21 years of struggle. No family should suffer that: Stephen Lawrence’s parents speak of devastation after learning officers spied on them

  • Home Secretary orders judge-led inquiry into undercover policing
  • Announcement made after ‘deeply troubling’ findings of Mark Ellison report
  • QC investigated the original Stephen Lawrence murder investigation
  • He found that one of the detectives may have acted corruptly
  • Baroness Lawrence labels the Metropolitan Police a ‘disgrace’
  • ‘The report is 21 years overdue and we continue to fight’ – Neville Lawrence
  • Met Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey is ‘deeply troubled’ by findings

By Ted Thornhilland Luke Garrattand Stephen Wrightand David Jones


The parents of Stephen Lawrence spoke of their devastation last night after learning police spied on them in the aftermath of their son’s murder.
Neville and Doreen Lawrence, now divorced, could not contain their fury after the Ellison Review detailed how an undercover Scotland Yard officer invaded their privacy.
In his report, Mark Ellison QC found that a Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) spy was working within the ‘Lawrence family camp’ during the course of the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen’s death.

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Angry: Doreen Lawrence with the Mail's 1997 front page calling for the prosecution of the five men suspected of the murder of her son

Neville Lawrence: 'It is almost unbelievable

Angry: Doreen Lawrence with the Mail’s famous front page. Left, Neville Lawrence said it was ‘unbelievable’

The undercover officer, who was not named, was deployed by the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the now-disbanded unit which has been at the centre of a series of lurid allegations and which will now be subject to a public inquiry.
Mr Lawrence told the Mail: ‘The things we are finding out about from Mark Ellison’s report are almost unbelievable.
‘They are terrible. When you find out that the police have been spying on a grieving family, that is shocking, horrible. It’s just not something you would ever expect the police to do.’


In an interview with the BBC, he added: ‘I still can’t understand why a law-abiding group of people who are supposed to be protecting the wider community have resorted to this kind of behaviour.
‘I don’t think people understand why I’m so upset. We had an opportunity to put everything to bed when the [Macpherson] inquiry came out… and it’s knocked me back to 1999 again.
‘It’s like I’m constantly being lied to about the sincerity of people who I think are supposed to be doing a job for me. This is why I’m so hurt.’

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, talks to BBC News, in an emotional interview about her son's murder investigation

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, talks to BBC News, in an emotional interview about her son’s murder investigation
Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen Lawrence, talks to Sky News. Mr Lawrence and Baroness Lawrence are no longer together following their son's death

Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen Lawrence, talks to Sky News. Mr Lawrence and Baroness Lawrence are no longer together following their son’s death

Stephen Lawrence

Detective Sergeant John Davidson

Horrific: Stephen Lawrence (left) was stabbed to death in London in 1993. Pictured right is former detective John Davidson, who may have acted corruptly during the investigation, according to Mark Ellison QC’s review
Home Secretary Theresa May

Mark Ellison

Announcement: Theresa May (left) told The House Of Commons that there would be a judge-led inquiry into undercover policing following the findings of a report by Mark Ellison (right) into the Lawrence investigation

His ex-wife, now a Labour peer, told the Lords: ‘I believed that there was corruption at the start of Stephen’s case and it’s taken over a year for that, but it’s taken nearly 21 years since Stephen’s been killed, and the fact that we as a family had to go through all this and still there’s more to come out. It’s been 21 years of struggle and no family should have to do that.’
She told ITV the spying revelations are ‘disgraceful because at the time when we were grieving for our son all we wanted was to help and support the Met in the work that they were carrying out’.
Lady Lawrence added: ‘They were spying on us. All we wanted was to catch Stephen’s killers. We weren’t trying to do anything against the Met.’
Last June, former SDS officer Peter Francis claimed he had been sent undercover from September 1993 to find intelligence that might be used to smear or undermine the Lawrence family campaign.


