A leaked Daily Mail story about advances in the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence undermined the probe into the teenager’s death, the Leveson Inquiry heard this morning.
The Metropolitan police’s DCI Clive Driscoll, who led the re-opened inquiry into the teenager’s murder, described a November 2007 meeting he sought to hold in secret with Stephen’s mother, Doreen, and her lawyers.
Driscoll said while he was on the train home that evening, he received a phone call saying a story following the meeting would be running in the Daily Mail the next day.
“Stephen’s family were distraught about this,” Driscoll wrote in his witness statement, adding that the story “undermined” the Met’s relationship with the Lawrence family. “When this happened it was almost like going back to square one,” he wrote.
“Every time a story leaked to the press I had to repair relations with the family,” he wrote, adding later that the volume of leaks led him to believe that “someone was deliberately attempting to disrupt the investigation”.
Driscoll said he had “nothing but respect” for Stephen Wright, the Mail journalist whose name appeared on the November 2007 story. “No-one has tried harder, no organisation has tried harder to bring justice to Stephen’s parents,” Driscoll said, “but we were getting there, and it was undermining that inquiry, and I can’t understand that.”
“I have admiration with what the paper did in supporting the family, I have admiration in Mr Wright pursuing it. The bit I can’t understand is why, when you get there, you would then do anything to undermine it.”
Driscoll says he does not know who leaked the story about the meeting to the Mail. As a result, “everyone became a suspect”.
He added that Wright was spoken to by the police following the story and did not write a second piece. The journalist also maintained that the article did not come from a police source.
“I do not believe Mr Wright would have done anything to deliberately undermine the investigation,” Driscoll wrote.
The officer also thanked the paper for choosing not to publish another piece related to the Lawrence inquiry, which he said would have had “a serious consequence on the investigation we were planning.”
Driscoll admitted that the nature of Lawrence’s murder in 1993 — one of the “defining murders of its time”, he said — meant it would always generate a certain amount of press interest. In his written evidence he noted that a “significant amount” of information about the investigation was being leaked to the media, namely the News of the World, in October 2007. “This was incredibly damaging,” he wrote.
Also in the witness box this morning was the Sun’s crime editor, Mike Sullivan, who said he believes that the Metropolitan police have grading charts on individual journalists with a marking system to show the favourability of the coverage towards the police. Yet the Met’s counsel, Neil Garnham QC, denied this was the case.
Sullivan also criticised the Filkin report into press-police relations for its “patronising” tone towards journalists, adding that he does not know any journalists who will “pour alcohol” down sources’ necks to get a story.
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson