This blog is all that remains from the former www.londonstreetgangs.com website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.
An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Stephen Lawrence / Eltham Krays / Cover-Up / Corruption
This carries on from the following post (click here)
A bus stop in south-east London, an outburst of racist bile, which as it crossed the lips of an all-white gang of five young thugs became a sentence of death for a Black teenager and for the integrity of Scotland Yard.
Two vicious stabbing movements accomplished the murder, each calculated to shed so much blood that the victim would known by his own drenching that death was on the way.
This is a snapshot of what happened at 10.46pm on Thursday, 22 April 1993, at the request stop in Well Hall Road, Eltham; a cut-down version of events which engulfed a young man of 18 summers who, after an evening out with his friends in south-east London, was trying to return home to his mother Doreen, his father Neville, his brother Stewart and his sister Georgina.
Despite his awesome wounds and because he was so fit, Stephen Lawrence managed to run 300 yards from the thugs who had stabbed him. With each yard covered and each footfall made he was pumping blood from two severed arteries. And then he fell. Unconscious.
Though traumatised, the other victim of the attack, Stephen’s friend, Duwayne Brooks, had found a phone box. At 10:46pm he dialled 999 pleading for an ambulance. In the meantime a police car arrived. The officers checked Stephen for a pulse. But they failed to examine him thoroughly or to give first-aid. The kit was never even taken from the patrol car. Instead, they questioned Duwayne as if he was a suspect rather than a victim, as if the two Black boys had done something wrong.
In 1977, when Stephen Lawrence was 3, there were just 199 Black police officers in all of England and Wales. When he died, 15 years later, the figure had scarcely improved. None of the detectives who investigated the murder was Black. Stephen’s parents, who came from Jamaica, still wonder whether the boys’ colour shaped the police’s attitude and contributed to the failure to give first aid. “None of the police officers attending the scene made any attempt to see if there was anything they could do. They just stood there while my son bled to death. None of them checked to see how serious his injuries were, they just stood there waiting for the ambulance. Maybe there was something they could have done to save him. But the fact was they never tried. That says it all. There are two questions I would like the police to answer. Are all officers trained in basic first aid? Or was it because they just did not want to get their hands dirty with a Black man’s blood?”
Fourteen-year-old Catherine Avery was in the house just across the pavement where Stephen lay bleeding. She had no more first-aid instruction than the officers on the scene. Yet her basic Red Cross training made her realise they should have attempted to stem the flow of blood.
At 10.54pm the ambulance arrived and a paramedic tried to re-start Stephen’s heart without success. By the time he was in the recovery room Stephen had lost too much blood and his veins had collapsed. At 11.17pm the death certificate was signed.
It is strongly suspected by the police and the Lawrence family that the five murderers are: David Norris, aged 16 at the time, brothers Jamie and Neil Acourt, then aged 16 and 17 respectively, Luke Knight, 16, and Gary Dobson, 17.
Four of them lived on or very near the Brooke Estate. The five boys led a gang with a history of involvement in stabbings and racism in the area. Neil Acourt, for example, had been expelled from school for a racist attack in 1991. And five weeks before Stephen’s murder, Gurdeep Bangal was stabbed in the stomach while serving in his dad’s Wimpy Bar in Eltham High Street.
Nine months earlier, on the other side of the roundabout from the spot where Stephen was killed, Rohit Duggal, a young Asian boy, was stabbed to death outside the local kebab shop. Peter Thompson is currently serving life for this murder and he too was linked to the gang through information given to the Lawrence murder inquiry.
Sometimes ecumenical in their violence, the gang also attacked white kids. Lee Pearson, for example, was stabbed outside the local kebab shop in 1991. Eleven months before Stephen’s murder, Jamie Acourt, David Norris and Luke Knight were suspected of stabbing the Whitham brothers with a butterfly knife. David was charged with wounding and Jamie with possession of an offensive weapon. But the CPS withdrew the charges a few months before Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death, claiming it would not be in the public interest to proceed.
The gang referred to themselves as the Eltham Krays, a sad homage to the dysfunctional, homosexual gauleiters of an earlier age and another part of London.
The apprentice boys from Eltham appeared to have developed contacts with another bunch of local hoodlums called the NTO, short for the Nutty or Nazi Turn Out, a group of boneheads involved in a range of racist incidents including killings in south-east London and Kent.
