A new criminal offence of police corruption will be created following “profoundly shocking” revelations about Scotland Yard’s investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the home secretary says.
Addressing the House of Commons on Thursday morning, Theresa May said that an addition to the criminal justice and courts bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, would be made to deal with serious police corruption.
The announcement comes after a major review of Scotland Yard’s investigation of the racist murder of the black teenager in south east London found evidence to suspect one of the detectives involved acted corruptly. Mark Ellison QC said that the Met displayed a “significant failure” when allegations made against detective sergeant John Davidson were not brought to the attention of the Macpherson inquiry.
Ms May also announced that a judge-led inquiry into the work of undercover officers is to be held after Ellison found that a Metropolitan Police “spy” was working within the “Lawrence family camp”.
The inquiry will cover the work of Scotland Yard’s special demonstrations squad (SDS), members of which have been revealed to have stolen the identities of dead children and assumed them for decades at a time. Ellison found that the “extraordinary level of secrecy” employed around the squad, which was operational between 1968-2006, meant that there was a “real potential for miscarriages of justice to have occurred”.
In a speech to the Commons that has put the spotlight on the state of British policing, Ms May …
“The totality of what the [Ellison] report shows is deeply troubling,” Ms May told MPs.
The report found that allegations of corruption were made against Mr Davidson, who has now left the police, by a colleague Neil Puttnam. But those were not brought to the attention of Macpherson. “Ellison finds that this lack of disclosure was a significant failure by the Metropolitan Police.”
And Ellison, who successfully prosecuted Gary Dobson and David Norris in 2012 for Stephen Lawrence’s murder, said that there remained lines of inquiry related to Mr Davidson that could provide evidence of corruption among other officers. Although he added that that evidence did not currently exist.
“It is a source of some concern to us that nobody in the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) 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 Ellison report stated.
The review also refers to links between the allegedly-corrupt Mr Davidson and the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in 1987.
Referring to the finding that a spy, referred to as “N81”, operated within the Lawrence family camp, Ms May said: “In August 1998, the SDS arranged for N81 to meet Richard Walton, then a Detective Inspector involved in writing the Met’s submissions to the McPherson inquiry. SDS files record that they had a ‘fascinating and valuable’ exchange.
“Ellison finds that the opening of this channel of communication was ‘completely improper’. He finds no discernable public benefit to the meeting taking place and says that, had it been disclosed at the time of the inquiry, it would have been seen as the MPS trying to achieve some secret advantage in the inquiry from SDS undercover deployment.
“If it had been made public in 1998, Ellison finds serious public disorder of the very kind so feared by the MPS might well have followed.”
And she said that Ellison’s report found that SDS operated with an “extraordinary level of secrecy”, which meant there was a “real potential for miscarriages of justice to have occurred”.
Ms May said: “In particular, Ellison says there is an inevitable potential for SDS officers to have been viewed by those they are infiltrating as encouraging and participating in criminal behaviour.
“He refers to officers in criminal trials failing to reveal their true identities, meaning that crucial information that should have been disclosed, was not given to the defence and the court.
“And he finds that undercover officers sometimes failed to correct evidence given in court which they knew to be wrong. This means that there is a chance that people could have been convicted for offences when they should not have been. We must, therefore, establish if there have been miscarriages of justice.”
Last June, former SDS officer Peter Francis claimed he had been deployed undercover from September 1993 and tasked to find out any intelligence that might be used to “smear” or undermine the Lawrence family campaign.
As a result, 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 Home Secretary acknowledged that undercover officers work in “difficult and dangerous conditions” and that they have helped to bring criminals to justice.
But she said that the Ellison review revealed “very real and substantial failings”. She said: “The picture which emerges about the SDS from this report and from other material in the public domain is of significant failings of judgment, intrusive supervision and leadership over a sustained period.”
She added: “I don’t say this lightly but I think that the greatest possible scrutiny is now needed into what has taken place. And so given the gravity of what has now been uncovered, I have decided a public inquiry led by a judge is necessary to investigate undercover policing and the operation of the SDS.
Only a public inquiry will be able to get to the full truth behind the matters of huge concern contained in Mark Ellison’s report.
Theresa May, home secretary
She told MPs that, alongside the public inquiry, will be a “forensic external review” of the exact role Home Office played in relation to the SDS after a police investigation into the undercover unit – Operation Herne – found the government department was instrumental in setting it up, and initially funded it directly.
Mr Ellison will carry out a further review into cases where SDS secrecy may have caused miscarriages of justice.
Mrs May said the police have been damaged by today’s revelations and action was needed to improve trust and confidence in the Met and other forces.
In a statement, Stephen Lawrence’s father Neville 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.”
Met Police deputy commissioner Craig Mackey said: “There can be no serving police officer today who will not be saddened, shocked, and very troubled by what the Home Secretary has said, and the conclusions that Mr Ellison has reached.”
He said that the force would “fully support” the public inquiry and other processes ordered by the home secretary.