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Thursday, June 18, 1998 Published at 04:36 GMT 05:36 UK


Five fight Lawrence witness orders

The men have been charged in the past with the murder

Five men are mounting a legal challenge against an order that they appear for questioning at the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

BBC correspondent Peter Hunt: barrister for the men said they would have "unfair and illegal trial"
The men have all at various times been charged with the murder of black teenager Mr Lawrence.

Three were acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1996 while charges against the other two never came to trial.

They were due to face questioning on Monday to probe whether they had any role in, or knowledge of, the killing of 18-year-old Stephen at a south London bus stop in 1993.

[ image: Stephen: killers remain at large]
Stephen: killers remain at large
They were to be asked about the alleged possession of weapons, whether they had "black friends or acquaintances", and about their views on ethnic minority groups and whether they would describe themselves as racist.

But at a preliminary hearing last week, their barrister said if they attended the Lawrence inquiry, they would in effect be subjected to an unfair and unlawful murder trial.

He also argued that the inquiry should just focus on the police investigation into the murder.

Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Hooper, who are conducting the judicial review at London's Law Courts on Thursday, must decide whether or not the inquiry is legally entitled to question these men.

A key issue the two judges must decide is whether the guilt or innocence of the men is relevant to the issue which the tribunal was set up by Home Secretary Jack Straw to consider - namely, the conduct of the police investigation.

Dramatic apology

Neville Lawrence, 51, and his wife Doreen, 45, parents of the murder victim, are expected to be in court for the hearing, which is likely to last two days.

The public inquiry was adjourned on Wednesday so they could attend and will resume on Monday.

At Thursday's hearing a senior Metropolitan Police officer made a dramatic apology to the Lawrences for the way the case was handled.

Ian Johnston, the assistant Metropolitan Police commissioner for south-east London, made the apology on behalf of his commissioner Sir Paul Condon, admitting the force "could not justify" errors in the police investigation.

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