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Stephen Lawrence

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012


My Lords, I beg leave to repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime and Security to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“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 are able to finally deliver 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’.

They 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 honourable 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 is currently carrying out an internal review into these corruption allegations and we await its findings. I would like to reassure Members that my right honourable friend is treating these issues with the utmost seriousness. She is currently considering her decision and has offered to meet Doreen Lawrence to discuss these issues further. She will keep the House updated”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for repeating the Urgent Question in another place as a Statement in your Lordships’ House. I echo his remarks and regret that it has taken so long to achieve convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Like the noble Lord, I also pay tribute to the Lawrence family for their tireless efforts to seek justice.

The House will know that during the investigation by the Metropolitan Police five suspects were arrested but not convicted. During the investigation many suggested that the murder was racially motivated and that the handling of the case by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service was affected by issues of race. After widespread concern, a public inquiry was held, led by Sir William Macpherson. This examined the original Metropolitan Police investigation and concluded that the force was institutionally racist.

As the Minister said, allegations of corruption in the murder investigation have been looked at on at least two previous occasions. They were looked at first by the Macpherson inquiry itself, which concluded that no collusion or corruption was proved to have infected the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. Then in July 2006 the IPCC announced that it had asked the Metropolitan Police to look into alleged claims of police corruption that may have helped to hide the killers of Stephen Lawrence. In 2007, the IPCC said that it had found no evidence to substantiate these allegations. However, within weeks of the convictions earlier this year, the issue of corruption in the Lawrence case surfaced again when the Independent made allegations about a detective in the Lawrence case which had previously been made in the Guardian in 2002 and by the BBC in 2006.

Doreen Lawrence has called on the Home Secretary to order a second public inquiry into the police investigation of the murder of her son. The call for a Macpherson 2 comes as the Metropolitan Police has said that it has been unable, after a month of investigation, to establish whether it passed potentially crucial files detailing investigations by its anti-corruption command to the police inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death held in 1998.

Those are some of the contexts in which we consider the Government’s response today, and I should like to ask the noble Lord a number of questions. He said that the Metropolitan Police is currently carrying out an internal review into these corruption allegations. Can he give me any indication of when that review is likely to be concluded? In view of the need for public confidence in any internal inquiry before consideration is given to a wider public inquiry, given that it is currently an internal review and given the current state of concern about these issues in relation to the Metropolitan Police, does the Minister consider that some assistance from HMIC might be appropriate? Does he accept that only an independent inquiry is ultimately likely to give the public confidence?

We understand that the Home Secretary is, as the Minister said, considering this matter at the moment but there has been an indication that one of her concerns is cost. Can the noble Lord assure me that cost will not be a factor when the Home Secretary comes to order an inquiry? Does he also accept that there are very powerful reasons for holding such an inquiry, including the seriousness of the allegations, the fact that they have recurred on a number of occasions and that the Inquiries Act 2005 states that inquiries should be held if particular events have caused or are capable of causing public concern? I suggest that that threshold may well have been reached.

If there is to be an inquiry—either a continuation of Macpherson or a new public inquiry—I should also like to ask the Government whether they will consider adding to its terms of reference consideration of progress made by the Metropolitan Police following the Macpherson finding of institutional racism and whether further changes need to be made in the light of more recent racism allegations, which I think will be the subject of an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House very soon.