  • The intelligence picture suggests that John Davidson, one of the detectives in the original investigation, was a corrupt officer
  • There are arguments that Davidson was in a corrupt relationship with Clifford Norris, the father of David Norris, who was convicted for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 2012. This is an ‘unresolved issue’
  • Potential evidence of Davidson’s corrupt activity came from former Detective Constable Neil Putnam
  • Files relevant to the case have been destroyed
  • Metropolitan Police withheld information about Davidson’s motives from the public inquiry
  • There was a Metropolitan Police ‘spy’ in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings

Although Mr Ellison found no evidence to support the allegations, he was satisfied an undercover officer had gathered private information about the Lawrences after infiltrating a protest group backing the campaign.
He said: ‘The mere presence of an undercover Metropolitan Police officer in the wider Lawrence family camp in such circumstances is highly questionable in terms of the appearance it creates of the MPS having a spy in the family’s camp.’
The undercover officer – referred to as N81 – was also found to have held a meeting with acting Detective Inspector Richard Walton, who had been seconded to the Met’s Lawrence review team, responsible for making submissions to the Macpherson inquiry.
Mr Ellison said this meeting was ‘a completely improper use’ of knowledge gained by the deployment of N81.
‘We find the opening of such a channel of communication at that time to have been wrong-headed and inappropriate,’ Mr Ellison added.
Mr Walton, now a £120,000-a-year commander in charge of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, faces an uncertain future. Met Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said it was important to be ‘fair’.
He said: ‘We only saw Mr Ellison’s report at the same time as you today, but we are now writing to him to ask for his notes so that we can study the detail before reaching a view. I cannot comment upon this any further until that has happened.’
The SDS, a top secret squad within Special Branch which was operational from 1968 to 2006, focused on infiltrating campaign groups with the potential for public disorder, such as environmental and animal rights activists.
Undercover officers were deployed by the SDS into activist groups that then sought to attach themselves to the Lawrence’s family’s campaign to challenge the adequacy of the investigation into Stephen’s murder.
As a result of Mr Francis’s allegations last year, Mr Ellison’s terms of reference were extended, and Operation Herne, an existing police investigation into the activities of the SDS supervised by Mick Creedon, chief constable of Derbyshire, agreed to prioritise ‘Lawrence-related’ aspects of its work.

The SDS allegations that Creedon is investigating include accusations that they used dead children’s identities and indulged in inappropriate relationships.

In a progress report published today, he said that the Crown Prosecution Service had been asked for advice over whether criminal charges should be brought over the trysts.

However, Mr Creedon had found no evidence to back a number of other claims made by former undercover officer Peter Francis.

Convicted: Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris, who were jailed for the racist murder of Stephen

Convicted: Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris, who were jailed for the racist murder of Stephen

Stephen Lawrence’s mother has called for criminal action to be taken against Metropolitan Police officers in the wake of a report into possible corruption surrounding her son’s case.
Baroness Lawrence described the latest revelations as the ‘final nail in the coffin’ and said those involved should resign for their ‘disgraceful’ actions.
‘You can’t trust them. Still to this day. Trust and confidence in the Met is going to go right down,’ she said.


  • April 22, 1993 Stephen Lawrence stabbed to death in south-east London.
  • April 23 1993 Suspects put under surveillance after the names of the murderers were written down in a note left in a phone box.
  • May 1993 Lawrence family become frustrated at lack of progress in case.
  • May to July 1993 Brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, David Norris, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight are arrested with Acourt and Knight picked out by Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks, who was with him when he was murdered. They deny the charges and in July 1993 the case against them is dropped, with Brooks’ evidence deemed unreliable.
  • September 1994 Private prosecution launched by Lawrence family.
  • December 1994 Surveillance footage emerges of Gary Dobson, David Norris, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight making racist remarks.
  • April 1996 Private prosecution fails
    February 1997 Daily Mail front page published with the suspects pictured and named under the headline ‘MURDERERS’.
  • July 1997 Public inquiry is launched
    July 1998 Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon apologies to the Lawrence family for ‘failings’.
  • July 2006 Metropolitan Police reviews its evidence following BBC documentary on the case.
  • November 2011 Trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris begins.
  • January 2012 Dobson and Norris are found guilty of murder.
  • March 2014 Ellison report suggests one of the officers in the original investigation was corrupt.

