The allegations of a smear campaign conducted against the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence by undercover police officers has made front-page headlines and led the national news bulletins on television and radio for the past day.
The police said today that if any evidence of law-breaking is discovered, criminal charges will be brought.
We will have to wait until tonight’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4 to discover whether any senior police officers are named as ordering the smear campaign. Certainly, none have been identified in any of the reports broadcast or published so far. There is usually a good reason for that.
Significantly, though, the Prime Minister, “Call Me Dave” Cameron, has weighed into the controversy today to condemn roundly any smear campaign, if it is found to be true.
Even though the murder took place elsewhere in south London, in Eltham, here in Croydon, local MP Gavin Barwell has leapt into the media spotlight to ask questions over the allegations from the former undercover officer.
Long before these latest smear allegations were made public, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the Stephen Lawrence murder was found to be inadequate, with the force condemned by the Macpherson Inquiry in 1999 as being “institutionally racist”.
Central to the condemnation of the Macpherson Inquiry was David Osland, one of the Met’s most senior officers involved with the Lawrence murder investigation who has, since his retirement from the force in 1994, been a Conservative councillor for Coulsdon West ward at Croydon Town Hall.
Today, Lord Condon, Osland’s former boss when he was the head of the Met at the time of the Lawrence investigation, tried to distance himself from the smear allegations, saying that he did not know “where the truth lies” after the whistleblower alleged he had been asked to spy on relatives of the murdered teenager in a bid to undermine their campaign to bring his killer to justice.
Condon told the BBC that “a deliberate smear campaign to discredit grieving parents cannot be justified”. No shit, Sherlock.
“There was no authority as far as I am aware at the top of the Metropolitan Police at any time during my time as commissioner to carry out an undercover smear campaign against the Lawrences,” Condon said.
Yet it is already a matter of public record that Condon, when he was the Met Commissioner, in September 1993, was in receipt of a memo from one of his most senior officers which said, “Our patience is wearing thin on 3 Area, not only with the Lawrence family and their representatives but also with self-appointed media commentators.”
That memo was written by David Osland, then the Scotland Yard deputy commissioner.
Four years later, Osland gave a controversial interview to his local newspaper.
Coming shortly after an initial investigation by Kent Police which ruled out racism as the cause of the murder investigation’s failings (the police investigating the police is a long-discredited formula), Osland actually called on his fellow police officers to consider suing the Lawrence family.
Despite repeated calls on him to do so, Osland has never apologised to the Lawrence family for the comments he made in that interview.
And while asking a question in the House of Commons is a welcome action by Croydon Central’s Barwell, it does beg the question why the local MP doesn’t put the same questions to Osland: after all, Barwell was a Croydon councillor for the same Coulsdon West ward as Osland for 12 years.
Maybe ethics, standards of policing, the Stephen Lawrence murder and racism in south London never came up in conversation between Barwell and Osland in that time?
8.30pm UPDATE: Halfway through the Dispatches programme, and no names of the senior officers who may have commissioned the undercover police spy, “Peter Black”, to smear the Lawrence family.
Indeed, although Peter Francis – to give him his real name – recalls being presented with a bottle of Scotch by Condon himself, the former Met Commissioner delivered another lengthy denial of any knowledge that any such unit existed within Special Branch.
And another former senior Met officer also issued a statement through his favourite local newspaper tonight denying any knowledge or involvement in the alleged smear campaign.
“The unit was not in my line of command,” said Coulsdon Tory councillor Osland. “I would not have requested or authorised any such activity myself and I cannot comment further as I do not know the details of the issues raised and await the inquiry announced today.”
So no one at the top of Scotland Yard knew anything about it. Makes you wonder how the Met operated at all, if senior officers such as Osland and Condon had no knowledge whatsoever about their force’s undercover operations that were targeted at high-profile investigations which, in Osland’s case, they were supervising.
- The Stephen Lawrence murder case and Croydon’s connection
- Lawrence inquiry officer to chair council’s ethics committee
- Read more on the 1998 MacPherson Inquiry
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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