By 1993, local people were giving the Eltham five another name for their gang – the Untouchables – as in someone was protecting them; as in they were thought to be able to get away with things and have some form of insurance from the local police. One way or another these five boys were completely out of control – a gang of droogs practising ever more perverted forms of ultra-violence.
Nick Jeffrey, an American-born teacher and community activist, knows the youth scene from 40 years of living in south-east London. Eleven years on he still recalls with horror the semi-literate announcement he saw soon after Stephen Lawrence’s murder. Cycling along the south circular he passed the “Welcome to Greenwich – Millennium Borough” sign and up the hill towards the churchyard was a daubing that read: “Watch out coons, you are now entering Eltham”.
“In Eltham centre, midday or midnight, you saw no Black faces on the street. The Well Hall Road McDonalds opposite the churchyard has been a known hang-out for racist youth, as was the Wimpy Bar before it”, says Nick.
His knowledge of the community comes from years of teaching at local schools and from scouting for Arsenal and Preston North End. Nick is a familiar face at the Millwall, Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic grounds. He also trained local teams and met many of the youngsters who form the gangs. Eltham, he concludes, is the front line behind which Kent, white Kent, is in aggressive retreat.
“Following the 1981 Brixton riots more inner-city clubs were formed and boys in them had to travel out for competition and for pitches. The team I managed was called Tulse Hill but it was a Brixton and Peckham Club. When we travelled to Greenwich racial abuse was common – on and off the Sunday league pitches. The Acourts’ club, Samuel Montague, began to attract racists. They expelled Neil in 1991 for a post-match knife threat allegedly against a Black boy from Red Lion, a Peckham and Deptford club. His brother Jamie, David Norris and Luke Knight left as well.
“South from the Millennium Dome and along the edges of inner London are vast low-rise, mostly all-white council estates. Yards from the bus stop where Stephen was stabbed a mixed-race family had their home petrol-bombed. Along these routes are a string of mixed-sex comprehensive schools, including the first two purpose-built in this country for the post-war influx of tenants from slum clearance. The GCSE results published for that string of schools in Greenwich are amongst the lowest in the country for boys. Truancy rates are high. Bullying and gang violence have been major issues.
Five of England’s largest pubs from Donwham to Thamesmead have been habitual meeting places of the British National Party and the National Front, each one closed for violence. The Yorkshire Grey at Eltham Green, once host to neo-Nazi organisations Bloods and Honor and Combat 18, is now...[a] McDonalds. The NF logo, however, remains the graffiti of choice – it has more punch and is easier to scratch into a school textbook. In 1990, NF was painted in letters three feet high at the Orchards Youth Club next to the Kidbrooke Estate. Neil Acourt was excluded from the club for that along with David Norris”.
Detectives call the first 60 minutes after any murder the “golden hour”. It is the period when all forensic and other clues are fresh and the chance of solving the crime is at its highest. From then on the trail starts to go cold, like the victim.
The fall of Scotland Yard began at 11.17pm on the Thursday night Stephen Lawrence died. In the following 96 hours the best chance of successfully prosecuting the murderers frittered away.
In those four days the mind-boggling inaction of a handful of senior officers would ultimately cost the Yard what reputation it had left. For the Black British population it merely re-confirmed what they already knew. But it was the loss of confidence among white middle Englanders and Daily Mail readers that rocked the police, and not just Scotland Yard. Chief constables across the country dreaded the Lawrence scandal would have ramifications for British policing in the same way the Scarman report had after the Brixton riots 12 years earlier. They were right.
The mistakes of such senior Yard detectives made the Lawrence family and their supporters question almost immediately whether this was not just another example of wilful racism but something just as sinister – police corruption.
Suspicions were raised when it emerged no officer at the scene had recorded how Duwayne Brooks had heard the attackers say, “What? What? Nigger!” As more officers arrived, the professional quality of the policing continued to decline. In all, fifty-five police officers came to the Well Hall roundabout between 10.50pm and 3am. The turnout included forty-four constables, five sergeants, one inspector, one detective inspector, once chief inspector, one detective superintendent and even, uniquely, two chief superintendents.
