Public inquiry in Britain

Police officers evade disciplinary charges in racist killing of Stephen Lawrence

By Tony Hyland
19 January 1999

The only senior officer to face disciplinary charges arising from the police handling of the murder investigation into the 1993 racist killing of 18-year-old black student Stephen Lawrence is to retire. The news broke only 20 hours after the publication of a report by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which stated that the officer--Detective Inspector Ben Bullock--was to face an internal tribunal over seven counts of neglect of duty.

Those accused of the stabbing death of Stephen Lawrence at a bus stop in Eltham, South-East London--Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, Gary Dobson and David Norris--have never been prosecuted due to the police's mishandling of the investigation and the claim by the judiciary of insufficient evidence as a result. Bullock was second in command of the murder investigation. His retirement is due to take effect in May, before the disciplinary hearing is scheduled. The timing of the decision was described as "a coincidence". He was the last serving officer involved in the murder investigation, the other four having retired earlier. A source close to the PCA stated that they too would have faced charges if they had not pursued this course of action.

The PCA was also obliged to criticise other aspects of police conduct. This included the three senior officers having failed to keep a logbook at the scene of the stabbing and that, despite the fact that the victim was losing blood, no one took responsibility for monitoring his condition. The PCA advised that the officers concerned receive "formal advise" on the question of logbooks.

After acknowledging what amounts to a litany of malpractice, the PCA has failed to produce any credible explanation for such a state of affairs. It is adamant that racism played no part in the police's behaviour.

The authority's conclusions were made before the public inquiry began early last year. In its first phase, based upon oral and written evidence, the police and judicial system have been severely discredited for allowing the perpetrators of the racist killing to enjoy immunity. Both the police claim that they lacked sufficient evidence to apprehend those responsible and that of the prosecution service of a similar lack of evidence for prosecution were proven to be false.

The inquiry heard how:

The final stage of the inquiry is the publication of its findings and recommendations, which is meant to outline proposals to ensure that such an injustice will not be repeated in future. Yet only weeks before this report is due, the police and the PCA have once again utilised early retirement to ensure its officers are protected from prosecution.