‘People look at the Met Police as a good example of what everyone else should be doing across the world. Once this goes out now… they can’t be trusted.’
Baroness Lawrence welcomed the public inquiry and said she had always had a feeling that more would emerge about the police investigation into her son’s death more than 20 years ago.
In her interview with ITV News, she said: ‘Every time an issue raises its head and there’s more information to come out, the questions like what do you know? I don’t know anything but I have a sixth sense, suspect there’s something else. I have always felt there is something else, there’s something.
‘Even though we’ve had two convictions, I’ve always felt there’s information I don’t know.’ She said the use of undercover officers in such situations needed to stop.
‘They need to look at the families,’ she said. ‘Why would you want to smear a family when they are grieving because they’ve lost a loved one?’
Baroness Lawrence, who was made a peer last October, went on: ‘At a time when you are suffering, the way my son was murdered, to find out rather than them supporting us as a family, they were doing the complete opposite.
‘I believed that there was corruption at the start of Stephen’s case and it’s taken over a year for that, but it’s taken nearly 21 years since Stephen’s been killed, and the fact that we as a family had to go through all this and still there’s more to come out.
‘It’s been 21 years of struggle and no family should have to do that.
‘I just wanted to say why I decided to stand up now, is to say thanks to the Home Secretary because I think without her instructing Mr Ellison (Mark Ellison QC) in the review, and Mr Ellison and his hard work up to this stage, we would still be wondering whether there was corruption and also whether undercover policing ever took place around my family.’
Mr Lawrence said the findings of the report were ‘simply corroborated’ what he already knew about the investigation into his son’s death.
In a statement he said: ‘What the Home Secretary has announced today is 21 years overdue. Mark Ellison’s report has simply corroborated what I have known for the past 21 years and our long fight for truth and justice continues.
‘I sat through the last inquiry but I have yet to decide whether I can go through another inquiry. I’m not sure I can go back to square one again. It is very painful. While all this has been happening, our family has been destroyed. I now live 5,000 miles away from my children and my grandchild.’
The MP for Eltham, where Stephen Lawrence was murdered, has said he found the Ellison review findings ‘chilling’.

David Norris (rear), Luke Knight (left) Neil Acourt (second left, partially obscured) and Jamie Acourt (right) leaving

David Norris (rear), Luke Knight (left) Neil Acourt (second left, partially obscured) and Jamie Acourt (right) leaving the previous public inquiry in 1998

Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham and Shadow Sports Minister, said: ‘I’m still reading through the report now but I can tell you it’s chilling.
‘We’ve got the disappearance of police documents, inexplicably destroyed, and with no record of any instructions to destroy them.
‘There’s also the spying on the family (Stephen’s). It’s all very, very serious.
‘There is absolutely no question that people have got to answer questions on what went on in a full public inquiry, and people should be compelled if necessary to give witness evidence on oath.’
Professor Simon Holdaway, an expert in race relations within police constabularies at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘Today’s statement from the Home Secretary has revealed shocking action by the police. The public inquiry which has been announced will deal with undercover policing, but concern should go much wider, to police race relations generally.
‘The inquiry will lead to public confidence in the police being damaged further. Police failings revealed will be woven into a long history of poor relationships between the police and black people. That history is not about the past, it lives today, seeping away public trust in the police.’

Tenacious: Doreen Lawrence campaigned tirelessly to bring her son's killers to justice and praised The Daily Mail's determined efforts to do the same

Tenacious: Doreen Lawrence campaigned tirelessly to bring her son’s killers to justice and praised The Daily Mail’s determined efforts to do the same

Famous: Part of the Daily Mail's front page from 1997

Famous: Part of the Daily Mail’s front page from 1997

Deputy commissioner Craig Mackey, of the Metropolitan Police, said: ‘I understand that today they must feel that all the trust we have worked to build is shattered by what they have heard and read.
‘As a police officer and a human being that’s a terrible position to be in.’
He said he was ‘saddened, shocked and very troubled by what the Home Secretary has said’ and that corrupt officers could not ‘hide behind the veil of the past’.