Despite this parade of top brass, there was a complete lack of co-ordination, with arriving senior officers barking contradictory orders at subordinates. Consequently, there was no search of the circular area around the murder scene, no house-to-house search of the Brooke Estate and no questioning in a methodical manner of the neighbours.
With good intelligence, the input of local officers who knew the area and proper direction and control, it was a realistic goal not only to identify and interview witnesses but to pinpoint suspects and try to catch the perpetrators red-handed before they could dispose of the evidence, like blood-stained clothing and the weapon, which to this day hasn’t been found. But the golden hour and the golden opportunities that went with it were squandered.
In the weekend immediately after the murder things went from tragedy to farce. Within forty-eight hours a skinhead walked into Eltham police station with remarkable information. He named the gang of five. But no one properly registered the young man as an informant and there was no swift follow-through on his vital leads. He later stated he had given his real name but officers denied this.
There were other sources that came forward to confirm what the skinhead had told the police. Maureen Smith, for example, indicated that she had high-grade information, but there was a six-day delay in interviewing her. Swifter action would have led immediately to two key witnesses, her son and his girlfriend, who could place the Acourt brothers at the murder scene. No proper attempt was subsequently made to identify and trace these two witnesses.
An anonymous letter naming the same suspects was found by a member of the public in a phone box near the murder scene and was handed to the police. Nobody bothered to immediately follow up the information. This serious mistake was compounded the following day, when on Saturday morning the police received a call from an unidentified person saying an anonymous letter with important information would be left in a waste bin near a local pub. Two police officers went in separate cars, one to search the bin, the other to observe. The officer searching the bin found nothing. But while he was out of his car his colleague across the road saw a young man sticking a note on the back window of his car. Nothing was done to approach or follow the man. Once again the letter contained vital leads and named the same gang of five.
The landmark public inquiry into these matters five yeas later put it succinctly: “The truth is that although people were reluctant to give their names there was no ‘wall of silence’. In fact information purporting to implicate the suspects was readily and repeatedly made available”.
It poured into the murder inquiry almost as quickly as the lifeblood poured out of Stephen Lawrence’s body.
The two senior officers responsible for the catalogue of errors in those first four days in April 1993 were also the detectives in charge of the highly sensitive David Norris* murder inquiry since April 1991. The careers of detective superintendent Ian Crampton and his immediate superior, detective chief superintendent Bill Ilsley, had been dominated during the intervening two years by the contract killing of the Yard’s top informant and preparing for the murder trial of four Irish Protestant suspects.
*police informant murdered in 1991, not to be confused with David Norris suspect in Stephen Lawrence case.
Crampton, a wiry south Londoner in his mid-forties, was the senior investigating officer for both the Norris and Lawrence murders. The SIO makes the vital decisions on the ground at the relevant time and is the highest-ranking detective with day-to-day involvement in running the murder inquiry. However he deferred to Ilsley, a lean, tall detective of a similar age, for all the major strategic decisions. Ilsley, as the crime manager for south-east London, in turn reported to and took his orders from the Yard.
Six days before the killing of Stephen Lawrence, the Norris murder trial started at the Old Bailey. It was therefore uppermost in the minds of both senior officers. Crampton was preparing his evidence to withstand cross-examination by four formidable defence barristers; among them was Michael Mansfield QC, who ironically would soon be representing the Lawrence family.
The Norris murder trial was going to be the biggest test of Crampton’s detective acumen in the witness box, given the enormous sensitivities he would have to circumnavigate around police informant confidentiality, the use of supergrasses and the link between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries in the dirty war in Northern Ireland.
There was also a lot the Yard felt the defence didn’t need to know. This, of course, concerned the swirl of corruption allegations around Norris and south-east London policing that emerged during Crampton’s murder inquiry, and which it appears were kept in a secret and undisclosed action book.
Ilsley had been promoted to chief superintendent one month after the assassination of Norris. Since May 1991 he had been responsible for all criminal inquiries in 3 Area, an enormous patch of south-east London from Tower Bridge to the Kent borders. His officers liaised closely with specialist detectives targeting organised crime in the region, namely the East Dulwich South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS) and the Tower Bridge office of the Flying Squad. In fact detectives on these two elite squads often came from the very areas they were targeting and when their tour of duty was over they would return to normal detective duties under the command of Ilsley at one of the twenty-five or so police stations he managed.
