Detectives 'should have sued Lawrence family'

Kathy Marks
Tuesday 09 June 1998 23:02
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THE former third highest-ranking officer in the Metropolitan Police said yesterday that he believed detectives should have sued Stephen Lawrence's father, Neville, for accusing them of racism.

The public inquiry also heard that former Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Osland wrote a memo to the Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, five months after Stephen was murdered, in which he said that his patience with the Lawrence family was "wearing thin".

Mr Osland, who has since retired and is now a Conservative councillor, was in charge of policing in south-east London in April 1993 when Stephen was stabbed to death by a white gang in the suburb of Eltham.

Yesterday Stephen Kamlish, counsel for the Lawrences, accused him of insensitivity in his public pronouncements on the murder investigation. He also suggested that, like another senior officer who has appeared before the inquiry, Mr Osland did not know the legal grounds on which suspects can be arrested.

Mr Kamlish referred to an interview that Mr Osland gave last December to the Croydon Advertiser, a local newspaper, after publication of a Police Complaints Authority report. The report said no evidence was found to support claims by Mr Lawrence and his wife, Doreen, that the investigation had been hampered by racism.

In the interview, Mr Osland said he was disappointed that Mr Lawrence had since repeated the allegation. "My advice to the officers concerned would be to consider legal action," he said. "The Lawrences seem happy to accept the findings of the report where it suits them, but not where it doesn't."

Asked to elaborate yesterday, he said: "There comes a time when enough is enough. The officers referred to by Mr Lawrence are identifiable. How long does it go on, was my view, how long do we have to suffer these allegations of racism?"

To jeers from a packed public gallery, he added: "I know that these officers have become quite ill as a result of these allegations. There comes a time when you want to move on, and maybe one way of sorting things out finally would be to take action against Mr Lawrence."

Mr Osland, whose comments prompted Mr Lawrence to leave the inquiry chamber, was also asked about his memo to Sir Paul Condon in September 1993. In it, he wrote: "Our patience is wearing thin on 3 Area (south-east London), not only with the Lawrence family and their representatives, but also with self-appointed public and media commentators."

Mr Kamlish asked him: "With these grieving parents, whose son had been killed five months earlier, your patience was wearing so thin that you thought you had better tell the Commissioner that?"

Mr Osland replied: "Statements were being made by the Lawrence family and their representatives which in our opinion were not helpful."

He rejected Mr Kamlish's claim that he was not aware that police needed only reasonable suspicion - and not evidence - in order to arrest suspects. But Mr Osland, who has a law degree, agreed that he had expressed the view that detectives did not have "sufficient evidence" to make arrests.

The inquiry heard that when Mr Osland was questioned by Kent police officers on behalf of the PCA, he said he believed that the arrests of the five prime suspects two weeks after the murder were "premature". Senior detectives now say that they could have arrested the youths within 48 hours and wish they had done so. The five were never convicted.

Mr Osland told Kent officers that it would have been "tenable" never to have arrested them. He said: "I felt it was not the role of police to give in to public pressure and adopt a different set of criteria because the murder happened to be racist."

The inquiry team yesterday asked the Metropolitan Police for a copy of an unpublished report that concluded that black men were more than four times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched in the street by police. Mr Kamlish questioned the police about an article that appeared in The Independent on Monday, outlining the conclusions and recommendations of the report. He said that the figures appeared to be "a matter of concern".

Last weekend, Scotland Yard indicated that there were no plans to publish the report, which was completed more than a year ago. However, yesterday a spokesman said a final draft was now being prepared and it would be published within a few weeks

The inquiry continues today.

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