Home office 'tried to scupper Stephen Lawrence inquiry', says key official
Dr Richard Stone, a leading adviser to the judge who produced the landmark Macpherson report in 1999, said he had decided to reveal his disquiet over "oddities". His comments follow news that one of the two men jailed last year for the racist murder of Lawrence has abandoned his appeal against his conviction ahead of next month's 20th anniversary of the death of the 18-year-old.
Gary Dobson, 36, was given a life sentence at the Old Bailey last year, although it has been confirmed that the second man, David Norris, 35, will continue to battle his conviction.
Although allegations of corruption clouded the initial 1993 police investigation into the murder of Lawrence, who was stabbed to death in Eltham, south London, Stone has now chosen to reveal his personal concerns about the inquiry.The Macpherson report delivered a damning assessment of the "institutional racism" in the Metropolitan Police and policing generally, a report still viewed by many as a seminal moment in British race relations.
Stone, also a member of the former Home Office working group on tackling extremism and a former president of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said that a number of incidents had led him to question if the Home Office had tried to suppress parts of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, in an apparent attempt to reduce scrutiny of the police.
He said: "The conclusion of a number of oddities that arose from decisions by the Home Office was that there was something going on, which undermined the authority of the inquiry. You come to the conclusion that, on the balance of probability, all the other excuses are invalid and there is only one thing left, and that is the corruption or the racism or whatever it is behind it all."
Among the incidents that Stone believes are dubious was an alleged attempt by Home Office officials to persuade police to cancel an "overflow" room at the building in Elephant and Castle, south London, where the inquiry hearings were held and in which the media were scheduled to monitor events. Stone learned, just before the hearings were to begin, that the media's overflow room had been cancelled on health and safety grounds, a decision Stone says that was promptly challenged and defeated.
Another instance raised by Stone was the attempted cancellation of a visit by the Macpherson inquiry to Birmingham, one of six inner-city areas that panel members intended to visit as part of its investigation into police racism.
Stone cites newly obtained correspondence showing Home Office officials said that a planned visit to the city would have to be cancelled because they could not find a venue. However, Stone said that it appeared that no approach had been made to the council seeking a venue when the decision was made to cancel the trip. When Stone tracked down a councillor in Birmingham to ask why the Lawrence inquiry was initially dissuaded from visiting, he said: "It was obvious, said [a councillor], why the inquiry was dropped, although it was later reinstated. There were murmurings in the city that the authorities didn't want the Stephen Lawrence inquiry coming to poke their noses into their affairs because they've got a lot to hide."
Other concerns include disquiet over the time it took for material relating to the inquiry to be released, despite a policy that documents should be published soon after the report to allow police trainers to analyse them and encourage good practice in UK forces. among UK forces. Yet, Stone alleges it took six years for the release of the inquiry transcripts while a number of important accompanying documents remain locked away.
"All my personal notes are still missing. I've no idea what other material has yet to be released," said Stone, who is also a former vice-chair of the Runnymede Trust, which promotes a multiethnic Britain. His comments came on the eve of publication of Hidden Stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Stone's book that will be launched this week in the House of Commons by Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's mother.
A Home Office spokesman said the Macpherson report had proved a catalyst for major improvements in policing and race issues. The department also confirmed that the results of an independent review into allegations that police corruption shielded the killers of Lawrence would be published in July.
An earlier review by the Metropolitan police concluded that its handling of the investigation could find no evidence of corruption and that the force had passed all material to the Macpherson inquiry.
The Home Office review is being handled by Mark Ellison QC, who led the prosecution case that last year saw two of the five original prime suspects, Gary Dobson and David Norris, jailed for the murder.