Crampton was on night duty when Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death. He attended the scene of the crime and early next morning spoke to Ilsley. They agreed Crampton would run the inquiry only until Monday. From then on he would be occupied with the Norris murder trial.
The two senior detectives say they made a “strategic decision” based on all the available information not to arrest the gang of five named suspects over the weekend. It was a fundamental mistake that led to withering criticism of their professional integrity and truthfulness during the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry in 1998.
Crampton never recorded in any policy file the decision not to make early arrests. Best practice required him to preserve a contemporaneous and accurate log of why certain lines of inquiry were preferred over others. The Lawrence inquiry report twice referred to the “alleged” strategic decision in terms that strongly implied Crampton and Ilsley had made this up. Such improper record keeping had echoes of the highly irregular secret action book during the Norris murder inquiry.
Ever since Stephen’s death the Yard has done its best to try and keep the two murders separate. Those who suggested a connection were simply dismissed as conspiracy theorists.
Young David Norris, the prime suspect in the Lawrence murder, had a notoriously violent criminal father called Clifford, who by the mid-eighties had become a successful player in the south-east London drug business. The local police and specialist detectives in 3 Area all knew of Clifford Norris. Police informant extraordinaire, David Norris, also knew Clifford and his circle.
Clifford Norris was born in Greenwich in 1958. He was the second son in the family. His brother, Alex, was eight years older. Both boys were teenage hoodlums who graduated to violent crime and then drug trafficking. In 1976, barely a man himself, Clifford and his then girlfriend Theresa had a baby boy. They named him David.
Clifford’s propensity for violence seemed untempered by parental responsibility and in 1983, aged 25, as he was driving along the Old Kent Road, a van cut him up. Clifford gave chase, forced the van to a halt and smashed the window with a hammer. Realising the police were on their way, he stopped and threw away his wallet which, when recovered, had inside it a key to a safety deposit box. When this was opened it contained £17,000 in cash. Clifford denied all knowledge of the money and was fined just £150 for criminal damage.
On another occasion he savagely attacked a woman shopkeeper who he believed was responsible for spreading gossip about the state of his marriage. Clifford shot her in the throat. She recovered because the bullet missed her spinal cord but wouldn’t give evidence against him. It was this shooting in 1989 that led an informant to contact Bill Ilsley and name Clifford as the culprit. But without the victims evidence the case died.
The Norris brothers had a number of criminal associates in south-east London who like them were targets of the local detectives and also the East Dulwich SERCS and Tower Bridge Flying Squad.
Alex Norris married into the French family. His new brother-in-law, Gary French, had a close escape in 1989 when he drove to a meeting with David Norris, the informant. Gary apparently spotted he was under surveillance and sped off. Details are scarce about what happened next. When the police confronted David Norris he denied knowing Gary, but told officers he was the cousin of Clifford Norris.
At the time of Gary French’s close escape, David Norris was “working” for the Central Drug Squad and East Dulwich. He was also nurturing corrupt relationships with several detectives. Clifford too had developed his own contacts in the police and there was one detective in particular with whom he was seen in highly suspicious circumstances.
In the late eighties Clifford and Alex Norris were under surveillance by a team of Customs investigators rightly convinced they were preparing a significant cannabis importation from Holland with several others. The Norris brothers had been tailed over eight months visiting a Dutchman in Switzerland and a detective from the Tower Bridge Flying Squad. Undercover Customs officers observed Clifford and Alex Norris on three occasions meeting detective sergeant Dave Coles, who was seen carrying a plastic bag with oblong slabs inside. One meeting which Customs videoed was on 20 June 1988 in the Tiger’s Head pub in Chislehurst, around the corner from the mock Tudor house Clifford had bought for his family. Coles was seen talking to Clifford, making notes and using a calculator.
To Customs it must have looked as if the two men were in business together. The next day their officers made a series of arrests as the gang unloaded a large parcel of cannabis from a lorry parked in an east London side road. Alex and Clifford were not there or at their homes when Customs arrived. They spent over a year on the run together until Alex was caught in July 1989 and received nine years. Incredibly , Clifford remained at large for another five years, unbothered, it seems, by the local police.
