A supergrass who alleged police corruption shielded the killers of Stephen Lawrence has suffered a damaging blow to his credibility – just before the conclusion of a government-ordered inquiry into his claims.
The jailing of three detectives for corruption has been referred back to the Court of Appeal after “substantial doubts” were raised about the witness Neil Putnam that could make their convictions unsafe, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has concluded. Putnam – a former detective – detailed claims of widespread drug dealing between officers and the underworld that led to the convictions of five of his former colleagues.
But two of them were cleared on appeal in 2011 and three others have recently learned that the CCRC has decided to send their cases back to the Court of Appeal because of doubts over the credibility of Mr Putnam.
If the men are cleared, the only man with a safe conviction from the disbanded Dulwich office of the South East Regional Crime Squad will be Putnam himself, who confessed to his own role in illegal deals.
The new referral is linked to Putnam’s repeated claims that corruption played a part in the Metropolitan Police’s failure to arrest the killers of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence during its bungled first inquiry in 1993. Two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were finally jailed in 2012 for the murder.
Putnam had claimed that one of his former colleagues told him that police had a corrupt relationship with the gangster father of Norris. But inquiries by the police watchdog and the Met found no evidence of corrupt ties and the CCRC said that his unsubstantiated claim “raises substantial doubts as regards Putnam’s credibility”.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ordered a fresh inquiry last year after documents emerged about police corruption that were never shown to the Lawrence family. Mark Ellison QC, who led the successful prosecution in the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, is reviewing the evidence and is due to complete his report next month.
The CCRC contacted representatives of the Lawrence family before it announced its decision on the cases of the former detectives Thomas Kingston, Thomas Reynolds and Terence O’Connell because of the sensitivity of the case. They are all out of prison after being jailed for up to three-and-a-half years. In a statement, the CCRC said: “The Commission has not itself investigated the issue of whether there was corruption in the initial Stephen Lawrence murder investigation. It is right to say, however, that during the course of its review, it has found nothing which lends support to the allegations which Putnam has made.”
The case of the three detectives followed earlier convictions, in part on the word of Putnam, of the former detectives Chris Drury and Bob Clark in 2000 for robbing dealers and recycling drugs through their own contacts. Their convictions were quashed 11 years later after it emerged that the prosecution withheld documents from their legal teams which cast doubt on the claims of their supergrass accusers.
It later emerged that officers debriefing Putnam took him to the pub, the seaside and let him test drive a sports car while he was on remand for drugs offences.
Mr Drury, now a bus driver in Yorkshire, said that he remained bitter at the way police handled the evidence of the two supergrasses, self-confessed drug dealers who benefited from significantly reduced sentences for giving evidence at the trial.
“Your whole world collapses and you have then got to get your head around the fact that you’re going to prison,” said Mr Drury. “I was absolutely unemployable: an ex-police officer with horrendous convictions. I’m earning less now than when I was suspended. I’m still living and breathing these things over a decade later.”