kent Police, has advised the legal team for Neville Lawrence that the charge could be brought with the help of a new investigation.

It follows a claim that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not consider asking for new evidence to prove the offence during a £4m reinvestigation of the stabbing completed in 2004.

Mr Clapperton said: "I believe there is evidence out there waiting to be obtained from witnesses which would allow a charge of conspiracy to stab to be brought against members of the gang. It is known that in order to become a member of the suspects' gang, you had to stab someone."

The claim came as Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, declared that his force would "never let up" in its efforts to catch those responsible for the murder of Stephen, who was stabbed in Eltham, south London, in April 1993.

Sir Ian's comments, to the Metropolitan Police Authority, followed the screening of a BBC film on Wednesday which uncovered claims that the original investigation into the murder was subverted by a corrupt officer receiving money from the father of one of the suspects, David Norris.

Neil Putnam, a corrupt detective turned whistleblower, claimed that John Davidson, a former detective sergeant, had admitted "looking after" Mr Norris and that the allegation had been covered up by Scotland Yard. Mr Davidson denies the claims.

Sir Ian, who was speaking after the Yard confirmed it has asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate the allegations, said the force had taken extensive steps to root out corruption.

"While these events cast a long shadow they do have very little resonance with the current state of the Metropolitan Police," he said.

Lawyers representing Neville Lawrence said they had been told by the CPS in recent weeks that charges of conspiracy to stab were not considered by the team which assessed the evidence of Operation Athena Tower - the extensive reinvestigation of the Lawrence case led by John Grieve, the former head of the anti-terrorist branch.

Mr Lawrence, who is involved in legal action to force the CPS to disclose its documents in relation to Operation Athena Tower, said he believes that the service missed a "golden opportunity" to bring charges after the reinvestigation.

Mr Clapperton, who is advising Mr Lawrence's legal team, said there was already evidence in the public domain which would support a conspiracy to stab charge against the five suspects. He said footage from a 1994 video, in which the five suspects are heard discussing their violently racist views and seen practising the use of knives, alone provided "30 per cent" of the evidence required for the charge. A spokeswoman for the CPS said yesterday: "We considered whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute anyone individually or as part of a conspiracy to commit serious assaults in connection with these incidents, and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to do so."