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Stephen Lawrence

Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on whether she will establish a public inquiry into recent allegations that corruption within the Metropolitan police force interfered with the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

May I first apologise to the House for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who is overseas on Government business?

It is a matter of deep regret that it took 19 years to achieve convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In the years since he was murdered, the Lawrence family fought tirelessly for justice and, without their efforts, it is unlikely that either Gary Dobson or David Norris would have been convicted. I hope that the verdicts in January will finally have delivered some comfort to the Lawrence family.

Allegations of corruption in the murder investigation have been looked at on two previous occasions. They were examined by the Macpherson inquiry, which concluded that

“no collusion or corruption is proved to have infected the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.”

The allegations were also looked at by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2006, which again was unable to find any corruption in the original murder investigation. Following the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris, further allegations of corruption have come to light. As a result, the solicitor acting on behalf of Mrs Lawrence has written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asking her to set up a public inquiry.

Allegations of police corruption must always be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. It is essential that we ensure that the actions and behaviours of any corrupt police officers do not undermine public confidence in the police’s ability to respond to, investigate and fight crime. The Metropolitan police are currently carrying out an internal review into these corruption allegations and we await their findings. I would like to reassure Members of the House that my right hon. Friend is treating these issues with the utmost seriousness. She is currently considering her decision and has offered to meet Doreen Lawrence to discuss the issues further. My right hon. Friend will keep the House updated.

I welcome the Minister’s statement, as far as it goes. The murder of Stephen Lawrence, and his family’s campaign for justice, led to the Macpherson inquiry, which was a landmark for policing in this country. One of Macpherson’s conclusions that remains in doubt relates to whether police corruption hampered the inquiry into Stephen’s murder. We have now seen fresh evidence that might call that conclusion into question.

Over the past two months, I have tabled questions on two occasions but have been fobbed off with holding answers. Yesterday, however, reports in the press that had clearly been sanctioned by the Home Office suggested that the Home Secretary had told the Lawrence family that she shared their concerns. If that is the case, can we take it that the Minister accepts that there is evidence of police corruption that is worthy of further inquiry?

There is also speculation that one of the Secretary of State’s reasons for not setting up an inquiry is cost, and it has been stated that there could be swifter and cheaper ways of dealing with the matter. According to reports, the police have taken six weeks and still cannot confirm whether all the relevant documents relating to Operation Russell were sent to the inquiry. In the light of that, will the Minister tell us what constitutes “swift” in the context of an inquiry? We cannot have any more bluster and delay. There has been far too much since the moment Stephen Lawrence was murdered.

Stephen’s family are asking for an inquiry into this matter. Will the Minister now answer my questions? Does he accept that only an independent, public inquiry will satisfy public concerns over the new allegations? Does he also accept that, as there has already been too much delay, such an inquiry should be expedited as quickly as possible, either by reconvening the Macpherson inquiry or by setting up a new inquiry team to follow on with its work?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and underline the seriousness we attach to the current allegations. The Home Secretary is looking very closely at this matter, but wishes the Metropolitan police’s internal review into the current allegations to conclude to inform her determination of what next steps are appropriate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those investigations should be carried out by the Metropolitan police swiftly in order to inform further consideration of whether a public inquiry is or is not appropriate.

I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that this matter will be looked at speedily and closely by the Home Secretary, who will continue to have discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is essential to have trust and confidence in the policing provided within London and in the rest of the country. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Home Office has not sought in any way to brief this out, and that any decisions made by the Home Secretary should be reported to this House first. I can assure him that this matter will be dealt with entirely appropriately to provide the necessary reassurance on this significant matter—to him, to his constituents and to the Lawrence family.

I hope that my hon. Friend will, in time, be able to give fuller replies to the questions put by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), to whom I pay tribute, along with John Austin, for calling for the original inquiry.

I suggest that the Home Secretary or my hon. Friend consult the original commission—including John Sentamu, now Archbishop of York, and Dr Richard Stone—and acknowledge that, although we recognise that possible criminal proceedings may follow in this case, it was possible for criminal convictions to take place after the original Macpherson inquiry.

We all know that most police want to nick criminals and bring them to justice, and that most police officers are not racist by institutional or any other means, but those who are need to discover that the time has gone when the colour of someone’s skin should be viewed as more important than the colour of their eyes or their hair.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s last comment: racism has no part and no place in the policing of our country. I pay tribute to the important steps that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has taken in underlining that message and to some of the actions that he is already taking to ensure that that message on policing in London is sent out loud and clear, including the introduction of CCTV cameras into some vehicles to provide greater transparency and accountability. These are issues that the Home Secretary is taking into careful consideration. As I said, she wishes the response of the current corruption investigations conducted by the Metropolitan police to be reported to her; she will then be able to determine the appropriate next steps in that regard.

The Minister has confirmed the evidence given by the Home Secretary to the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning on this very point. Doreen Lawrence has written to me and other members of the Committee about the issue of an inquiry. What concerns me is the fact that the inquiry conducted by the Metropolitan police is an internal one. In order to satisfy the public and all those Members who have been aware of this issue over a long period, would it not be better if this were conducted not by an external force, but by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, so that the Lawrence family can feel that a proper look has been taken before the issue of a public inquiry can be decided on?

The appropriate course of action is for the Metropolitan police to conclude its current investigations appropriately, but as speedily as is practicable. Following the receipt of that report, the Home Secretary will determine what further action may be appropriate to give necessary reassurance about the process to the family and to the community. My right hon. Friend will then consider whether a public inquiry is or is not appropriate in the light of the responses she receives from the Metropolitan police.

The whiff of corruption has long hung over the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and I hope very much that, as a result of these inquiries, the truth about just how incompetently it was conducted will finally emerge. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that having faced the charge of institutional racism, the Metropolitan police have risen to the challenge and have left no stone unturned in trying to bring the killers finally to justice, and does he share my confidence that this inquiry will be expedited with accuracy?

I think we should recognise the steps that have been taken since the Macpherson inquiry to try to root out racism in the Metropolitan police and, indeed, in other police forces, but there is clearly more to be done. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said recently:

“We have a duty to challenge or report any behaviour by colleagues which is less than the high standard demanded by the service and Londoners themselves”.

He added:

“ You cannot avoid that duty. Nor can I."

He also said:

“I will not stand for any racism or racists in the Met.”

I entirely endorse that message.

I welcome the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), and also his persistent campaigning and determination to secure justice for Stephen Lawrence on behalf of his family.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack 19 years ago on Sunday. The country was shocked both by the murder and by the failure of the initial investigation to bring Stephen’s murderers to justice. It is only the determination and dignity of the Lawrence family that has persisted, and has led to the two recent convictions.

Two new allegations of police corruption in the original inquiry have been reported in the media. Those allegations are very serious. The first is that information on corruption was available, but was not passed on to the Macpherson inquiry. The second is that additional witness testimony about corruption in the original inquiry is now available, and must be looked at afresh.

I urge the Home Secretary to go further than simply organising an internal Met review. The new information should be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission immediately so that it can pursue a full criminal investigation of the allegations. I also support the call by Doreen Lawrence, and by my hon. Friend, for a public inquiry, perhaps through a reconvening of the Macpherson inquiry. We need to know not simply whether criminal corruption was involved, but whether information was withheld from the original inquiry and whether that has implications for the inquiry’s conclusions. A public inquiry could also take the opportunity to review the progress that has been made in implementing the 70 recommendations of the Macpherson report.

There have been progress and change over the last decade, but people are still rightly concerned about the recent serious allegations of racism against individual officers, which are now being investigated. The Minister quoted the new commissioner, who has rightly made clear his determination that there should be zero tolerance of racism in the Met and, of course, any force. In support of his work, a new inquiry could review the progress that has been made and could also make further recommendations.

Confidence in the police must be complete, and the mistakes of the past cannot be left to fester. We owe it to Stephen’s memory to ensure that these allegations are investigated in full now.

I welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s recognition of some of the important steps that have been taken since the initial Macpherson inquiry. I think it essential for us to emphasise that racism has no place or part in modern policing, and to be robust in confronting issues of corruption.

It is notable that some of the more recent claims, cases and allegations involving racism in the police have come from within the force itself. That, I think, underlines the fact that the police are taking these issues much more seriously, and are ensuring that officers who engage in unacceptable behaviour are dealt with appropriately.

The right hon. Lady has identified some of the serious new allegations made about the original Macpherson inquiry and also about the availability of information or otherwise. It is precisely those matters that the Metropolitan police are examining. The Home Secretary is awaiting their response before considering any appropriate next steps and whether a public inquiry is needed to give the necessary reassurance to the Lawrence family, the community and the public. It is therefore appropriate that the investigation be undertaken appropriately, but also with due speed, to ensure that we can take the necessary action and that the necessary support and safeguards are put in place. We therefore look forward to receiving that report from the Metropolitan police, so that the Home Secretary can then determine what is appropriate in the context of the next steps.

Order. I am keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues, but doing so requires brevity, both in questions and in answers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital for public confidence in the Metropolitan police that any instances of racist behaviour by individuals in the organisation should be dealt with and be seen to be dealt with?

I absolutely agree, which is why the cases are being considered by the Metropolitan police. Also, there are separate, ongoing investigations into other allegations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, it is important that we take broader steps to deal with issues of corruption. The Government have set in train a number of inquiries and reports, and we shall be following through on that, underlining the point that if such incidents are not dealt with appropriately, they undermine the very confidence in the police service that we all want to enable it to get on with the job of protecting our communities.

The Minister will be aware that the circumstances of the death of Stephen Lawrence echo down the years. He will know—and I remember—that in the early years after the death, it was impossible to get interest in the case, either in this House or in the media. In fact, the then Conservative Government refused an inquiry over and over again. Given the history of this case and the slowness of the past Government to act on it, does the Minister agree that in order to give closure to the Lawrence family, affirm the importance of public confidence in the police, and say to the wider society, “Racist violence and collusion with racist violence in these current, difficult economic circumstances will not be tolerated,” it is important that the coalition Government should bring forward an inquiry in which everybody can have confidence?

I accept the hon. Lady’s general points about the need for public assurance. Our judgment is that it is appropriate for the Metropolitan police to investigate the current allegations of corruption, and that once that has been provided, it is absolutely right and proper for the Home Secretary to look at that and consider whether a public inquiry is or is not required to provide the necessary reassurance to the public.

We must listen to the Lawrence family. They have lived with the tragic death of their son and with police incompetence for nearly 20 years. Will the Minister comment on whether a public inquiry might also need to consider earlier cases of police corruption, such as that involving Daniel Morgan?

I certainly pay tribute to the work of the Lawrence family. As I think I said in my opening response, I am sure that if it were not for their tireless fight for justice, we would not have seen the convictions that we have. I do not want to speculate on what the response may be once we see the outcome of the response from the Metropolitan Police Service. However, let me say to my right hon. Friend that the Government take the issue of corruption in the police service extremely seriously. That is why we have established the Leveson inquiry, why the Home Secretary commissioned the Independent Police Complaints Commission to provide a report on corruption in the police service, and why she commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships.

Will the Minister update the House on investigations involving the other defendants in the original trial? Will he also say why the Home Secretary has such confidence in an internal review given all that has happened in the Met in relation to allegations of corruption, and why in this case it is not thought that the IPCC should be engaged in any review?

In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, what I can say is that the police have been very clear that investigations in relation to this matter continue, and it is right and proper that all appropriate lines of inquiry are followed through. I say in response to his second question that I think it is appropriate for the Metropolitan Police Service to be able to look at this matter and provide a response, and then for the Home Secretary to determine what the next steps should be.

The vast majority of serving Metropolitan police officers abhor racism in all its forms, but clearly there are still pockets of concern. What discussions have taken place with the commissioner on protecting whistleblowers who bring such matters to the attention of senior police officers, because officers must be protected and feel confident about reporting misdeeds?

My hon. Friend makes an important point: police officers should be able to air their concerns and be confident that those matters will be dealt with appropriately. A number of recent cases have been brought as a direct consequence of reports being made by police officers. I hope that that will continue and give confidence that if matters of this kind are referred, appropriate action will be taken clearly and robustly.

While recognising both the progress that has been made in the Metropolitan police since the Macpherson inquiry and the determination of the current commissioner to root out corruption and racism in the Met, as a south-east London MP—whose constituency is very close to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who raised the urgent question, and in whose constituency Stephen Lawrence was murdered—the Minister will, I am sure, recognise that the legacy of this case has had a corrosive effect on the local community’s confidence in the integrity of the police, and that nothing less than a genuinely independent examination of these latest allegations will suffice.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am under no illusions as to the impact this appalling case has had within the south-east London community, and more broadly, and the need for proper examination. That is what is happening in the current corruption investigation that the Metropolitan police are undertaking. We judge it to be appropriate for that to be followed through, and for the report on that to go to the Home Secretary and for the Home Secretary to decide what steps might then be appropriate in the light of that report.