The now disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) will be heavily scrutinised by the inquiry ordered by Theresa May, as it has been at the centre of a raft of damaging allegations.
It was a shadowy undercover unit formed by the Met’s Special Branch, and operated between 1968 and 2008.
Its officers infiltrated and reported on groups linked to protest, but the SDS’s activities have been questioned repeatedly, including over sexual relationships engaged in by some officers with their targets.
However, arguably the most striking revelations were that the names of 42 dead children born between 1940 and 1975 were used by SDS undercover officers.
The procedure was phased out from 1994 in that unit, but potentially used after that period by the SDS’s successor unit, the NPOIU.
The Met Police launched Operation Herne into undercover police behaviour within the SDS in October 2011 following reports in the Guardian newspaper.
It followed disclosures about former Pc Mark Kennedy who was unmasked as an undercover officer who spied on environmental protesters as long-haired dropout Mark ‘Flash’ Stone, and had at least one sexual relationship with female activists.
It was claimed five undercover officers engaged in infiltrating environmental campaign groups between the mid 1980s and 2010 had relationships with the women lasting from seven months to nine years.
Bob Lambert, John Dines, Jim Boyling, Mark Cassidy and Mr Kennedy have been named as the alleged undercover officers.
Further damaging claims surrounding the SDS later surfaced, including that Mr Lambert, who had posed for years as an environmental activist, co-wrote a libellous leaflet that attacked McDonald’s and triggered the longest civil trial in English history.
Mr Lambert last year confirmed to Channel 4 News that he had co-authored it, and that he fathered a child with one of several targets he had relationships with while working undercover.
In the interview, Mr Lambert – an SDS manager for five years – said he accepted his behaviour was morally reprehensible and a gross invasion of privacy.
A new code of ethics for officers was unveiled last year banning undercover police from having sex with people they spy on.
And also last year, a Home Affairs Select Committee report said unacceptable sexual relationships and the ‘ghoulish’ use of dead children’s identities by undercover police had offered compelling evidence for an urgent review of legislation.

Stephen, 18, a would-be architect, was stabbed to death by a group of up to six white youths, in an unprovoked racist attack as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham, south east London, with a friend on April 22 1993. It took more than 18 years to bring two of Stephen’s killers to justice.
Mr Ellison QC, who was commissioned by the Home Secretary to conduct the review, successfully prosecuted Gary Dobson and David Norris for Stephen’s murder in 2012.
The Ellison report says that, in late July 1998, Scotland Yard’s Anti-Corruption Command held a debriefing with former Detective Constable Neil Putnam, in which he made claims against Mr Davidson.
The barrister says that both the intelligence picture suggesting Mr Davidson was a corrupt officer and the content of Mr Putnam’s debriefing should have been revealed to the public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson.
‘It is a source of some concern to us that nobody in the MPS who was aware of the detail of what Neil Putnam was saying about Mr Davidson appears to have thought to ask him about Mr Davidson’s motives in the Lawrence case,’ the report says.
After the Macpherson report was published in 1999, Mr Putnam, who was jailed for his own, separate corruption offences in 1998, alleged that, in the summer of 1994, Mr Davidson had admitted having a ‘corrupt connection’ with Clifford Norris, the convicted drug-smuggling father of Stephen’s murderer David.
Mr Ellison says that, while independent corroboration of Mr Putnam’s allegation does not currently exist, there are ‘outstanding lines of inquiry’ that could be investigated, which may change that assessment.
The barrister adds that ‘it is not impossible to envisage that the inquiry might have been driven to the conclusion that there must have been more to John Davidson’s failure to develop information and evidence in the Lawrence investigation than simply an inappropriate manner and unfortunate unconscious racism’.
Assuming Mr Putnam is available and willing to give evidence, there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that Mr Davidson acted corruptly, the findings said.
Mr Ellison’s report adds: ‘Other than Mr Putnam’s potential evidence, the material available which suggests that Mr Davidson may have been corrupt in the Stephen Lawrence investigation remains ‘intelligence’ and not ‘evidence’.’
In addition, Mr Ellison said his review has not been able to uncover all material evidence relating to the issue of corruption, adding that it is clear there are ‘significant areas’ where relevant Metropolitan Police records should exist but cannot be found.
The original anti-corruption intelligence database itself cannot be accounted for, the report adds.
Considering whether a further public inquiry should be held, Mr Ellison said the potential for any such inquiry to discover more than his own review has may well be ‘limited’.

Baroness Lawrence recently praised the Daily Mail’s campaign to bring her son’s racist killers to justice.

In February Doreen Lawrence, 61, described the Mail’s 1997 front page – which carried the headline ‘MURDERERS’, with pictures of the suspects – as a turning point in the police investigation.
She said the newspaper’s move, accusing five men of her son’s murder raised the profile of the case and highlighted the catastrophic failings of the police and justice system.
The front page was produced after the suspects arrogantly refused to answer the most basic of questions at an inquest into 18-year-old Stephen’s murder in 1993.
The subsequent coverage led to the setting up of the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing, which accused the Met of being ‘institutionally racist’

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