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Wednesday, June 17, 1998 Published at 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK


Lawrence family unimpressed by police apology

Apology three years too late said Neville Lawrence, right.

The father of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence has criticised a public apology from one of the Metropolitan Police's highest-ranking officers.

Neville Lawrence: "The family have been asking for this apology for a long time"
Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston told the inquiry into the way the killing was investigated that his force had "let down" the Lawrence family.

He also told Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, he was "very, very sorry" for not bringing the killers to justice.

But Mr Lawrence was unimpressed by the apology. Speaking outside the inquiry, at the Elephant and Castle in South London, he said: "I think we should have had this three years ago."

A spokesman for the Lawrence family: "We accept the apology but Stephen's killers are still on the loose"
In a statement Mr Lawrence and his wife Doreen called on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon to personally answer questions at the inquiry.

"It has taken five years of trauma, heartache and suffering for our family to reach this stage of our struggle," the statement said.

[ image: The family want Sir Paul Condon to appear before the inquiry]
The family want Sir Paul Condon to appear before the inquiry
"The Commissioner now accepts that the first investigation as flawed and incompetent.

"What will happen to those officers? Will they be disciplined? Will those now retired lose their pensions?

"Maybe we need another public inquiry into police corruption for the Commissioner to then accept that these boys were protected in some way.

"If it hadn't been for this inquiry the Commissioner would still be saying that officers did everything they could to bring our son's killer to justice.

"Whilst we accept the Commissioner's apology, we do not forget that Stephen's killers are still free."

Earlier Mr Johnston said Commissioner Sir Paul Condon would be available to answer questions at the inquiry if he were called.

He said: "If the inquiry wants the Commissioner here, then he is at the inquiry's disposal."

Truly sorry

Mr Johnston said he hoped his words would go some way to repairing relations between the police and the black community, which have been damaged by the case.

[ image: Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston:
Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston: "Very, very sorry"
"Mr Lawrence, I wanted to say to you that I am truly sorry that we have let you down," he said.

"It has been a tragedy for you, you have lost a son and not seen his killers brought to justice."

Stephen, an 18-year-old A-level student, died after being stabbed near a bus stop in Eltham, south London, in 1993.

The investigation into his death failed to bring any convictions. Three youths charged with his murder were acquited at a trial last year through lack of evidence

The situation has led to accusations of racism and corruption in the Metropolitan Police.

Damaged relations

The force has consistently denied the Lawrence family's accusations that they failed to take the case seriously because the victim was black. But Mr Johnston's apology appears to accept the criticism.

At the inquiry, Mr Johnston said: "It has been a tragedy for the Metropolitan Police who have lost the confidence of a significant section of the community for the way we have handled the case.

"I can understand and explain some of what went wrong. I cannot and do not seek to justify it.

[ image: Flowers laid at the bus stop where Stephen was stabbed]
Flowers laid at the bus stop where Stephen was stabbed
"We are determined to learn lessons from this. A great deal has changed and yet will change.

"We have tried over the last four years since the first investigation to show imagination and determination to prosecute Stephen's killers.

"I am very, very sorry and very, very sad that we have let you down.

"Should have done better"

"Looking back now I can see we could have, and should have done better.

"I deeply regret that we have not put his killers away.

"On behalf of myself and the commissioner, who specifically asked me to associate himself with these words, and the whole of the Metropolitan Police, I offer my sincere and deep apologies to you."

Mr Johnston, who became Assistant Commissioner in August 1994, more than a year after Stephen's death, added: "Finally I would like to add my own apologies for supporting the earlier investigation in ways in which it has now been shown that I was wrong.

"No corruption"

"I hope the reasons for my support will be understood and I hope that eventually you will forgive me for that as well, Mr Lawrence."

But speaking later, Mr Johnston dismissed suggestions that police corruption was to blame for the failure to convict Stephen's killers.

He said: "My own personal view is that corruption had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

"It was lack of training, lack of skills, knowledge and organisational procedures."

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