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Monday, March 16, 1998 Published at 22:18 GMT


Home Secretary to meet Lawrence parents
image: [ Protesters claim police failed to follow several leads ]
Protesters claim police failed to follow several leads

The Home Secretary Jack Straw has agreed to meet the parents of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence to hear their concerns about the public inquiry into his death.

In a statement which confirmed the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Straw said: "The Lord Chancellor and I have complete confidence in Sir William's ability to conduct this inquiry with fairness and sensitivity."

The inquiry was adjourned a few minutes after it opened on Monday to allow the Lawrence family to hold an "urgent meeting" with the Home Secretary.

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent, Joshua Rozenberg, reports from the inquiry (0'41")
Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, said the couple wished to discuss their "legitimate concerns" with Jack Straw.

"They are anxious for the inquiry to continue, in fact it was their initiative in the first place."

[ image: Tributes at the murder scene in south-east London]
Tributes at the murder scene in south-east London
He referred to a statement made at last year's inquest into Stephen's murder at which Doreen Lawrence had claimed the whole justice system, from the initial investigation to the Old Bailey trial of three men, "had let them down".

"They felt there were serious deficiencies at all stages," Mr Mansfield added.

"It is against this background that they wish to take this unusual step."

Mr Mansfield said the concerns were also "in part triggered by a Sunday newspaper article criticising inquiry chairman Sir William Macpherson".

[ image: Sir William Macpherson denies claims that he is insensitive to racial issues]
Sir William Macpherson denies claims that he is insensitive to racial issues
But Sir William dismissed claims that he had been insensitive to racial issues "with contempt". A BBC correspondent says he has since faxed a letter of protest to The Observer and has consulted his lawyers.

Mr Mansfield also said "thousands of pages" of documents "at the centre of the inquiry" had only been delivered to the Lawrence's legal team last weekend.

"Such material in an inquiry of this gravity you would expect to have at least three months before, sometimes six months before."

He also said the legal team had had problems with the special computer system designed to hold the documents in the case.

Candle-lit vigil

Stephen, an 18-year-old A-level student from Plumstead, south-east London, was stabbed to death in April 1993 waiting for a bus in nearby Eltham. The "racially motivated" murder was the third in the area in two years.

The case has already been through an inquest, independent police reviews into the investigation, a Lawrence family private prosecution and an Old Bailey trial, which collapsed in April 1996.

More than 100 people gathered on Sunday at the spot where he died to hold a candle-lit vigil on the eve of the inquiry, announced by Mr Straw in July last year.

Allegations denied

Sir William said the article in The Observer, "written at the 11th hour", had not checked its facts. "I mention it only to dismiss the personal allegations with contempt. I had decided not to refer to the article at all but my family and friends advised me to do so."

He said the article referred to cases he had handled "eight, nine, 10" years ago.

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  Relevant Stories

15 Mar 98 | Special Report
Stephen Lawrence inquiry: the search for truth

15 Mar 98 | UK
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