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Sunday, March 15, 1998 Published at 18:48 GMT

Special Report

Stephen Lawrence inquiry: the search for truth
image: [ Protesters say the police failed to follow several leads and claimed there was a
Protesters say the police failed to follow several leads and claimed there was a "wall of silence"

An inquiry into Scotland Yard's investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence has been adjourned until March 24.

The decision follows doubts by Stephen's family about the judge heading the public inquiry, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny.

These doubts were triggered partly by an article in the Observer newspaper which accused him of "insensitivity" to race issues.

The judge had been keen to point out the inquiry is not a trial and that the aim is not to find out who was responsible for Stephen's death, but why nobody has been brought to justice.

Stephen, 18, from Plumstead, south east London, was stabbed to death in an apparently racist attack, as he waited at a bus stop in nearby Eltham in April 1993.

Five white teenagers were arrested shortly afterwards but the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed against them.

This sparked angry protests about the way the investigation was handled, and allegations of racism in the police force.

Private prosecution failed

Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, decided to launch a private criminal prosecution at the Old Bailey against three of the five: Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight.

But all three were cleared on the directions of the judge in 1996 and cannot be prosecuted for murder again.

The other two, Jamie Acourt and David Norris could still face trial.

[ image: Stephen Lawrence was killed because of his colour]
Stephen Lawrence was killed because of his colour
Last week Sir William said he would be calling all five to give evidence at the inquiry and he warned them they faced up to six months in jail if they refused to attend or did not answer any questions.

Immunity for witnesses

The Attorney General, in setting up the inquiry, agreed to give immunity to all those who gave evidence even if they confessed to murder.

But the immunity does not extend to civil proceedings and the Metropolitan Police could still prosecute them using evidence from outside the inquiry.

In February last year an inquest decided Stephen had been the victim of an "unprovoked racist attack by five white youths".

A preliminary report by the Police Complaints Authority says there were "significant weaknesses, omissions and lost opportunities" in the police investigation into the black teenager's murder.

On Friday Sir William visited the scene of the killing in a bid to encourage more witnesses to come forward.

The inquiry was due to start on Monday at government offices in the Elephant and Castle area, south London.

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