Stephen Lawrence’s mother angry at decision not to prosecute detectives

Estimated read time 4 min read

The mother of Stephen Lawrence says she is “bewildered, disappointed, and angry” at the refusal by prosecutors to charge senior detectives alleged to have botched the hunt for her son’s racist killers.

The decision means that despite 31 years of revelations of failures in the case, no officer has been prosecuted.

The Crown Prosecution Service said on Tuesday that its review had upheld its decision last year not to prosecute.

It had been asked to consider misconduct in public office offences against four senior detectives in charge of the first investigation into Lawrence’s murder in 1993 that was botched by the Metropolitan police.

The Macpherson inquiry in 1999 found that institutional racism in part explained failings by the force that left free the gang of five or six youths who abused and then stabbed Lawrence.

Head and shoulders picture of Stephen LawrenceView image in fullscreen

It took until 2012 for two to be convicted, with three remaining free and a sixth having died in 2021.

In a 23-page letter, seen by the Guardian, the CPS said even if the former officers had made errors there was no evidence to show their mistakes were deliberate, or corrupt, or that they should have known better: “What is alleged is that each of the suspects made a number of mistakes in the execution of their duties. The law has made clear that mistakes, even serious mistakes, by public officers will not reach the high threshold [for prosecution].”

The four former senior officers have always denied any wrongdoing. They are Det Supt Ian Crampton, who was in charge for the first three days after the murder; Det Supt Brian Weeden, who took over as senior investigating officer; Det Ch Supt William Ilsley, who oversaw them; and DI Ben Bullock, the deputy senior investigating officer.

Doreen Lawrence said: “Today’s decision by the CPS marks a new low in the way the criminal justice has treated me and my family. The decision of the CPS not to prosecute the senior officers who were involved in the investigation of my son’s case is unjustifiable. The reviewed decision, issued today, makes not a single mention of racism.

“The decision today means – as things stand – that not a single officer will ever be held responsible in any way, shape or form for the obvious and unforgivable failings in Stephen’s case. I am bewildered, disappointed, and angry at the decision. I am sure the public will be too.”

One key decision was the failure to arrest the prime suspects despite local people repeatedly naming them. Arrests were not made until Nelson Mandela publicly backed the Lawrences while on a visit to London.

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The CPS letter explaining the decision from its special crime and counter-terrorism division said: “There was insufficient evidence to prove that any alleged neglect of duty on the part of the suspects was wilful. There was no evidence provided to prove that the suspects acted deliberately knowing what they were doing was wrong or with reckless indifference to whether the actions were wrong.

“There was no evidence of any nefarious or improper motive on the part of any of the suspects, such as corruption, prejudice, or indifference to their duty. The alleged neglect of duty could not reach the high threshold required for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

“What was alleged amounted to a series of mistakes on the part of the suspects. Mistakes, even serious ones, do not reach the threshold of seriousness required for the offence.”

Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death by a racist gang of at least five white youths in south-east London on 22 April 1993. It took 19 years for two members of the gang to be convicted of his murder, and a public inquiry found a string of errors by police.

Earlier this week the Guardian revealed the Met had agreed to a review of the decision in 2020 to close down the hunt for the killers, and admitted “serious mistakes” were still being made in the case. Negotiations about the scope of that review are continuing.


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