Sunday 18 February 2018

Former Scotland Yard chief denies Lawrence smear campaign

Undated family handout photo of Stephen Lawrence
Undated family handout photo of Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence's mother Doreen Lawrence alongside Stephen's father Neville (right) and brother Stuart (left)

Joe Churcher, Sam Lister and David Mercer

EX-Scotland Yard chief Lord Condon said he never "authorised or condoned" any smear operation against the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence as David Cameron demanded an inquiry.

The former Commissioner, whose time at the head of the force was dominated by the case, said he was "shocked and dismayed" by allegations made by a former undercover officer.

Peter Francis, who reportedly posed as an anti-racist activist in the mid-1990s, said he came under "huge and constant pressure" to "hunt for disinformation" to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder.

Scotland Yard says it is "not prepared to confirm or deny" the truth of the claims, which surfaced as a result of a joint investigation into undercover policing by the Guardian and Channel 4's Dispatches programme, to be broadcast tonight.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister believes Scotland Yard has "very serious questions" to answer and Home Secretary Theresa May will give further details of the demanded investigation in an emergency statement to the Commons later.

London Mayor Boris Johnson condemned as "utterly disgraceful" the activities described by Mr Francis, who says he was told to dig up "dirt" shortly after the 18-year-old was killed in a racist attack in April 1993.

Mr Francis said he was also asked to target the friend who witnessed the murder and campaigners angry at the failure to bring his killers to justice.

In a statement, Lord Condon said such actions - and the keeping of them from the Macpherson Inquiry into the case which found the Met guilty of institutional racism - would be "clearly wrong".

"I am shocked and dismayed by the allegations made by the former undercover police officer Peter Francis," he said.

"I am aware how distressing these allegations must be for Mr and Mrs Lawrence, and I am anxious they should know the truth as soon as possible.

"Throughout the time I was Commissioner I was never aware of, nor did I authorise or condone any police officers being tasked to smear Mr and Mrs Lawrence in the way suggested by Peter Francis.

"Nor was I ever aware of the deliberate withholding of relevant information from the judicial inquiry headed by Lord Justice Macpherson. Any such actions would have been clearly wrong.

"I am aware in recent decades that brave undercover officers have helped prevent terrorism, disrupt organised crime and reduce the likelihood of life-threatening serious public order in London. In my time as Commissioner, I was able to meet and thank some of these officers.

"I am anxious that the truth of these allegations should be established as soon as possible and I will do all in my power to help that process.

"I hope any review will also establish a clearer legislative framework for the legal, ethical and moral challenges faced by undercover officers and their senior officers."

Jack Straw, who as home secretary commissioned the Macpherson report, is to refer the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Mr Lawrence, an aspiring architect, was stabbed to death by a group of up to six white youths in an unprovoked racist attack as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham, south east London.

In January 2012 Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of being involved in the attack and sentenced to life imprisonment, after a forensic review of the case found significant new scientific evidence on clothing seized from their homes following the murder.

Mr Lawrence's mother, Doreen, told the Guardian: "Out of all the things I've found out over the years, this certainly has topped it."

She added: "Nothing can justify the whole thing about trying to discredit the family and people around us."

The Prime Minster's official spokesman said Mrs May would set out "how best we believe the recent allegations should be responded to" to ensure it had the confidence of both the family and the public.

"It is very important there is a process that can command the confidence of Stephen Lawrence's family and the public," he said.

"There are very urgent questions that need answering."

Mr Johnson revealed that had "lengthy" discussions with present Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe about the allegations on Friday.

"I think it is utterly disgraceful that the Metropolitan Police Service were engaged in this kind of activity whether it is surveillance or trying to discredit the campaign to vindicate the memory of Stephen Lawrence," he said.

"It is very important that the family of Stephen Lawrence get answers to what I think is an absolutely deplorable series of allegations as soon as possible."

A Met Police spokesman said: "The claims in relation to Stephen Lawrence's family will bring particular upset to them and we share their concerns."

