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Monday, December 15, 1997 Published at 16:19 GMT


Police criticised over black teenager's murder
image: [ Lawrence case has raised questions of racism within the police ranks ]
Lawrence case has raised questions of racism within the police ranks

The Metropolitan Police have been severely criticised in a report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in London in 1993.

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.

In a written Commons answer, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the report found that failure of an internal Metropolitan Police inquiry to identify the errors meant "subsequent attempts to solve the crime have been hampered."

[ image: Lawrence was murdered in 1993]
Lawrence was murdered in 1993
The 18-year-old was murdered when he and a friend were set upon at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London in June 1993.

The initial police investigation was hampered by delays. The Lawrence family said they were treated as the criminals, not the victims, and that the police seemed more intent to investigate Stephen for gang affiliation than solve his murder.

They believe racial prejudice influenced the Metropolitan Police's attitude in their investigation of the killing.

But the report found no evidence of any racist conduct by officers involved in investigating the murder.

The police made 1,000 house-to-house inquiries and conducted 2,500 interviews but were unable to turn up any reliable witnesses.

[ image: Hundreds laid flowers in honour of Stephen]
Hundreds laid flowers in honour of Stephen
Last year the Lawrence family brought an unsuccessful private prosecution against five white youths over the murder.

In February, an inquest found the student was unlawfully killed in an "unprovoked racist attack" by five white youths.

The family's solicitor says that the case is surrounded by a wall of silence.

Breaking that silence is the job of the inquiry headed by Sir William Macpherson of Cluy. Sir William's commission will use the new report as one of its chief pieces of evidence in its investigation.

The commission will have broad powers including forcing witnesses to come forward and protecting them from prosecution.

Although Sir William's inquiry was formed to look into the Lawrence murder, the high profile of the case has broadened its scope to the larger question of racism within the ranks of the Metropolitan Police.

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