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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 12:24 GMT


Landmark ruling gives hope for Lawrences

Neville Lawrence and solicitor Imran Khan: Seeking pay-out

The Lawrence family's fight for compensation follows a landmark legal case last year which decided that the police could be sued for the negligent handling of a criminal investigation.

Neville and Doreen Lawrence are seeking a financial pay-out from the Metropolitan Police for the bungled investigation into the murder of their son Stephen.

But they have threatened to take London's police force to the courts if no agreement is reached.

Until October 1998 police forces could not be held legally responsible for failings during an investigation.

But an historic case in the European Court of Human Rights overturned that immunity and gave them the same rights as other public bodies.

It was brought by Mulkiye Osman and her son, Ahmet, who was badly injured and his father, Ali, killed in March 1988 by obsessive Paul Paget-Lewis.

The family had repeatedly told the police about attacks on their home believed to be by Paget-Lewis. They wanted to sue, arguing that the police were negligent in not following up the incidents.

When denied, by both the Metropolitan Police and the Court of Appeal, they took their case to Europe, and won compensation against the UK Government of £10,000 each.

Breach of European law

Louise Christian from Christian Fisher, a law firm specialising in civil liberties cases, was closely involved in the Osman trial.

"Until the Osman case the courts were saying there was blanket immunity for the police from being sued for negligence in the investigation of a crime," she told BBC News Online.

She said that no other public body had similar immunity and a ban on bringing action against the police was unanimously found to be in breach of European law.

However she added that compensation awards are generally very low and depend on proving there has been financial loss.

Winning a case on the grounds of emotional distress would be difficult.

The Lawrence's lawyer Imran Khan plans to ask the Metropolitan Police for compensation but if this fails, he will take the matter to court.

Mr Khan said the Macpherson report "clearly indicates that there was gross negligence and incompetence fuelled by racism".

"I think the family are entitled to take action," he added.

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