Customs immediately reported Coles’ meetings with Clifford to the Yard. CIB began an investigation. Coles denied he was in any way corrupt and claimed he was trying to cultivate Clifford Norris as an informant, although he had no authorisation to do so. The CIB inquiry was totally unsatisfactory – a model of mixed messages and unanswered questions that left the strong impression that the whole highly suspect liaison between Coles and Clifford Norris had been swept under the carpet by the Yard.
Coles never faced a disciplinary charge for those unauthorised meetings. A more senior officer just gave him a mild verbal rebuke, known in police terminology as “words of advice”. Instead, Coles was formally disciplined in May 1989 for falsifying his duty state on a number of occasions when he claimed to be at court, but was in fact having sex with a girlfriend. This period of dishonesty coincided with his suspicious meetings with the Norris brothers.
In mitigation to his guilty plea, Coles produced a character reference from his old boss at Bexleyheath police station. Step forward detective superintendent Ian Crampton. Coles, he wrote, was to be commended for his work and indeed his honesty. The reference showed extraordinarily bad judgement on Crampton’s part, as there was ample documentary evidence of Coles’ dishonesty. If a detective can lie on his duty state then what is he likely to do when gathering evidence against a member of the public? Coles was required to resign.
The discipline farce continued when he appealed and was reinstated the following year by an assistant commissioner, although at the reduced rank of detective constable. Nevertheless, he was still allowed to operate as a frontline detective in the very area his highly suspicious activities had taken place with Clifford Norris, who was still on the run.
Since the Lawrence scandal exploded, Crampton and Ilsley have made emphatic claims about what they knew and didn’t know in the immediate aftermath of Stephen’s murder. Crampton insists that over those four days he was in charge he never connected the prime suspect as the son of Clifford Norris. Similarly, he says he never made any connection between David Norris, the informant, and Clifford Norris, the suspects father. For his part, Ilsley says he never connected the two David Norrises during these early stages.
The Lawrence family and their lawyers have never accepted these claims. Some members of the public inquiry team also privately felt very uncomfortable about these and other aspects of the two senior detectives’ evidence.
Clifford Norris remained at large throughout the period his son became a prime suspect for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Ilsley should have taken him out of circulation. The chief superintendent accepts he was aware two days after the murder that Clifford was David Norris’s father and was wanted by Customs. But his collar was never felt.
The Coles affair only emerged much later during the public inquiry. The Lawrence family felt it further justified their suspicions that Clifford Norris had some sort of illicit protection from the cops. The Lawrence family suspected that Clifford Norris had exercised corrupt pressure on Coles, who the family and its legal team speculated may have approached senior officers to delay the arrests of young David Norris. No proof was ever produced to support this alleged chain of events. In fact, it seemed Clifford Norris was looking elsewhere, and had corruptly approached, through intermediaries, civilian witnesses who could damage his son.
Young David had stabbed another youth called Stacey Benefield four weeks before Stephen was killed. Initially Benefield declined to name his attacker to police. But on the weekend after Stephen’s death he made a statement naming David as the one who stabbed him with Neil Acourt. This, combined with the intelligence from the skinhead informant and other witnesses who’d come forward, was clearly enough to arrest David and his gang for the Lawrence murder. Crampton and Ilsley thought otherwise but never recorded their momentous decision.
Young David was eventually arrested after Benefield picked him out in a line-up in May 1993. Weeks later, he was approached in the street by an intermediary and taken to meet a man who gave him £2,000 in cash to change his account of events. The man intimated he could take care of the local police, and they parted company. Benefield was left with the strong impression he had been talking to the fugitive Clifford Norris. He spent the money but reported the approach to police.
Nevertheless, young David was acquitted later that year in highly suspicious circumstances. According to Michael Mansfield QC, the Lawrence family barrister: “...the foreman of the jury had approached David Norris prior to the verdict, to reassure him of the result and then to subsequently offer [him] employment. The juror himself was on bail for serious fraud at the time of the trial and he was later convicted of this fraud. He has also admitted a substantial connection with the London criminal underworld”.
No one dispassionately looking at the Lawrence case can blame the family for believing the worst of Scotland Yard. In the run-up to the Lawrence murder and the crucial months that followed it was covering up three highly relevant corruption allegations in three specialist police squads operating in south-east London.
