Stephen Lawrence detectives will not face prosecution

Stephen Lawrence
[Family handout]

Four retired detectives who ran the first Stephen Lawrence murder investigation should not face criminal charges for their actions in the case, a review has concluded.

The review, by a senior lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), upholds a previous decision not to prosecute, which was challenged by Stephen's parents and friend.

Stephen was murdered in April 1993 in a racist attack in south London.

His mother, Baroness Lawrence, said she was "bewildered, disappointed, and angry" at the decision, adding: "I am sure the public will be too."

"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," she said in a statement.

She said the CPS's decision "marks a new low in the way the criminal justice [system] has treated me and my family", saying it was "unjustifiable".

The CPS said it understood the decision not to prosecute would be "extremely disappointing" for Stephen’s family and friends and it had offered to meet close family members to explain its reasoning in detail.

The initial investigation failed to bring anyone to justice - although two men were jailed in 2012 for Stephen's murder.

The officers had been investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), but last year the CPS chose not to pursue a criminal prosecution after considering a file of evidence.

A victim’s right to review the charging decision was triggered by Stephen’s parents, Dr Neville Lawrence and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, and his friend Duwayne Brooks, who was present during the attack.

The latest review found there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and therefore none of the four will be charged.

The decision means no officers have been held criminally responsible for what is widely seen as one of Scotland Yard’s biggest disasters.

The four retired officers investigated by the IOPC were:

  • Detective Superintendent Ian Crampton, who was senior investigating officer (SIO) for the first four days of the murder investigation

  • Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden, who took over as SIO from Mr Crampton and was in charge for 14 months

  • Detective Inspector Benjamin Bullock, who acted as deputy SIO under Mr Crampton and Mr Weeden

  • Detective Chief Superintendent William Ilsley, who oversaw the team responsible for the first murder investigation

Rosemary Ainslie, head of the CPS Special Crime Division, said there had been an "extensive review" of their decision in July last year not to bring criminal charges against the four officers after the family's challenge.

She said the review "involved an independent prosecutor re-examining a substantial amount of evidence and material in the case".

“Offences of misconduct in public office were reconsidered, but the review upheld the original decision not to bring any criminal charges against the four officers in the case," she said.

But Baroness Lawrence said the review considered only "the first few weeks of failures" by the four officers "when we know that the failures of the first investigation continued well into 1994".

She said the review only looked at failures relating to the five prime suspects, "but we now know that there were significant failures in 1993 relating to other suspects and to Matthew White".

Last year the BBC publicly identified a sixth suspect in Stephen's murder, Matthew White, who died in 2021, and exposed a series of failures relating to him, including that he was not made a suspect by the first investigation despite multiple reasons to treat him as one.

The first investigation team also severely mishandled an approach by White’s stepfather, who wanted to tell police his stepson had admitted being present during Stephen's murder. The BBC revealed Brian Weeden was aware of an approach by the stepfather, but it was not properly followed up.

This major failure was not part of the case against any of the four officers who were not charged. That case considered only the first few weeks of the 1993 investigation.

Baroness Lawrence said: "How can such an obvious failure not be part of the case that the CPS released today?

"The only conclusion I draw is that the IOPC and NCA (National Crime Agency) carried out a shallow inquiry looking only at matters in the public domain and gave too much credence to the retired officers."

She continued: "The reviewed decision, issued today, makes not a single mention of racism.

"Everyone now accepts that institutional racism was at the heart of the first investigation and yet, no consideration has been given to how it impacted the decision-making process. It clearly did.

"How can racism not be part of and at the forefront of the CPS’s decision on Stephen’s case? This is unforgivable."

In 1999, a public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson concluded the first Lawrence murder investigation was "marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers".

The Macpherson report was highly critical of the decision not to make quick arrests.

Arrests did not take place for two weeks despite police receiving information implicating four of the prime suspects within 24 hours of the stabbing.

A 1997 investigation by the police watchdog was also critical, but by then only Mr Bullock was still serving in the Met and therefore available for a disciplinary process.

The IOPC investigation which led to the CPS referral started in 2014 and examined allegations of corruption against a separate officer - John Davidson - who worked on the first Lawrence murder investigation.

This investigation, carried out on its behalf by the National Crime Agency, followed an official review by barrister Mark Ellison KC that said there were outstanding lines of inquiry into allegations of corruption involving Mr Davidson.

Mr Davidson was told in 2019 that he was no longer under investigation, with the IOPC ultimately focusing on the four senior officers from the first murder inquiry, and their handling of the early part of the case.

In 2020, the IOPC passed a file of evidence to the CPS, which was asked to consider whether they may have committed the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

The criminal offence of misconduct in public office is committed when the office holder acts - or fails to act - in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office.