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Sunday, February 21, 1999 Published at 20:46 GMT


UK

Judge eases Lawrence report gag

Stephen Lawrence: Murder case unsolved

A senior judge has partially overturned the government's ban on publishing leaked extracts from the Lawrence inquiry report.

Special Report: Stephen Lawrence
Mr Justice Rix agreed a variation in an injunction following pressure from national newspapers.

Home Secretary Jack Straw obtained the injunction on Saturday evening. It stopped the Sunday Telegraph publishing details of the report into the racist murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence.


Jack Straw: Ban in best interests of the family
The variation allows the media to publish information "already in the public domain" before the ban was imposed. This includes the Sunday Telegraph report which had hit the streets in the first edition before it had to be pulled.

Newspapers argued that, with more than 200,000 issues for sale before the injunction came into force, the story was already in the public domain. Therefore it was nonsense to restrict further publication.

The Home Office said Mr Straw stood by his decision, despite Sunday's appeal ruling.


BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenburg: The genie has been let out of the bottle
Justice Rix interrupted a wedding reception at the Dorchester Hotel, London, to hear the application.

Mr Straw was bitterly criticised by newspaper editors and the Tories for obtaining the injunction.

Although the report is due to be officially published on Wednesday, Mr Straw said that - given its importance - he had to act.

"It is of extreme importance, the result of this inquiry, to the family but also to quite a number of police officers against whom allegations have been made," he told BBC Radio 4's World this Weekend.

"When I heard of the fact that the Sunday Telegraph were running what I understood to be a partial and selective account of this report I took the view that first of all that was profoundly unfair to the family and the police officers involved and very unfair to Parliament as well."


[ image:  ]
Conservative MP Peter Bottomley, who represented Eltham in south-east London at the time of Stephen's death in 1993, said: "This is a total abuse of the judicial process and government power.

"There is no issue of national security involved at all. There is no recommendation thought to be in the Macpherson report which in any way will upset the Lawrence family.


[ image: Peter Bottomley:
Peter Bottomley: "There is no issue of national security involved"
"The injunction can only have been promoted because the government wants to manipulate the media in the next three or four days."

But Eltham's current MP, Clive Efford, said the government was right to obtain the injunction.

"It would be a great shame if the force of the report were lost in a media frenzy. It is too important to be kicked around like a football," he told the BBC.


Clive Efford MP: "I am not defending selective leaking"
The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Glen Smythe, told BBC Radio 5 Live the government was being inconsistent.

He said: "This report has been selectively leaked for months now.


Glen Smythe: This report has been selectively leaked for months now.
"This is a government which wants to manipulate the media and is finding it is a little more different in government than in opposition."

No one has been convicted of murdering Stephen. Three suspects were cleared of a murder charge at the Old Bailey in 1996.



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Electronic Telegraph - Government blocks our Lawrence story


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