The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police may have to make another embarrassing apology to the living victims of the Stephen Lawrence murder case after it emerged that an alleged smear campaign was kept secret from the officers who brought two of the killers to justice.
In a damning indictment of secrecy and disorganisation at the heart of Britain’s biggest police force, the former and current heads of the Yard said that they were unaware of the alleged spying operation on the Lawrence family, their supporters and campaigners.
The Prime Minister said he was deeply concerned about the allegations by a former undercover police officer about a snooping campaign against the family after the 1993 murder, as a raft of new inquiries were ordered to examine the claims. The allegations included a deliberate attempt to discredit the main witness to the murder, Stephen’s close friend Duwayne Brooks.
Stephen’s father Neville Lawrence said the proposals did not go far enough and called for another judge-led public inquiry to get to the truth. The previous 1999 Macpherson report found that Scotland Yard was “institutionally racist” – leaving a series of police leaders struggling to shake off the tag despite high-profile anti-racism campaigns.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the current Commissioner, said: “I am personally shocked by the allegations that an undercover officer was told to find evidence that might smear the Lawrence family.
“The additional allegations that this was concealed from a public inquiry, and that Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks was targeted, are also very serious. If these allegations are true, it’s a disgrace, and the Metropolitan Police Service will apologise.”
A former undercover officer, Peter Francis, told Channel 4’s Dispatches and The Guardian that he was put under “huge and constant pressure” from superiors to hunt for disinformation to undermine those demanding a better investigation into the 1993 murder in Eltham, southeast London.
Mr Francis, who said he never met the Lawrence family, was part of a now-disbanded covert unit called the Special Demonstration Squad, set up in the 1960s to target political activists.
Nobody was brought to justice for the murder until January last year when advances in forensic science resulted in the convictions of David Norris and Gary Dobson.
The initial inquiry was dogged by racism, poor decision-making and delays, and over the years further investigations have looked at allegations that corruption shielded the killers.
Dr Richard Stone, an adviser on the Macpherson inquiry panel, confirmed that it had never been told about the alleged undercover operation and accused the police and the Home Office of seeking to undermine the inquiry at “every turn”.
Dr Stone said: “The fact they had undercover police officers spying on the Lawrences is quite disgraceful. What the hell is the point of having an inquiry if people who are responsible for making the inquiry work are undermining it at every single turn?”
Senior investigators on the police inquiry that led to the jailing of the two men last year said they had made inquiries about the possibility of an undercover operation. “We wrote to every organisation internally and externally to ask,” a senior officer said. “There was nothing in the files.”
Lord Condon, the Met Commissioner at the time of the investigation, said he was shocked at the revelations and that he never knew or authorised “any police officers being tasked to smear Mr and Mrs Lawrence”.
Mr Francis said he picked up information that Mr Brooks, now a Liberal Democrat councillor, was involved in a riot that led to missiles being thrown and a car turned over, and a trawl through CCTV pictures showed him in the crowds. He was not charged until five months after the protest, but the case against a traumatised Mr Brooks was thrown out by the judge. His solicitor, Jane Deighton, said: “Once again the apology has come out for the world famous family but not for the victim who was there.”