Perhaps I may also refer the Minister to a number of comments made by my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper in relation to the wider allegations of alleged racism involving Metropolitan Police officers reported in recent weeks. It is very important that the IPCC carries out a swift investigation of this. She has also suggested an urgent referral to the IPCC of new information regarding alleged corruption at the time of the original police inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I should also say that we on these Benches give full support for the efforts of the commissioner and commend his response to the recent allegations, including operational changes. There would, I think, be some real benefit if one saw Macpherson reconvened with the specific remit of investigating the corruption but also looking at the progress that the Met has made in tackling racism in the light of recent allegations and in the context of the stance that the commissioner has taken in recent weeks.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support for the commissioner in these matters, and I am also grateful that he stressed that we have already had two reports—from Macpherson and the IPCC—both of which were unable to find any corruption in the original inquiry. However, obviously that does not mean that we should not look again at these matters and that is why in this Statement, made in response to a Question, we made it clear that initially the Met will hold an internal review. The noble Lord asked when it will conclude. Obviously I cannot give him an answer to that. If it is to be an internal review, it would not be appropriate for me, the Home Secretary or any other Home Office Minister to say how it should be done and when it should report or whether at this stage any assistance from HMIC might be appropriate, as the noble Lord suggested. As the Statement makes clear, my right honourable friend is treating these issues with the utmost seriousness and is currently considering her decision on these matters. It would be wrong for me to try to pre-empt that decision. That is why the Statement makes it clear that she offered to meet Doreen Lawrence to discuss these matters and that she will keep the House updated as and when appropriate.

The noble Lord then asked whether an independent inquiry was the only solution or whether we should have a continuation of Macpherson, and whether cost would influence us in these matters. I can give him an assurance that, within limits obviously—we do not want another Saville inquiry, which the noble Lord will remember cost something of the order of £100 million or £200 million—we will not let cash constrain or limit us too much.

The noble Lord went on to ask whether we would consider the terms of reference for any new inquiry. Again, until we decide whether we will have an inquiry, which is a decision for my right honourable friend, I cannot speculate on that on this occasion.

I have tried to answer every question that the noble Lord has put to me, but I have given him no answers whatever because this is not the moment or stage at which to do so. However, my right honourable friend is considering these matters and they are being taken very seriously indeed. She will consider them in due course.

My Lords, while one obviously regrets the need for such a Statement, I thank the Minister for giving it. Among one’s reactions, one can only imagine the frustrations of the many good officers who have been involved in this whole case, and, of course, the feelings of the Lawrence family. I also welcome the Home Secretary’s agreement to meet Mrs Lawrence. Does the Minister agree that the whole case confirms the wider importance of the involvement of, and information being given to, the family of victims as well as, when it is not a murder case, to the victims themselves? We have moved a long way, though there is further to go, from the days when the victim was little more than a witness. The role of the family is important in this day and age.

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend about understanding the importance of victims and their needs, which is something that I hope we always manage to do. I also endorse what she said about the frustration of what she described as the vast majority of officers. I should like to make it clear to the House at this stage that there is no evidence from the two inquiries we have had. So I should like to refer to the frustration of all officers, on the basis of the basic presumption in English law that all are innocent until shown to be otherwise. However, I accept what she means about the frustration of those who feel that they have been tarnished by the actions of what we hope is not even a tiny minority—we hope that it does not exist at all.

I also thank the Minister for his Statement. I have both a personal and a previous interest in this as I was Home Secretary when the IPCC established its inquiry into this question of corruption. As a former Home Secretary—other former Home Secretaries will no doubt verify this—I understand the difficult and dangerous job that the police do and the general debt of gratitude that we owe them for our security and safety. That is all the more reason why when there are allegations or prima facie indications of corruption within the police force it is not only a source of frustration, it tarnishes the reputation of British policing.

As the Minister will know, on this occasion not only is there recurrently a swirl of allegations around this case, but it is happening in the context, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, of other allegations of racism. There is also at present an inquiry into at least allegations that the police did not judiciously and as assiduously as possible follow up investigations into wider issues connected with the press. That is all the more reason, in addition to the concerns of the family itself, that the Minister should be able to answer two questions. First, can he assure us that when the internal police inquiry is finished—and it is proper that the Home Secretary waits until that operation is finished, as it is an operational matter for the police—the Home Secretary or another government representative will report back to the House within a reasonable time on their considerations? Secondly, will the Government not rule out the possibility of conducting a public inquiry into this matter in order to allay the concerns and fears of the wider public should those remain following the internal police inquiry?

My Lords, I think that I made it pretty clear when repeating the Statement that my right honourable friend has made it quite clear that she is not ruling out an inquiry, and I repeat that assurance to the noble Lord. I also make it clear that she has promised to keep the House updated as a matter of course. I cannot promise precisely how and when she will do that or whether she will do something before the internal inquiry ends, but there might be other occasions. The precise timing and method by which she keeps the House updated obviously will be a matter for her.