The first was the Dave Coles-Clifford Norris affair at Tower Bridge Flying Squad, followed by the relationship between David Norris and the East Dulwich SERCS. The third scandal once again involved south-east London drug dealers connected to Brinks Mat gangster Kenny Noye, who included among his circle of associates people like Clifford Norris.
On 25 May 1993, the day after the collapse of the David Norris murder trial, a man in Bournemouth made an unconnected complaint against four detectives from the Surbiton office of SERCS. Two of the officers named in the complaint, detective sergeant Alec Leighton and detective constable John Donald, had been intimately involved in the Norris case. Leighton was in charge of the operation that arrested Warne and Dennison in Margate and Donald was the officer who interviewed them when they turned supergrasses and admitted their involvement with others in the murder.
The next month CIB mounted a sting operation, codenamed Zorba, against Donald, Leighton and the two other detectives. Word however leaked to the targets and the anti-corruption squad had to pull back without any success.
Then, in September, five months later after Stephen Lawrence’s death, the Yard was shown compelling evidence by BBC’s Panorama that Donald was in a corrupt relationship with a south-east London drug dealer called Kevin Cressey who he had registered a year earlier as an informant after arresting him with 55 kilos of cannabis.
Cressey decided to deal his way out of trouble by supplying information, including on the Norris murder. But under the cover of the informant handler relationship he also corruptly paid Donald for bail and for information to be passed to Kenny Noye, who although in prison at the time was believed to be behind a large cocaine shipment. To obtain further insurance, Cressey then went to Panorama and agreed to set up Donald.
CIB immediately suspended Leighton and Donald while mounting another operation codenamed Gallery into the Surbiton SERCS office and the new National Criminal Intelligence Service.
Through the BBC documentary the Lawrence family found out about corruption in Surbiton. But they knew nothing of the problems at East Dulwich, or for that matter at Tower Bridge Flying Squad. Scotland Yard needed to keep the collapsed Norris case and the Lawrence murder inquiry separate in the family’s mind. To do that they had to neutralise the growing view that corruption and collusion had taken place.
Paul Condon was only two months in the commissioners chair when he started to cop the fall-out from the defective Lawrence and Norris murder investigations.
His maiden speech in February 1993 was a touchy-feely affair about ethics and racism in the police and society at large. At a Yard organised conference on “Fairness, Community & Justice” seven weeks before Stephen’s murder, commissioner Condon talked about the need for his officers to be “totally intolerant” of race hate crimes and those who peddled racial hatred for political ends”.
Commissioner Condon told his maiden audience that racial issues presented the greatest challenge to the force. There would, he promised, be no compromise on demanding exemplary conduct from his officers. It was a standard, however, that the top cop and his circle of senior officers apparently felt did not apply to them. For within a few months of making that speech the commissioner authorised an internal investigation of the murder inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death, which was later exposed as a most cynical whitewash.
The events leading to this cover-up began when the Lawrence family met Nelson Mandela during a state visit to London on 6 May, two weeks after the murder. The South African president lent his moral and political weight...After Mandela spoke to the media, Doreen had her turn. She lambasted the police for their “patronising” treatment and the Major government for showing “no interest”.
The moral authority of Nelson Mandela eventually propelled the Yard into action. Senior officers like Ilsley admit that “external pressures” forced him to take a greater interest in the case after Crampton had left to attend the Norris murder trial. But he and the Yard still deny that the hurried decision to arrest the five prime suspects the day after Mandela’s visit was anything but “pure coincidence”.
In late July recriminations flowed when the CPS decided not to prosecute. The case was largely dependent on the identification evidence of Duwayne Brooks. However, even this became tainted following a disputed conversation with a detective who was escorting Brooks to the line-up. The detective alleged Brooks had admitted being coached by friends ahead of the identification parade about the Acourt brothers’ physical appearance. Duwayne said the detective was lying.
The CPS had also relied on legal advice that although the five suspects were more than likely the culprits, there was no realistic chance of a successful prosecution on the available evidence. This of course was clearly down to the bungled police investigation.
