UK

Detective who brought Stephen Lawrence killers to justice tells all

There seemed to be something almost heaven-sent in the coincidence, and former Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll recalls it with his customary mix of reverence and humour.

It was the 15th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the great and good had gathered at St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London, to mark the day in April 1993 when the black teenager was murdered; stabbed by racist thugs simply because of his skin colour as he waited for a bus home in south-east London.

Alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown were Opposition leaders, the Home Secretary and police chiefs, as well as Stephen’s parents Doreen and Neville Lawrence — ‘two of the loveliest, bravest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet,’ says Clive.

Stephen Lawrence was stabbed by racist thugs simply because of his skin colour as he waited for a bus home in south-east London in April 1993

He sat next to his boss Cressida Dick, then a Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, since elevated to Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

‘And I was belting out All Things Bright And Beautiful and looking at this giant poster of young Stephen — handsome, innocent, full of hope — in that black and white shirt of his, at the front of the church,’ he remembers.

As the service ended, Clive took a call from the head of the forensic team he had commissioned to search for vital new evidence into Stephen’s murder. 

No one had been convicted of the crime, which had become a cause celebre: arguably the most high-profile unsolved racially-motivated murder of all time.

Now Clive, who in 2006 was brought in as Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) of a new inquiry into Stephen’s killing, had news of an explosive breakthrough. 

Forensic scientists had found Stephen’s blood on a jacket belonging to one of the murder suspects, Gary Dobson.

‘I looked up at Stephen’s picture and I said to him, “It ain’t going to be long now, son, I promise,” then I told Ma’am [Dick]. I leant down to her — she’s tiny — and it must have looked as if I was nibbling her ear. ‘I said: “We’ve just found Stephen’s blood on Gary Dobson’s jacket,” and she said, “Gosh.”

‘I thought she could have tried a bit harder than “gosh”.’ He laughs. ‘It was A1, Rolls-Royce, cherry-on-top evidence.’ It proved pivotal. 

Former Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll was brought in as Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) of a new inquiry into Stephen’s killing in 2006

Former Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll was brought in as Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) of a new inquiry into Stephen’s killing in 2006

Fibres from Stephen’s garments were also found on Dobson’s jacket and on trousers belonging to another suspect, David Norris.

Stephen’s murder had been the subject of ten investigations, two failed court cases, an inquest and an inquiry that had found the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally racist’.

Then, thanks to an earlier Daily Mail campaign, Justice For Stephen launched in February 1997 with a seminal front page which had branded five suspects ‘MURDERERS’ — there was an opportunity for justice.

Our campaign had resulted in the repeal of the double jeopardy law which had prevented a suspect previously acquitted of murder — such as Dobson — from being tried again.

Now the story of DCI Driscoll’s investigation is being serialised in a three-part ITV drama, Stephen, featuring Steve Coogan as Clive, Sharlene Whyte as Doreen Lawrence and Hugh Quarshie as her ex-husband Neville.

Now the story of DCI Driscoll’s investigation is being serialised in a three-part ITV drama, Stephen, featuring Steve Coogan as Clive (pictured)

Now the story of DCI Driscoll’s investigation is being serialised in a three-part ITV drama, Stephen, featuring Steve Coogan as Clive (pictured) 

‘I find it quite humbling and surreal if I’m honest,’ says Clive. ‘But I’m a bit of a side-show really.

‘I hope when people watch it they’ll understand it’s a tribute to Baroness Lawrence, Dr Neville Lawrence and Mr Duwayne Brooks [Stephen’s friend and witness to his murder] who were all so helpful to me.’

There is a searing irony in Coogan’s role in the drama given that the actor harbours a visceral hatred of the Daily Mail — the very newspaper that campaigned relentlessly for justice for Stephen Lawrence. ‘If [the Mail] went to the wall tomorrow, I’d be delighted,’ he once said.

And it may be no coincidence that the Daily Mail is barely mentioned. This is an omission recognised by Julian Knight MP, chairman of the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who this week said it was ‘an extraordinary oversight’.

‘It seems bizarre that a drama depicting the horrific events and pursuit of justice doesn’t take account of one of the most effective and worthy campaigns in Fleet Street history,’ he said.

Clive, too, is keen to give credit where it is due. ‘If people don’t understand the importance of what the Daily Mail did, they are living on Mars,’ he says. ‘I’m extremely grateful for its campaign.’ 

Thanks in no small part to this newspaper’s input, Dobson and Norris stood trial and are now serving 15 years and two months and 14 years, three months respectively. 

Meanwhile, three other men who were identified as suspects at the time — Jamie and Neil Acourt and Luke Knight — did not face further charges.

Clive, 70, an old-school officer in the best tradition, can take credit for the convictions although he insists he’s ‘just the figurehead for an outstanding team’.

Yet incredibly, in 2013, after 32 exemplary years’ service to the Met, he was forced to retire. Then aged 62, and over the limit on age and service, it was within the Met’s power to request that he stay on for a few more years.

However, the directive, from Dame Cressida Dick — who is certainly portrayed in an unsympathetic light in the drama — was unequivocal.

‘I was asked to say I wanted to retire, so that was what I could tell Baroness Lawrence,’ Clive says.

The Daily Mail campaign, Justice For Stephen launched in February 1997 with a seminal front page which had branded five suspects ‘MURDERERS’ — there was an opportunity for justice

The Daily Mail campaign, Justice For Stephen launched in February 1997 with a seminal front page which had branded five suspects ‘MURDERERS’ — there was an opportunity for justice

‘But I’ve never lied to the Lawrence family so I refused to say it. It wasn’t just me. Our whole team was being disbanded. I’d have stayed but I felt [the Met] didn’t want me to. I genuinely don’t know why.’

We can hypothesise endlessly about the reasons. But could it simply be that DCI Clive Driscoll and his team had shown up, too starkly for comfort, the many shortcomings in the previous investigations?

Clive is too loyal to speculate. He says: ‘I sent an email to Ma’am saying, “You can phone me any time you like”. 

‘I still feel a moral responsibility to the investigation and it was within the Met’s power to let me stay on for a few more years to advise on the case.

‘If they’d asked me to I’d have done so with pleasure. Instead I was told a new SIO would be recruited for Stephen’s case and I’d be let go in June the following year.

‘I honestly didn’t expect it. You must assume they were happy with their decision, but it put the investigation back a pace.’

Baroness Lawrence was appalled that Clive — the one officer she trusted; the policeman who, in her eyes, had redeemed the Met, secured two convictions and was ready to continue the investigation — had been summarily let go.

‘She went to war in the Press, saying the decision was a backdoor way of slamming the door on her son’s case. She would have spoken to the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, on my behalf. But I felt if we forced her arm it would be difficult and I didn’t want that for the investigation or my team,’ he says.

In fact, last year the Met announced that its investigation into the Stephen Lawrence case was now closed and although Clive says he is ‘still at their disposal’ his phone hasn’t rung.

He remains friends with the Lawrence family and is protective of Doreen, who has been vilified, racially abused; even subject to a car-jacking. ‘There are still people who are beastly to Baroness Lawrence,’ he says, ‘And there’s no way I’ll see her hurt.’

Clive was granted an honorary doctorate from De Montfort University, Leicester, as recognition of his contributions to law and justice in the UK, but the OBE or Queen’s Police Medal, customarily awarded to officers of his standing, have eluded him. Should he have been honoured? ‘That’s for others to decide, not me,’ he says. ‘I’m just proud and privileged to have served in the Met.’

The man who succeeded where so many had shamefully failed is both tough and genial; approachable and irreproachable.

Although utterly dedicated to The Job, he was never too busy to share a doughnut and a chat with a witness. ‘It’s very hard for people to think you’re a member of Hitler’s Third Reich if you’ve got sugar round your face,’ he laughs. 

He is keenly aware — and quietly amused — that he cracked a case that had eluded the Met’s finest for years. ‘The big-time Johnnies know that this wooden top — and a team of outstanding, can-do detectives — had solved the crime they couldn’t.

The cast of a TV drama about the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation has been shown in character for the first time. Pictured: Sharlene Whyte as Doreen Lawrence (left), Jorden Myrie as Stuart Lawrence (middle) and Hugh Quarshie as Neville Lawrence (right)

The cast of a TV drama about the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation has been shown in character for the first time. Pictured: Sharlene Whyte as Doreen Lawrence (left), Jorden Myrie as Stuart Lawrence (middle) and Hugh Quarshie as Neville Lawrence (right)

‘There was resentment, which I find daft. We’re all in the Met and they should have rejoiced, not undermined us.

‘It wasn’t about embarrassing anyone, it was about solving a murder and giving at least partial justice to the Lawrence family.’

He had volunteered to re-open Stephen’s case in 2006 after finding a roomful of files from the original investigation while clearing out the old Deptford Police Station in south-east London.

Doreen Lawrence had been routinely dismissed as uppity and unhelpful during the first bungled inquiry; her input ignored.

Yet Detective Superintendent Brian Weeden, SIO of the first murder investigation, explained to an incredulous public inquiry in 1998 that the reason no arrests had been made four days after the killing was because he did not know the law permitted arrest on reasonable suspicion — a basic tenet of criminal law.

False rumours that Stephen was in a gang or dealing drugs were circulating within hours of his murder. In fact he was ‘a lovely normal lad from a lovely normal family who happened to be black,’ says Clive.

Then 18 and an A-level student intent on becoming an architect, he was waiting for a bus with his friend Duwayne when he was subjected to a sustained and horrific stabbing. And no one had been successfully prosecuted for his murder.