I thank the noble Lord—who I think is the only former Home Secretary in the Chamber at the moment—for his intervention, and particularly for what he said about the police and the debt that we owe them. Let us hope that all these allegations prove to be unfounded as far as possible.

I lived with the Lawrence inquiry for something like 16 years, and I had the honour this year to be invited to give the first Stephen Lawrence inaugural lecture. Like many others, I pay tribute to the Lawrence family, and Doreen Lawrence in particular.

I suggest that the Home Secretary is taking a very sensible line on this matter. When I read the Independent a month or so ago regarding these allegations I was surprised at how many of those allegations I had heard before—how many had been in the investigation by the Guardian in 2002 and by the IPCC, and how many were known to those of us who had worked on the case. My concern now is to distinguish, as statisticians do, between coincidence and causation. The original Macpherson inquiry clearly did not say that there was no corruption, but it could not find any connection between corruption and the failures of the first investigation. I think that that is probably the situation that we still sit with.

I commend the idea that if an inquiry is necessary we should pursue it with absolute vigour. I also commend the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that perhaps the Metropolitan Police’s internal inquiry should be given the support of an independent position from HMIC. This case has so many layers that we should take it very slowly, as the Home Secretary suggests, and very carefully, before we rush to judgment.

I am very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, who knows more than anyone about these issues. I am also very grateful for the support that he offers to the Home Secretary as regards taking this very carefully. I think that my right honourable friend will also note in particular his comments on the possible assistance that HMIC may wish to give to the Met in this instance.

My Lords, a recent After the Riots report from the Riots Communities and Victims Panel drew on statistics that one in three people think that the police are corrupt and an IPCC survey stated that 43 per cent of black people felt that a complaint against the police would not be dealt with impartially compared with 31 per cent generally. As much as one is encouraged by the comments of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the new leadership at the IPCC, this is the level of public confidence in those bodies. Will the Minister consider what, in essence, I believe Doreen Lawrence is asking for, which is some level of independence and impartiality in this inquiry because, in effect, you have a police investigation into the police? I ask the Minister to comment on the converse side of that: in the current context, is there not a danger that there might be a temptation for the Metropolitan Police to be too hard on past conduct to allay present connected concerns about racism, which also would not be a just resolution to this matter? Would introducing independence and impartiality achieve the best way of establishing the truth of what has happened and would improving public confidence in the police be best for the police themselves and especially for the Lawrence family?

My Lords, on occasions, I have heard allegations that one in three people think that the police are corrupt, but other surveys seem to show relatively high levels of satisfaction with the police, both in the white community and in the BME community. It is much the same for both groups, although it varies once one gets into sub-groups. I note what my noble friend said about the need for a new independent inquiry. That has not been ruled out and it is a matter that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will consider in due course. As the noble Lord, Lord Blair, put it, at the moment it is right for the Met to conduct and complete its internal review and for this to move on in the appropriate way. I think he was also right to stress the need not to rush on too fast in these matters.

My Lords, public confidence in the police is extremely important. If there is an underlying feeling that the police, either in these circumstances or in others when allegations have been made, have acted in a way that is not with full integrity and is corrupt, is the Home Office satisfied with the current arrangements within the police service for monitoring and reassuring the public about the integrity of officers? What steps does the Home Office envisage putting in place to ensure that priority is given to this work when the new regime of police and crime commissioners comes into force later this year?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to talk about the importance of public confidence in the police. If we do not have public confidence in the police, we move to a rather different form of policing and one which neither he nor I would ever wish to see. I shall not go wider into the debate on police and crime commissioners at this stage as I appreciate that there are differences of view between the noble Lord and myself about them. We believe that they will bring greater accountability and that, in future, we shall have better policing as a result. As I made clear in the Statement, my right honourable friend takes all allegations of this sort extremely seriously. If any allegation, and particularly this one, is proved to be true, that can undermine public confidence in the police force which he and I and everyone else in the House considers so important.