Early mistakes in Stephen Lawrence investigation are irreparable – Met chief

Sir Mark Rowley was speaking to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee.

The Stephen Lawrence murder investigation may never progress because the mistakes in the original inquiry were so grave, the head of the Metropolitan Police has said.

Sir Mark Rowley told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that while some detectives have moved heaven and earth to move the probe on, the damage caused by some errors is irreparable.

He said: “The sad truth is that if you do such a bad job at an investigation in its first weeks and months you lose evidence … some of it can never be recovered.

“You miss forensic opportunities. You miss witness opportunities and witnesses’ memories degrade.”

Sir Mark Rowley in uniform sitting and gesturing with his hands at a previous apperance before the committee.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said detectives had ‘moved heaven and earth’ to try to make progress in the investigation (James Manning/PA)

Sir Mark went on: “I don’t want to pretend that you can necessarily always catch up the grounds that you’ve so badly lost in the early days.

“That’s what makes it so egregious and makes the error so egregious that they’re not repairable always.

“And some really top detectives have moved heaven and earth to try to cover some ground and have made some progress but haven’t been able to recover it all.

“I always keep hoping that we’ll find a new opportunity, but I’m not going to promise that we definitely will because I can’t.”

Stephen was murdered by a gang of five or six racist attackers in Eltham, south east London in April 1993 as he made his way home with his friend Duwayne Brooks.

Only two of his killers have faced justice – Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally jailed for life in 2012 after a trial hinging on tiny traces of forensic evidence.

Last month the BBC named a sixth suspect in the case for the first time, a man called Matthew White, and outlined the bungled handling of the evidence against him.

Associated Newspapers privacy case
Baroness Doreen Lawrence called for tougher action against incompetent or corrupt officers after the BBC detailed mistakes in the handling of evidence against a sixth suspect in her son’s murder (Aaron Chown/PA)

Two witnesses said White had confessed to being present during the attack – one of whom, his stepfather, was not spoken to by police until 20 years after the murder because officers had previously misidentified him.

Stephen’s mother Baroness Doreen Lawrence expressed fury that White, who died in 2021, would never face justice because of police mistakes.

A routine forensics review of any potential new evidence in the case is being led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward, who has recently joined the Met from West Midlands Police.

But the investigation remains in an inactive phase.

Prosecutors are yet to decide whether officers involved in the original investigation should face charges for misconduct in public office.

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