He added: "The Met must balance the genuine public interest in these matters with its duty to protect officers and former officers who have been deployed undercover, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

"We are therefore not prepared to confirm nor deny the identity of individuals alleged in the media to have been working undercover, nor confirm nor deny the deployment of individuals on specific operations."

The then leaders of the group infiltrated by the officer - Youth Against Racism in Europe - called for a "real democratic independent inquiry" including trade unionists and campaigners into the "terrible and shocking" claims.

They said Mr Francis worked his way into their group over several years using the name Pete Daley.

Socialist Party deputy general secretary Hannah Sell, who was then national secretary of YRE, said: "All previous experience shows that an investigation by the police or individuals appointed by the government will result in another cover-up.

"Francis himself says he wanted to report what he had done to the Macpherson inquiry, but was prevented from doing so by senior officers.

"We demand a real democratic independent inquiry, made up of representatives from the trade union movement and the anti-racist and environmental protest groups that have suffered infiltration.

"Such an inquiry must not be limited to the role of the police, but also look at where the orders came from and the role of the government."

She said surveillance of such groups was not a thing of the past and had "increased dramatically in the recent period".

"New 'Pete Daley's' will be sent to infiltrate anti-racist campaigns and left wing organisations to try and cut across protest. They will not succeed.

"But questions about whose interests the police act in, alongside demands for them to be made democratically accountable, will be an important aspect of future campaigns."

Lois Austin, Socialist Party member and national chair of YRE at the time, said there was "no purpose to infiltrating YRE" which was open about its activities and said the only "success" previously claimed by Mr Francis was finding an anti-BNP march would be bigger than expected.

In fact YRE had "repeatedly told the police that the demonstration, following four racist murders within two miles of the BNP HQ, would be huge".

"We wanted to march peacefully past the BNP bunker. The police response was to refuse to allow us to march at all, and to carry out an incredibly brutal attack on peaceful young people using their democratic right to protest," they said.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the investigation had to be both rapid and independent of the police.

Labour complained last year that a review into allegations of corruption in the case was to be carried out by the barrister who led the successful prosecutions of Norris and Dobson rather than the IPCC.

Part of Mark Ellison QC's remit is whether there is any evidence any officer acted corruptly in the initial investigation and whether the original Macpherson Inquiry was provided with all the relevant material.

A review by officers from the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards found that no investigations, nor the inquiry, uncovered evidence of corruption or collusion which could have hampered or influenced the original or subsequent investigations.

It also found that the force disclosed all material relating to ''adverse information'' it had and that there was no other material known to be held by the force which suggested that corruption or collusion impacted on the initial investigation into Mr Lawrence's murder.

Ms Cooper said there had been no update on the Ellison review and told BBC Radio 4's The World at One there might need to be "a pursuant investigation as opposed to simply having a lawyer review the evidence".

Mr Francis claims he was behind evidence that led to Duwayne Brooks - the close friend of Stephen Lawrence who was the main witness to the killing - being arrested and charged in October 1993. The case was thrown out by a judge.

Macpherson Inquiry panel member Richard Stone said the information "would have helped us enormously" particularly over Mr Brooks.

"He was arrested months after a demo. The other people who were arrested were arrested immediately after the demo.

"It was three months before they arrested Duwayne and that was just before he was going to come as a witness to the Stephen Lawrence investigation."

He told BBC Radio 4: "We found such a level of incompetence and failure in every decision from the bottom of the police service to the very top.

"Sir Paul Condon, now Lord Condon, employed a senior officer, a chief inspector, to do a review after a year of the first investigation and he came out saying it was a wonderful, marvellous review and everything was wonderful in house.

"But he missed a whole load of very bad information."

Tory peer Lord Howard, who became home secretary shortly after the murder, said the allegations were "appalling" and should be investigated without delay.

He said he had "absolutely no idea" at the time that such things were allegedly going on and would have acted on them if he had.

Press Association

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