The former undercover officer behind claims of a police campaign to “smear” Stephen Lawrence’s family tells Channel 4 News he will give evidence to a public inquiry.
Peter Francis first appeared on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last year to claim that his undercover unit, the now-defunct Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), had been ordered by Scotland Yard to find material to discredit the Lawrence family shortly after Stephen‘s murder.
His account was challenged at the time by former senior officers.
Last week an independent review led by barrister Mark Ellison QC concluded that it was not possible to make any definitive findings on such a claim, in large part due to the destruction of police records: “There is no surviving record that we have seen that supports Mr Francis’ claim that he, or any other officer, was tasked to report back intelligence that might be used to `smear’ or undermine the Lawrence family.
However, the weight of the material that we have considered makes it clear that the majority of the records of the SDS work in the era have been destroyed. In addition, if there had been such tasking, it would most likely have been oral rather than recording in writing.”
But the Ellison review did conclude that another undercover officer had been deployed in 1998 as a “spy in the Lawrence family camp” at a time when the family’s dispute with Scotland Yard over the initial murder investigation had turned into a Public Inquiry. Such a deployment was described in the Ellison review as “highly questionable” and was one of several findings which the Home Secretary called “profoundly shocking”. She has announced there will be a judge-led public inquiry into the work of undercover police officers.
Mr Ellison will carry out another review into cases where SDS secrecy may have caused miscarriages of justice.
Stephen, 18, was killed in a racist attack in south east London in April 1993.
Five months later Mr Francis was deployed undercover to pose as Pete Black, a far-left activist. He said he was told to find “dirt” on the Lawrence family and others involved in campaigns for justice for Stephen.
Mr Francis told Dispatches:”Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns.”
As well as the Ellison review, a parallel inquiry into undercover policing – Operation Herne – headed up by Derbyshire Chief Constable also reported last week. The report stated that, after having interviewed more than 100 serving and former officers and police staff, they’d found no evidence to support Mr Francis’s claim of a ‘smear campaign’ against the Lawrence family. Peter Francis has responded by calling the Herne report a “whitewash”.
In 2012 Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murdering Stephen Lawrence and given life sentences.
Channel 4 News last spoke to Peter Francis in September 2013 (see video above).