In my constituency, many young people from the black and minority ethnic community do not believe the police force is their police force. One of the principal reasons is that they think racism still manifests itself in a minority of police officers. Regardless of the Home Secretary’s deliberations and decisions, does the Minister agree that the true cost that should be paid is for senior police officers to get hold of these individuals and sack them for gross misconduct?

Any allegations that have been made should be investigated properly and thoroughly, and anyone found to be responsible for wrongdoing should be dealt with in the firmest and most robust way. I think it is appropriate that matters are allowed to be investigated, but I do not in any way underestimate the seriousness of the issues at hand, the need for matters to be resolved speedily and the need for the public to have the necessary confidence in the police.

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)? What we do not want is a rerun of what occurred after the murder, when all attempts to get an inquiry were dismissed. I was one of those who, along with my hon. Friend, was urging such an inquiry at the time. Was not the inquiry set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) fully justified? Just imagine what the position would have been if it had not been established. I hope the Home Secretary will seriously consider the latest requests from the family.

Certainly I recognise the very important recommendations made as a consequence of the Macpherson inquiry. As I have said, the police service has taken really important steps since then to deal with racism in the police. The police service is not institutionally racist, but further steps do need to be taken. The lead that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has provided on this in his recent statements should be followed throughout the police service across the country.

Given how long it took to bring Stephen’s killers to justice, is it not important that we get swift answers to these latest allegations in a way that instils public confidence, not just for the sake of Stephen’s family, but because of the urgent need to build confidence in our police among black and minority ethnic communities and because a single allegation of corruption or racism against one officer undoes all the good work that so many officers do on our streets?

My hon. Friend has, again, made a very important point about the impact that allegations of corruption have on confidence in our police. This is why the Home Secretary takes these current allegations extremely seriously. In this broader context, it is also why she has set in train a number of steps to provide assurance on these issues. Obviously relevant inquiries have been undertaken in respect of corruption to provide recommendations so that we can all have that confidence in our policing. So many good police officers are out there doing a difficult job day in, day out, and it is important that these matters are dealt with appropriately so that their work is recognised and they can get on with their job.

Is not the principal allegation currently that the Russell report, which investigated the behaviour of a key police officer in the original matters, was not given to the inquiry members? As the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has pointed out, it is possible to ask current inquiry members whether they got that report. Given that the allegation is that the Metropolitan police were able to suborn a public inquiry, I am deeply concerned at the extent to which the Minister seems to think it is all right to leave the timetable in the hands of the police. Can he reassure the House on this?

I certainly can reassure the hon. Lady as to the absolute seriousness with which the Home Secretary takes this matter; I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be having further discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the timing of the investigations, in recognition of the public concern attached to this.

On a day when some parts of the media have not necessarily had the most cordial of exchanges with politicians, would the Minister like to put on the record, with me, the thanks of many hon. Members for the work of the Daily Mail in campaigning for justice for Stephen Lawrence and his family, and trying to stamp out racism?

As I said, the tireless work of the Lawrence family in seeking to bring about justice has been extraordinary, and I know that others have campaigned tirelessly in support of them. Obviously, convictions have been secured and investigations continue in relation to this appalling crime. I very much look forward to the police’s further work in seeking to follow all appropriate lines of inquiry in their continuing investigations into the Lawrence murder.

Is not the nub of the issue the fact that communities often do not feel that the police are accountable to them? What measures are the Government taking to improve police accountability?

As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are taking a number of different steps to create greater professionalism within the police service with the establishment of the new police professional body to lead work to develop professionalism and set standards for the service. Obviously, we will also look to the introduction of police and crime commissioners later this year to provide more direct accountability between the public and the police and to ensure that the police remain in close connection with the communities they seek to serve.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has got the message from London MPs and from others that although we absolutely applaud the new commissioner’s robust attitude, everybody now wants the new Mayor, whoever that will be, and the commissioner to refer independently for assessment the continuing racist allegations as regards the Lawrence case as well as other racist allegations? Does he agree that the best thing the Government can do is to ensure that every one of our 43 police forces in England and Wales better reflects the community it serves, particularly in the ethnic mix at the highest level?

My right hon. Friend has highlighted the point about the need for the police service to reflect the diversity in our communities. Although the proportion of black and minority ethnic officers has more than doubled since 2000, there is clearly more work to be done, particularly among the more senior ranks. We are examining whether direct entry or quicker progression might be able to assist in that regard. I can assure him that these matters are considered with the utmost seriousness by the Home Secretary and by me. Let me make it absolutely clear: racism and corruption have absolutely no part to play in our police service.