Had he lived, Stephen Lawrence would have been celebrating his 40th birthday this year. We do not know how his promising life would have turned out, but we do know that the decades since his murder have been a bleak, bleak tale of official incompetence interrupted only by the taint of corruption and racism. What is so troubling about it is that it has taken such concentrated efforts by successive home secretaries and prime ministers to get anywhere near the truth over such a long period of time.
How many cases like Stephen’s – racially aggravated assaults and victimisation short of murder, and even murders and manslaughters too – have seen the criminals get away with it because of the “institutional racism” of the police? We need look no further for why so many in the black community feel that this country treats them as second-class citizens, at best, and why they still view the police as an alien, oppressive, hostile force, especially in London. The growth of gang culture, the riots of 2011 and the Duggan case – now assuming some of the aspects of the Lawrence case – have to be set in that context. We should not still be in a situation where employment of black and Asian officers is too low, their promotion prospects seem limited and disproportionate numbers of black people are the subjects of stop-and-search procedures.
This latest report confirms further aspects of the case that shame the police and officialdom. There was the despicable spying on his grieving parents by the police themselves, with a view to discrediting their quest for justice, smearing them with imaginary extreme political connections – even during the Macpherson inquiry that sought to investigate the very malpractice being perpetrated by officers of the law: an ugly irony. Then there is what is described in Mark Ellison QC’s report as the “enhanced suspicion” that police officers were under the corrupt influence of Clifford Norris, a serious criminal in his own right and father to murder suspect David Norris. It would be naive to the point of absurdity to suppose that that was the sole unsavoury relationship between the police and the criminal world at the time, or now.
This newspaper also has particular cause to highlight another appalling discovery: the cursory nature of the inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Authority, which challenged some of our reporting on the Lawrence case. We reported some years ago the suspicion that former detective John Davidson may have acted corruptly during the investigation, and that suspicion has been echoed in this report. We hope the IPCC will set the matter straight.
So now we have another home secretary announcing another inquiry. At the end of this next chapter we should move closer to justice, and to determining what went wrong with so many of the previous inquiries that were supposed to set matters straight. The Lawrences are to go through the mill once again. That they have the resolve and the strength to do so is a testament to them as loving, brave, determined parents and citizens. What is equally, dismally apparent is that it is Stephen’s family and friends who are serving a life sentence, and that too many of those responsible for their anguish remain at liberty. For now.