Casting the First Stone by Angela Caldin

The Stephen Lawrence Case

The recent claim by an undercover police officer here in the UK that efforts were made to smear the reputations of the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence leave me groping for the right word to describe how I feel about this extraordinary revelation: I am dumbfounded, outraged, perplexed, horrified. There does not seem to be a word strong enough to convey the shock that overtook me when I heard the allegation that the police, instead of concentrating on finding evidence against those in the frame for the murder, were actively seeking to discredit the public campaign to bring the killers to justice. Indeed, they allegedly hounded and finally brought a prosecution for criminal damage against Stephen’s friend, Duwayne Brooks, the main witness to his murder, but this was thrown out by the judge as an abuse of process. How is it possible that senior officers might have thought it right to spend time and resources doing the exact opposite of what their job should have been?

Stephen’s mother, Doreen Lawrence, said the revelations were the most surprising thing she had learned about the long-running police investigation into her son’s murder: ‘Out of all the things I’ve found out over the years, this certainly has topped it.’ She added: ‘Nothing can justify the whole thing about trying to discredit the family and people around us.’ Mrs Lawrence said that in 1993 she was always baffled about why family liaison officers were recording the identities of everyone entering and leaving their household, adding that the family had always suspected police had been gathering evidence about her visitors in the hope of discrediting them.

The Macpherson Inquiry into why the police investigation had taken so long to achieve so little famously found that the Met Police was institutionally racist and that the fact that Stephen was black had coloured the attitude of officers investigating the murder. But that does not explain why they would step so far beyond their remit and attempt to smear the victim’s family and friends, who are themselves victims of this senseless murder. Now we learn that the Macpherson Inquiry never knew about the alleged long running and expensive smear campaign. Jack Straw, the former home secretary who in 1997 ordered the inquiry that led to the 1999 Macpherson report, said: ‘I’m profoundly shocked by this and by what amounts to a misuse of police time and money and entirely the wrong priorities.’

Twisted Priorities

That it seems to me is the nub of it – the wrong priorities. We have been told again and again over the years that all the agencies in the criminal justice system are intent on putting victims and their families at the heart of the system. Again and again we find that this is just empty words. Victims and their families carry the scars of crime with them for the rest of their lives while the system fails them and forgets about them. Louise Casey, the Victims’ Commissioner has said that the criminal justice system treats them as a poor relation and an afterthought. In the Lawrence case, the scales tipped even further over and the police appear to have directed resources towards investigating the family instead of investigating the killers. The lives of the Lawrence family have been totally blighted by this terrible murder and by the failure of the police to investigate it properly. Stephen was murdered in 1993, but it was not until 2011 that two of the original five suspects were convicted of the murder after the double jeopardy rule was abrogated in 2005.

Standards in Public Life and in Private

By what standards are those working in agencies which serve the public living? Where has this twisted set of values come from, this Alice through the Looking Glass distortion of what should be public honesty and accountability? We find examples whichever way we turn: the apparent failure of the Care Quality Commission to address properly raised concerns about poor standards followed by the alleged cover up of damning reports and the hounding of whistle blowers; the greedy irresponsible behaviour of bankers who took crazy risks with our money and did not care what happened as long as their own pockets were lined; the apparent blanket level of surveillance by GCHQ and others exposed by Edward Snowden whose life is now on hold as he waits in Moscow to find sanctuary somewhere in this world.

What has happened to us as a society? Why are public servants unable to get on with doing the job they are paid to do and why do they resort to underhand actions in an effort to protect themselves when things go wrong and are exposed? I suppose the answer is because of a strong instinct for self-preservation, which involves closing ranks together with an inability to face up to wrong doing. It seems that they collude in the creation of an alternative reality where the whistle blower is demonised in order to justify their actions. What we consider corruption and abuse of ‘powers’, they consider appropriate for their job because they have convinced themselves that what they are doing is right.

And are we ordinary citizens immune from all this as we sit in judgement? How well and how ethically are we living our own lives? Do we sometimes lie, cheat and deceive, protecting whatever new reality we have created for ourselves? The answer in many cases must be yes. High standards of moral and ethical behaviour have been eroded and we are all perpetrators and victims of that erosion. Perhaps we should look at our own standards and our own tendency towards deception before being so ready to be horrified at the actions of others.

 

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