By mid-summer, increasing dissatisfaction with the Yard’s response to the killing of Stephen Lawrence had become a key community issue, with demonstrations being prepared. This annoyed Ilsley’s immediate boss, deputy assistant commissioner David Osland, who wrote to Condon complaining that the patience of his detectives on 3 Area was “wearing thin” with the Lawrence family and “self-appointed public and media commentators”. Some of these busybodies included elected local MPs like the Tory left-winger, Peter Bottomley, and Labour backbencher Paul Boateng, who both sought reassurances from the commissioner. However, even Osland eventually realised the murder inquiry was getting nowhere, and began thinking up “a way to placate the influential people in the local community”.
Six officers were approached to give him the tools to make good this placation. But every one of them declined the poisoned chalice, until detective chief superintendent John Barker stepped forward. Although the last to be approached, Barker agreed to conduct a confidential internal review of the murder inquiry.
Osland commissioned the now infamous Barker Review with Condon’s prior approval. The commissioner had told the Lawrence family he was keeping a close personal eye on the situation. The review began in September 1993 and took Barker ten weeks to complete. The commissioner saw it in November and signed it off. It was as short in length as it was self-serving and convenient in its conclusions. Barker concluded that the Lawrence murder inquiry had “progressed satisfactorily” with “all lines of inquiry being correctly pursued”.
The cover-up mentality was so deeply ingrained in the Yard that Barker even considered creating two different versions of the report. One would be for internal consumption. The other, a phoney, much more anodyne alternative, would exist for disclosure to the Lawrence family and their legal advisors should they ever sue. But in the end Barker and Osland didn’t proceed with this misleading strategy, creating instead only one flawed and unprofessional document that gave the murder investigation an entirely unwarranted clean bill of health.
Crampton, Ilsley, Osland and other senior officers had all seen the final draft of the Barker Review and failed to point out its wholesale untruthfulness. Of course they claimed that was because the murder inquiry, in their view, was not incompetent. This self-delusion would in all likelihood have persisted today had the Lawrence family not complained and triggered a PCA-supervised (Police Complaints Authority) investigation in 1997.
The Kent detectives who examined the Barker Review on behalf of the PCA felt it was “misleading”; gave reassurance, which was “undeserving and highly damaging”; and did “nothing to re-focus the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation”. Indeed, the PCA/Kent report specified 28 shortcomings in the initial investigation that had been missed or suppressed by the Barker Review.
The family’s barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, would later submit to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry that the Barker Review demonstrated “the capacity and propensity of senior officers to collude with each other to manipulate and engineer a desired result”. The inquiry report put it another way: “The Review provided a convenient shelter to those involved. The failure of all senior officers to detect the flaws in [it] is to be deplored”.
The Barker Review was a multi-layered cover-up, not just a whitewash of police incompetence during what had become a cause celebre Black murder. The Home Office under Michael Howard was hardly concerned about the effect of the case on Britain’s race relations – which is why he consistently ignored calls for a public inquiry. The real concern was how the Lawrence case threatened to undermine the confidence of middle Englanders in the Major governments political project of a rehabilitated Scotland Yard efficaciously fighting the war on crime.
The Barker Review was the dishonest document the government and the Yard could point to over the next four years, like a fake environmental health certificate on the greasy wall of a backstreet kebab shop. It was also commissioner Condon’s official imprimatur that corruption was not a problem, when his inner circle was telling him this was definitely not the case.
In other words the setting up of the Ghost Squad in the late 1993 began with a deceit that would mark the commissioners period in office for the next seven years.
The Lawrence scandal was undoubtedly one of the chief reasons the anti-corruption initiative was launched covertly. For the next four years the secret strategy was one of containment. The Yard’s corruption problem was not publicly admitted until 1997 by which time a small cabal of senior officers and spin doctors had worked out how bad it was and how the damage could be limited and the fall-out managed.
So it was that in the spring of 1994, commissioner Condon met the Lawrence family and their legal team at Scotland Yard to discuss the Barker Review. He looked Neville and Doreen Lawrence in the eyes and assured them with all the solemnity he could muster for the occasion that his officers had done everything they could. The Barker Review said so.
A few weeks later, Paul Condon was made a knight of the realm.
Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn (2004) excerpts from pages 149-164
See also Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report 2007 (click here)