When Clive took over the case, he was intent on righting the heinous wrongs perpetrated against the family who had even taken out a private, but unsuccessful, prosecution against the suspects because the Met had failed them so grievously.

The family: Stuart Lawrence (left), Doreen Lawrence (middle) and Neville Lawrence (right)

The family: Stuart Lawrence (left), Doreen Lawrence (middle) and Neville Lawrence (right)

‘If I’d had a pound for every time I’d heard the expression “Doreen Lawrence doesn’t tell us what to do” I’d have been able to buy a new centre forward for Fulham FC,’ says Clive (he’s an ardent fan). ‘But I encouraged the Lawrences to talk to us.

‘As SIO you ignore information at your peril. And I always felt a family who’d lost a son in such awful circumstances deserved our utmost respect.

‘You didn’t dismiss anything. If anyone had the right to tell us what to do, to criticise us, to put us in our place, it was the Lawrence family. They suffered, not only the loss of a much-loved son, but at the hands of the police.

‘And I felt our team deserved credit for getting everyone pulling in the same direction.

‘We changed the emphasis, to involve the family and witnesses, to bring everyone with us.

‘And one of my sadnesses is that in 2014 the Met went back to the old ways and alienated the Lawrence family and Mr Brooks. I’ve always felt that the Met didn’t want the type of policing I offer. If they did, they’d carry on with it, wouldn’t they?’ 

Countering the prevailing hostility towards the family at the time, he praises the Daily Mail for its ‘incredible kindness’ to Baroness Lawrence and singles out our senior crime writer Stephen Wright for his ‘outstanding investigation’ into the case.

Humanity is at the heart of the policing Clive advocates and that demands close contact with communities. ‘I’d like to see more police walking their beat, having responsibility for their area. 

‘If I was a member of the public I’d feel let down. People want someone they can call and ask, “What’s going on with my crime?” and that’s not happening. Is it that hard to listen and be supportive?’

The killers: David Norris, played by Rob Witcomb (left) and Gary Dobson, played by Stephen Patten (right)

The killers: David Norris, played by Rob Witcomb (left) and Gary Dobson, played by Stephen Patten (right)

He’s keen that new recruits learn the value of grassroots policing, immersing themselves in the communities they serve.

Impatient with paper qualifications — he says he entered the police with a C grade in woodwork — he wants to restore the status of the bobby on the beat.

‘Let’s make it that being a PC isn’t a punishment posting. The walking police officer shouldn’t be considered lowly. 

‘We have 43 chief constables poncing about in their little principalities but the public own the police — you pay for them — and you should decide what sort of service you want.’

Humanity, rigour and integrity remain his touchstones.

‘I’m at my happiest when I’m talking to people,’ he says.

His home life remains the bedrock of his contentment. He and wife Annie, 61, a retired police officer, have five grown-up children and nine grandchildren; all — even the estate agent, he jokes — a source of pride.

He says his mum taught him to see the best in people and her last words to him were a plea to help the Lawrences: ‘You’ve got to do something for this family.’

Clive heeded this appeal but his one regret is that he was not even permitted properly to brief Chris Le Pere, the SIO who succeeded him, on Stephen’s case.

Instead, he was summoned to a meeting with Dick just an hour into the hand-over meeting. ‘I didn’t want anyone to think, “Oh look at Clive, he’s walked out of the meeting,” and it was a nagging doubt: was that done on purpose? I didn’t want to leave feeling angry but that little bit I feel sad about.’

On the steps of the Old Bailey, when the convictions of Norris and Dobson were announced, it was Met Superintendent Gill Bailey who took the credit for the success of Clive and his team.

The scene is recreated in the TV drama. Coogan, alias Clive, is unceremoniously pushed aside while the female officer addresses the waiting Press.

‘That scene is spot-on true,’ says Clive. ‘The Superintendent took the glory. Bernard Hogan-Howe [then Met Commissioner] actually said to me at the time: “I thought you were SIO,” and I replied, “Only if it had gone wrong.”’

Only one person, it seems, recognised Clive’s contribution.

Mr Justice Treacy, presiding over the case, congratulated him on achieving a ‘measure of justice’. ‘And I could not have been happier,’ says Clive.

Judge Treacy went on to express his hope that DCI Driscoll would bring Norris and Dobson’s associates to trial too.

But — much as Clive had hoped otherwise — he was not permitted to do so. However he will not allow resentment to sour him.

‘I don’t want to be bitter,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to hate anyone — although I came close to it with those 15 Italians who beat us in the [Euros] final,’ he laughs.

‘I’d always rather think nice things about people.

‘I consider it a great privilege to have worked on young Stephen’s case. I’ve been the luckiest bloke in the universe.’ 

  • Stephen airs on ITV weekly from Monday, August 30, at 9pm.

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