Inquiry finds former head of Met police counter-terrorism command would have had case to answer if he had not retired
2 MARCH 2016 | BY ROB EVANS & VIKRAM DODD FOR THE GUARDIAN
The parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence have criticised police for allowing one of their senior officers to retire and avoid disciplinary charges over an alleged plot to spy on his family.
Neville Lawrence said it was “wholly wrong” that the Metropolitan police had permitted former commander Richard Walton to retire from his post as the head of its counter-terrorism command.
Walton quit in January, six days after a watchdog sent the Met the findings of its investigation into the spying controversy.
On Wednesday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that its two-year investigation had found that Walton and another retired officer, Bob Lambert, would have had a case to answer for misconduct if they had still been employed by the police.
Stephen’s parents had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Met to stop Walton retiring so that he would face disciplinary charges.
Speaking from his home in Jamaica, Mr Lawrence said: “I have long felt that allowing officers to retire to avoid disciplinary action totally undermines public confidence in the police.”
He said that the IPCC investigation had made it clear that the police had “wrongly spied” on his family, adding that he wanted to know “at what level of seniority within the Metropolitan police this spying was sanctioned”.
Doreen Lawrence said: “My family and the public at large have been denied the opportunity of seeing justice done yet again in this case.”
The IPCC investigation was launched in 2014 after a Home Office-commissioned inquiry reported that police had been involved in a plot to collect “fascinating and valuable” intelligence from an undercover officer.
The Met had planted the undercover officer in the “Lawrence family camp” and was gathering information about the bereaved family and their supporters, according to the investigation by Mark Ellison QC.
He said it could have appeared that the Met was trying to use the intelligence to gain a “secret advantage” over the family at a judge-led public inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by the police.
At the time, former high court judge Sir William Macpherson was heading the public inquiry scrutinising the Met’s botched investigation into Stephen’s murder by a racist gang in 1993.
On Wednesday, the IPCC said its investigation had found no evidence that the undercover officer, identified only as N81, passed information about the Lawrence family or their campaign to Walton, then an acting detective inspector, at a secret meeting in August 1998.
At the time, N81 had infiltrated a political group that was supporting the Lawrence family’s campaign for a proper investigation by the police into the murder.
The IPCC added that, if the fact of the meeting had become public at the time of the Macpherson inquiry, this might well have caused serious public concern.
Lambert was found to have a case to answer for misconduct for his part in arranging the meeting, while Walton’s case involved his attendance at the meeting.
The IPCC deputy chair, Sarah Green, said: “During the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the honesty and integrity of the Metropolitan police was rightly under intense public scrutiny. The force’s reputation may have suffered immense damage had the meeting become public knowledge at the time.
“The IPCC found that Robert Lambert and Richard Walton both had a case to answer for discreditable conduct in that their actions could have brought the force into disrepute.
“As neither of the men are now serving police officers, it is not possible for misconduct proceedings to take place to determine whether or not the case would be proven.”
Lambert ran covert operations infiltrating political groups in the 1990s after working undercover himself in the 1980s when he fathered a child with an activist. He retired from the police in 2007, before revelations about the work of the undercover officers began to emerge.
Walton has previously said that he had intended for 30 years to retire in January and had informed the IPCC of his intention. He had said he was disappointed that the IPCC’s investigation had taken two years to complete “especially as I am a strong supporter of police officers being publicly accountable”.
On Wednesday, the Met defended Walton saying that it had disagreed with the IPCC’s conclusions that the actions of Walton and Lambert amounted to a case to answer on a charge of misconduct.
The force said that while there was little doubt that Walton had met the undercover officer, there was little evidence that the meeting was improper or intended to bolster the Met’s defence of itself at the Macpherson Inquiry.
In 1999, Macpherson branded the Met “institutionally racist” over its failings that allowed the teenager’s killers to escape justice.
Ellison’s report in March 2014 prompted the home secretary, Theresa May, to appoint a senior judge to lead another public inquiry, this time to examine a wide range of allegations surrounding the conduct of undercover police officers since 1968.
The latest inquiry, led by Lord Justice Pitchford, is preparing to hold public hearings into the police’s covert infiltration of hundreds of political groups.
Pitchford will be scrutinising issues such as the long-term relationships formed by undercover officers with women, the theft of dead children’s identities and the monitoring of politicians.
However the Met is attempting to have large parts of the inquiry held in secret – a move criticised on Wednesday by Mr Lawrence, who said: “In my 23 years of experience of the Metropolitan police, it has often been evident that had they been open about misconduct then it could have saved everybody a lot of heartache over the years.”