The parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence have warned that they are losing confidence in the ability of a public inquiry to uncover the truth of how undercover police officers spied on them.
Stephen’s mother, Doreen Lawrence said it was an “an utter disgrace” that the Metropolitan police had failed to fulfil its promise to release documents detailing the surveillance operation on her family.
She said she was “exhausted” by a long line of “hollow and downright hypocritical” promises made by police and others in authority during her family’s long quest for justice.
She told Sir John Mitting, the judge leading the inquiry, that he had now “the choice of either being one of those in the long line of those that failed [her] or those very few that did not.” She spoke of how she had mourned the loss of her son every single day since he was killed by a racist gang in 1993.
Her criticisms of the public inquiry were echoed by her ex–husband, Neville, who said the progress of the heavily-delayed inquiry did “not lead him to feel confidence in its approach or in its outcome.” He too called on Mitting not to fail him as he had “been failed so badly by the state over so many years”.
Lawyers for Stephen’s parents gave opening statements on Tuesday at the public inquiry which is looking at how undercover officers spied on more than 1,000 political groups over more than 40 years.
The inquiry was set up by six years ago by Theresa May, the then home secretary, after the Guardian revealed that a Scotland Yard undercover unit had spied on the Lawrences while they were trying to compel police to investigate properly their son’s murder.
May commissioned the inquiry after discovering that the Met planted a “spy in the Lawrence family camp” who gathered personal details about Doreen and Neville as well as “fascinating and valuable” information about their campaign. At least three undercover officers spied on them.
Imran Khan, Doreen Lawrence’s QC, told Mitting that she “is losing confidence, if she has not already lost it, in this inquiry’s ability to get to the truth; the truth as to why she, her family and supporters were spied upon by the police. This inquiry is not delivering on what she was promised and is not achieving what she expected. To say that Baroness Lawrence is disappointed is to understate her position.”
Khan said that she considered it “an utter disgrace” that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the then Met commissioner, had failed to honour a promise made six years ago to release to her documents detailing the surveillance operation on her family. “She is none the wiser as to why she and her family and supporters were spied upon,” he added.
He reminded Mitting that he too had promised to disclose information about the surveillance to her three years ago. “Baroness Lawrence is exhausted by the number of times that she has been given reassurances and promises. Each appears to have been as hollow as the next and some appear downright hypocritical,” Khan said.
Only two of the five suspects have been jailed for Stephen’s murder. Khan said: “For any parent to have to outlive their child is unimaginable – to lose their child in such circumstances is inconceivable; to still be fighting for justice 27 years on is unacceptable; and for those parents to be fighting for justice while being spied upon by the police, whose very role was to support and protect them, is simply unforgivable.”
Khan read a personal note from Lawrence on how her life changed after her son’s murder”
“I now lead a completely different life – one that I never imagined I would have or wanted. For years I have felt like an only soul in a sea of millions,” she said. “Whilst I understood why so many around me wanted to help me and support me, their presence only highlighted my own loneliness and sadness.”
Last week, the inquiry started to hear evidence in public for the first time. A key reason the inquiry has been delayed is that the police requested – and were granted by Mitting – a large number of legal orders to keep secret their identities.
Heather Williams, QC for Neville Lawrence, said the delay had “substantially increased the distress” he had suffered. He is “deeply troubled” by Mitting’s decisions to allow many of the undercover officers to remain hidden.