Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer has been removed from his post as recriminations grew from a damning report which found that Scotland Yard spied on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Commander Richard Walton, head of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism command, was temporarily transferred to a “non-operational role” following criticism of his part in debriefing the undercover officer. Mr Walton was a member of the Yard’s team responsible for drawing up submissions to the Macpherson Inquiry at the time of the incident in 1998.
The abrupt removal of such a senior officer underlined the grave implications for Britain’s largest police force of the findings of the report by barrister Mark Ellison QC, who also found that the original investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 may have been tainted by corruption.
Alastair Morgan, whose private investigator brother Daniel was murdered in a case which Mr Ellison said could cast new light on suspicions that a detective in the Lawrence investigation may have been corrupt, said yesterday it appeared increasingly clear that the Met had contained a “firm within a firm” of bent officers and called for a full investigation.
In his first public response to the Ellison Report, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan Howe described the review as “devastating” and said its publication was one of the worst days of his career.
He told the Evening Standard: “I cannot rewrite history and the events of the past but I do have a responsibility to ensure the trust and confidence of the people of London in the Met now and in the future. This will need a considered response to meet head-on the concerns that have been expressed.”
Prime Minister David Cameron echoed support for Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, saying they have “suffered far too much” in the wait for the truth about their son’s murder.
Mr Walton was among those singled out for criticism by Mr Ellison after it was found that the undercover agent planted among supporters of the Lawrence family, known only as N81, had met him as part of preparations for the Yard’s submissions to Sir William Macpherson.
The Ellison report found that Mr Walton, who at the time was an acting detective inspector, had offered an explanation of the “completely improper” meeting with N81 which was “less than straightforward and somewhat troubling”.
The barrister said that the counter-terrorism officer, who had been ordered to attend the meeting, had altered his account of it when interviewed and that his changed recollection was “unconvincing”.
Scotland Yard said it had made the decision to transfer Mr Walton and had also referred his case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Lord Condon, the former Met commissioner who was in charge at the time of the Macpherson Inquiry, meanwhile denied authorising N81, a member of the secret Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) used to infiltrate suspected subversive groups, to target the Lawrence family.
Voicing his support for the public inquiry into undercover policing announced by Home Secretary Theresa May following the Ellison Report, Lord Condon said: “At no stage did I ever authorise or encourage or know about any action by an undercover officer in relation to Mr and Mrs Lawrence or their friends or supporter or the Macpherson Inquiry hearings. Had I known, I would have stopped this action immediately as inappropriate.”
Meanwhile, lawyers for two animal rights activists jailed for arson attacks on department stores said they will seek to have the convictions quashed in the first of a raft of cases likely to be brought for review because of the involvement of undercover officers.
Solicitors for Andrew Clarke and Geoff Sheppard, who were found guilty of firebombing branches of Debenhams, said that the allegedly undeclared involvement of an undercover officer in their cases made their convictions unsafe.