Stephen Lawrence murder investigation: Macpherson was effectively working with one hand tied behind his back



The announcement last year that Mark Ellison QC was to investigate possible corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation was met with some scepticism, not least by Doreen Lawrence. Stephen’s mother, tough and resilient as she is, had seen too many false dawns over the years.

After more than a decade investigating this story, I also doubted whether it had any more to give. But we should have had more faith.

Ellison, ably supported by his junior counsel Alison Morgan, was, after all, the prosecutor who secured the convictions of David Norris and Gary Dobson. Few would have thought that possible after so many years.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Ellison delivered his report to the Home Office on Wednesday. It was not what was expected. He didn’t pull his punches. Here was a man, supposedly the type of establishment figure of which the Lawrences have long been suspicious, lobbing a hand grenade right in the middle of the Home Secretary’s office, leaving her no option but to order a full public inquiry.

The spying claims were bad enough, but here for the first time was an acknowledgement that the Lawrences had always been right to suspect that police corruption had played a corrosive role in that first, hopelessly inadequate investigation into their son’s senseless killing.

When I investigated the case for the BBC film The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence in 2006, it seemed to me that there were too many mistakes, too many irregularities to be attributed to incompetence or casual racism.

We strongly suspected corruption. And Detective Sergeant John Davidson had been singled out by the Macpherson inquiry in 1998 as a critical figure. What Macpherson didn’t know – and he didn’t know because the Metropolitan Police failed to fully tell him – is that Davidson was a suspected corrupt officer. Macpherson was effectively working with one hand tied behind his back.

Our film broadcast allegations made by another former corrupt detective, Neil Putnam, who told me Davidson had confessed to corruptly aiding Clifford Norris, the father of one of the suspects. This sent shockwaves through the Met, and prompted fierce denials both from Davidson and his former employers. Mr Davidson has denied any corruption.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission – itself stocked with former detectives – launched an immediate investigation into our allegations, but concluded there was no evidence to support them. Putnam’s credibility lay in tatters, and my journalistic integrity was seriously undermined. The Met launched a blistering attack on the BBC for “sensationalist” and “irresponsible” journalism.

In 2012 the IPCC and the Met had a chance to review their positions after fresh corruption concerns were raised in this newspaper. We’re still right, they effectively said. But they hadn’t reckoned on the terrier-like Ellison.

Read more: Top Yard officer moved from post over Lawrence spying
Did corruption prevent Daniel Morgan’s killer being caught?
Comment: How will the police ever regain our trust?

He managed to get underneath the corruption allegations in a way the IPCC seemed unwilling or unable to do. He found a litany of Met failures: inadequate disclosures, lost analyses and shredded documents. The Met had been misleading the Lawrences and the public as recently as 2012.

Crucially, he did not dismiss Putnam’s evidence, and concluded there was “reasonable grounds” to suspect Davidson was corrupt, not least because of his links to so many bent cops. We also learn that Davidson may have been involved in the Daniel Morgan murder investigation – another running sore for the Met which stubbornly refuses to go away.

The IPCC investigation is now discredited. It is likely that trust in the Met will plunge, again.

But what does all this tell us? What is it about the way police sometimes try to cover their tracks and close ranks? Can the police ever be trusted to investigate their own? The answer to that was an emphatic “no”, the Lawrence family lawyer Imran Khan told me last night.

The Met will have to grovel once more to the Lawrences, and promise that these dark, corrupt days are behind them. But without real, demonstrable proof of that, their apologies will fall on deaf ears.

The writer is an award-winning investigative journalist for the BBC

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine