Saturday, November 26, 2022

Baroness Smith makes statement on Stephen Lawrence

BARONESS SMITH of Basildon, rose on the floor of the House of Lords to issue a statement on the report that police had allegedly spied on the Lawrence family.

“My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join in his comments of support for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and their family. I suspect that no words can give comfort in a situation such as this. Having had to cope with the horror and the tragedy of the murder of their son Stephen, they had almost 20 years of campaigning for justice before anyone was brought to book for his murder. They then had to wait for a public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the investigation and the institutionalised racism at that time. We are still awaiting action to address the devastating failures and shocking decisions made by the Metropolitan Police at the time of Stephen’s murder.

“Today, we have these disgusting allegations. Officers were tasked to spy on the Lawrence family to find “dirt” on them and their supporters. It is alleged that police officers logged who went in and out of the Lawrence family home, yet at the same time they were failing to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute Gary Dobson and David Norris, and any other suspects at the time. We can only imagine the hurt, distress and anger—and also the deep sadness and sense of betrayal that the Lawrence family and their supporters must continue to feel. With allegations made last year that corruption within the Metropolitan Police contributed to the failure to get justice for the Lawrence family, we called for a wider public inquiry into those allegations of corruption and we also considered it an opportunity to address more widely the progress within the police in addressing racism. Instead, the Home Secretary allowed the Metropolitan Police to review itself and, as the noble Lord has indicated today, asked Mark Ellison QC to review the paper work on this specific issue.

“It would be helpful today for the Minister to update your Lordships’ House on the progress in that case. He said something about it but it would help to have a little bit more information. Does he consider whether there is any overlap in these new allegations? A specific concern is whether police officers providing information to Mr Ellison have withheld relevant information from him. Will the noble Lord comment on that specific point? We have previously endorsed the call of Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, for the reinstitution of a public inquiry to examine any dereliction of duty by the Metropolitan Police at the time of Stephen’s murder and, more widely the progress made in implementing the Macpherson report’s 70 recommendations. We continue to support that call.

“On the substance of today’s allegations, clearly this links in with wider concerns, as the Minister has addressed, about the use of undercover and covert operations by the police. Noble Lords will be aware that I have previously raised in your Lordships’ House concerns over the identities of dead children being used by officers, without the consent or the knowledge of their families. We have had evidence of shocking allegations and instances of inappropriate relationships. I do know whether the Minister had the opportunity to read the

Guardian magazine this weekend, but I would recommend the article by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis on the activities of SDS police officers. The impact of their activities on individuals shows how serious and devastating such behaviour can be.

I know that the noble Lord shares our concern about transparency in any investigation on inquiries into these issues. I spoke to him earlier about this and, as he said, the only way to restore public and professional confidence is to have openness in the investigation and openness in the actions taken to address any problems. We have some concerns about the Home Secretary’s approach in wrapping these allegations together with the pre-existing investigation being undertaken by Derbyshire’s Chief Constable Creedon and supervised by the IPPC. That investigation is looking at complex and covert investigations into environmental and animal rights groups that go back many years. In the past month, new allegations have been made about corporate protests and potential undercover police involvement. This is another monster of an inquiry being undertaken by the IPCC. It is already taken 20 months and cost £1.2 million, although no arrests have yet been made. This will take some years. Alongside Hillsborough, the scoping of Orgreave, and many other investigations, it is unclear whether the IPCC will be able to prioritise and deal with all those issues in an appropriate timescale. Rightly, these are all huge issues of concern.

In addition to the undercover element, there is a common theme. It was so powerfully evidenced in relation to Hillsborough, as the noble Lord and I discussed at the time, and is now reinforced in the case of the Lawrence family—namely, that police institutions seek to undermine victims. Police institutions try to smear those seeking justice as being agitators or they even try to find some evidence of their being criminals—trying to smear them in the process. The agony that the Lawrence family has endured since the day Stephen was murdered has also made this case uniquely damaging to British policing and public confidence. Unless that is effectively and properly dealt with, not only will that lack of confidence endure, it will undermine the confidence of the majority of police officers who seek to serve the public honestly and decently.

We now have two different inquiries: the investigation, Operation Herne, and the new Ellison review dealing with very similar things. I have a few questions for the noble Lord. I want to get to the bottom of whether the Government are absolutely confident that these inquiries will, first, be sufficiently focused; and, secondly, have complete co-operation from police officers. They also have to ensure that whistleblowers will be sufficiently empowered and protected to come forward. A number of recent cases show that the actions of whistleblowers have been vital in exposing the allegations of serious corruption within public institutions. Crucially, we seek an assurance that there is no information or evidence that could be lost in a black hole between the different inquiries.

The Home Secretary has chosen not to institute, as we requested, a swifter IPPC-led investigation that is independently resourced. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that chief constable Creedon reports on the specific allegations before the House of Commons Summer Recess? I think that the Home Secretary indicated this afternoon that that was the case in the comments that she made. It would be helpful if he would confirm that for us.

The Lawrence family and the public need the truth and they need it quickly. They deserve the truth. I shall summarise the points that we wish to raise with the Minister and the Government. First, we need a swift investigation by the IPPC into any allegations of misconduct in relation to spying on the Lawrence family; secondly, an update on the corruption allegations; and a clear need for a wider inquiry as Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, has called for. We need urgent progress and all those three areas and I hope that the noble Lord can give serious consideration and respond positively to all these issues.

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