Met Police apologises to Stephen Lawrence’s mother after breaking promise

The Met Police has apologised to Stephen Lawrence’s mother for breaking a promise to answer questions raised by a BBC investigation into his murder.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence was promised an explanation after the BBC named a major suspect last June.

Multiple police failings to properly investigate him were also identified.

Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley apologised and told the BBC “on top of the failures over the decades this is totally unacceptable”.

Stephen was 18 when he was stabbed to death in a racist attack by a group of young white men on 22 April 1993, in Eltham, south London.

The Met’s disastrous handling of the landmark case means only two of his killers have been convicted.

Last year, the BBC publicly identified a sixth suspect, Matthew White, who died in 2021 aged 50.

Family Handout Stephen Lawrence, pictured in a family photoFamily Handout
Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the failed investigation sparked a landmark public inquiry

In her first interview since then, Baroness Lawrence told the BBC that Stephen’s murder inquiry should be reopened.

Speaking ahead of the 31st anniversary of her son’s death, Baroness Lawrence said that without the BBC investigation, the family would not know what they do now about White.

“He’s probably the key one who probably caused Stephen’s murder, and they [the Met] did nothing about it,” she said.

“I’m not sure what they’re hiding behind, why they can’t come and tell me exactly what they knew then,” she told the BBC.

In a statement to the BBC, Sir Mark said Baroness Lawrence “must have answers to all her questions”, adding that he had written to her offering to meet.

A spokesperson for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the way Baroness Lawrence had been treated was “totally unacceptable”.

Mr Khan is meeting Sir Mark on Monday where the mayor will be “making clear to the commissioner that he believes the family and wider community need to know that everything possible is being done to bring justice for Stephen”, his spokesperson said.

They added that it was “vital” any new lines of inquiry were “properly investigated”.

Two men, David Norris and Gary Dobson, were eventually given life sentences for Stephen’s murder in 2012. The other three original prime suspects – brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt, and Luke Knight – have not been convicted. All have previously denied any involvement.

Last year, the BBC revealed that independent witnesses had said White had admitted being present during the murder. The investigation also showed that in 1993 White looked like the unidentified lead attacker described by Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks, who was with him that night and told detectives there were six attackers.

In October 2023, following the BBC story, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward, who is in charge of the dormant case, asked Baroness Lawrence to attend a meeting at Scotland Yard.

PA Media Sir Mark RowleyPA Media
Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said restoring trust in the force was one of his priorities

Following the meeting he promised to follow up with a written explanation relating to White, as well as answers to other questions.

On 16 November, Mr Ward wrote saying he should have an update in a week.

In January, following further letters on behalf of Baroness Lawrence, Mr Ward accepted he had failed to provide a response, blaming other commitments.

“I can offer no further consolation other than my professional embarrassment and personal regret,” he wrote. There was then no further communication.

Last Thursday, her solicitor Imran Khan KC wrote to Sir Mark on her behalf, to highlight Mr Ward’s failure to communicate with her.

The letter stated that Mr Ward had treated Baroness Lawrence with “complete and utter contempt”, adding that he had “joined a long line of Metropolitan Police officers who have completely failed her and her family”.

Stephen Lawrence: The Sixth Suspect

New evidence about the murder of Stephen Lawrence, uncovered by BBC investigative reporter, Daniel De Simone.

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BBC iPlayer

Addressing Sir Mark personally, the letter stated: “You and your organisation continue to show disrespect for Baroness Lawrence and have now shown that your public pronouncements with regards to your commitment to investigating the murder of Stephen are hollow and meaningless.”

The letter stated that a formal complaint would be made about Mr Ward’s conduct unless the commissioner personally provided a “satisfactory response” to the original questions.

Sir Mark told the BBC: “We recognise this is a particularly difficult time for the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks. I am sorry our failure to respond in a timely fashion has added to this.

“On top of the failures over the decades this is totally unacceptable.

“Restoring trust in the Met is one of my top priorities and that includes how we work with those affected by the failures of the past.

“I apologise to Baroness Lawrence who must have answers to all her questions. I have written to her and offered to meet.”

Sir Mark separately faced a call to resign at the weekend from the boss of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, Gideon Falter, over his treatment by the Met during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London.

Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight
Brothers Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight (l-r) have all denied involvement in Stephen’s murder

The Met’s early failures to deal with Stephen’s parents fairly and properly were criticised by the landmark Macpherson Report in 1999. Now, 25 years on, the force is still having to apologise for such failings.

The Met stopped investigating the murder in 2020, stating that all available lines of inquiry had been exhausted.

But the BBC investigation showed not everything possible had been done – something the Met denies – and that some key witnesses had not been seen for years before White’s death.

During her interview, in a personal message for Sir Mark, Baroness Lawrence said: “There’s still three suspects out there and I’m sure there’s witnesses that probably could help them if they’re interested.

“If you don’t go and look, you’re never going to find anything.”

Policing minister Chris Philp said he believed the Met could be trusted to handle Stephen’s case.

He said the force had been on a “very long journey” since the murder, and it was now a “very different organisation”.

The BBC is continuing to investigate the murder and is aware of opportunities to gather evidence, which are also known to the Met.

Matthew White, wearing a green checked shirt, pictured in a police surveillance photo
Matthew White was caught on a police surveillance camera during the first failed investigation of the murder

Baroness Lawrence said her family had always been led to believe there was a wall of silence around Stephen’s murder.

“But that shows from your investigation that people do want to talk and people have information to give them [the Met]. But they’ve chosen not to go and get it,” she said.

She added the outstanding suspects were “living their lives, they don’t have to worry, because the police have no intention of following up and seeking to investigate them”.

Baroness Lawrence does not trust the Met when it says everything possible has been done to bring outstanding suspects to justice.

“I can’t believe anything they say,” she added.