Stephen Lawrence: John Davidson, Neil Putnam and police corruption?
STEPHEN Lawrence is on the front page of then Independent. The headline reads well:
The copper, the Lawrence killer’s father, and secret police files that expose a ‘corrupt relationship’.
The story is rooted in a book Untouchables by Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn. This is good time to release a book on big news story. Untouchables follows John Ashton’s Lockerbie pot boiler Megrahi — You Are My Jury: The Lockerbie Evidence.
The Indy lets the books authors to write its front-page article. They are reviewing their own book. So. Is it any good, then?
The police intelligence reports, obtained by The Independent, outline extensive allegations of corruption against John Davidson, a lead detective investigating the racist murder. The files can be made public following the convictions in January, 19 years after the event, of Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35.
Is this the proof? In 2006, the BBC broadcast The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence:
The original Metropolitan Police investigation which followed Stephen’s death led to the Macpherson Inquiry which found the force was guilty of “institutional racism”. During that inquiry, Mr Davidson – who now runs a bar in Spain and is on a full police pension – was criticised for his abrupt manner and incompetence.
Neil Putnam – a former corrupt police detective turned whistleblower – has told a BBC investigation to be screened on Wednesday night that Clifford Norris was paying Mr Davidson to obstruct the case and to protect the suspects.
“Davidson told me that he was looking after Norris and that to me meant that he was protecting him, protecting his family against arrest and any conviction,” Mr Putnam said.
“From my conversation that I had with John Davidson on that day, I would say that John Davidson was receiving cash from Clifford Norris by his expression that he was using it was, he was getting a little earner out of it – it was a good little earner.
“That, in my mind, was corrupt practices.”
Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who was given the task of ridding the force of corruption, admitted he thought Mr Davidson was corrupt.
“From all the evidence I’ve seen, and the intelligence I’ve seen, I have no doubt he was corrupt,” he said.
Scotland Yard offered:
“There was an investigation into John Davidson and any possible corrupt behaviour in the Lawrence case by him. If we had found any information or evidence we would have brought that to the inquiry’s attention.”
Davidson, now retired and running a bar in Spain, categorically denied any wrongdoing.
An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found no evidence to support the claims.
Richard Stone had more to say:
Davidson was responsible for investigating three key witnesses to the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993. Not one of the three felt able to give evidence personally to the inquiry. I would like to be able quote from Davidson’s evidence to the inquiry in 1998 to show how bizarre and unprofessional he was, but unfortunately the transcripts of the inquiry are not yet available. Suffice to say that my memory is that Sir William was led to ask him: “Officer, are you here to help this inquiry or not?”
For what it is worth, Norris, a convicted gangster and drugs dealer, denies paying police:
“I never became involved with underhand dealings or giving money to coppers. Never did I give the police any money or a retainer to get them on the payroll. I don’t know any bent coppers..I was not involved, but there was corruption going on with police and other heavier gangs.”
So. Who to believe?
In 2002, the Guardian reported:
Mr Davidson, a burly Scot nicknamed “OJ” – for “Obnoxious Jock” – by his former colleagues, is now running a bar in Spain. In 1998 he was arrested at his London home and it was raided over corruption allegations, but he was released without charge. He had recently retired from the Met, decorated and having served 30 years. He denies all wrongdoing. He refers to his “right to remain silent”. He spoke to the Guardian only through his lawyers.
Mr Davidson’s conduct during the failed Lawrence murder investigation was heavily criticised by the Macpherson inquiry. A veteran sergeant, he controlled much of the flow of information. The Macpherson report said there was no reason to think he was corrupt, but found he had alienated potential witnesses by his manner and mishandled a potentially vital informant. One particularly disturbing feature of the investigation, as the Macpherson inquiry subsequently discovered, was that the drug dealer father of one of the chief suspects, Clifford Norris, was using his connections to try to bribe and threaten witnesses. He was known to have police contacts. Mr Norris’s son, David, and the other suspects, when eventually arrested, stonewalled their way through interrogations .
Mr Davidson has now been named as having corrupt links with a south-east London drug dealer at around the time of these events. Ex-detective constable Neil Putnam has claimed Mr Davidson was one of a group of corrupt local detectives. Mr Putnam said many of his own former colleagues were colluding with informants to steal and re-sell drugs and other goods seized from criminals.
Five detectives, including Mr Putnam himself, were subsequently convicted and jailed, in one of the Met’s worst scandals of recent years. But Mr Davidson denies being involved and he was never charged. The Lawrences’ family solicitor, Imran Khan, says they were never told of the existence of Mr Putnam’s evidence at the time of the Macpherson inquiry…
Mr Putnam would be convicted of corruption offences and sentenced to three years 11 months. After his arrest he became a “grass”. Although others have been convicted on Mr Putnam’s evidence, it was decided there were insufficient grounds to prosecute Mr Davidson. He denies doing corrupt deals with criminals, and denies knowing Clifford Norris.
Mr Putnam continues to tell a different story. He says Mr Davidson hinted to him he had some prior knowledge of Clifford Norris. “It was just us two on duty and he said ‘Old man Norris … had been putting some work our way.’ By that I assumed, giving information.” Mr Davidson denies saying this.
The Indy goes on:
The evidence gathered by The Independent reveals that:
* A key investigator in the original botched hunt for the killers was corrupt and engaged in extensive criminal enterprise, according to the secret Met files. Detective Sergeant John Davidson, who interviewed key Lawrence suspects and witnesses within days of the stabbing, was a “major player” in a ring of bent detectives “operating as a professional organised crime syndicate”, according to previously unpublished intelligence reports.
Can we see the evidence that backs up the claims?
* Davidson had corrupt relations with informants, dealt in Class A drugs and “would deal in all aspects of criminality when the opportunities presented themselves”, according to the files written by senior anti-corruption officers.
* Davidson is alleged to have admitted that officers had a corrupt relationship with Clifford Norris, the gangster father of murderer David Norris. A police supergrass recently gave evidence under oath at the Old Bailey that Davidson had told him bent cops “looked after old man Norris”.
* John Yates, the former Met Assistant Commissioner who led the investigation into Davidson and his colleagues, can be revealed to have prepared testimony for police corruption proceedings last year, unrelated to Davidson, confirming that “there was a huge appetite to prosecute John Davidson, who we considered then and still do now to have been a major corrupt player of that era”.
Davidson never faced criminal charges and was allowed to retire on ill health grounds to run a bar on the Spanish island of Menorca after prosecutors decided there was a lack of corroborating evidence. The detective denies being corrupt, describing the allegations as “devastating and false”.
No proof to any of the claims made against him, then. Innocence must be presumed.
The Indy adds:
Lingering suspicions remain that extraordinary lapses – such as the two-week delay before any of the suspects were arrested – cannot be put down to mere procedural shortcomings. At least three of Stephen Lawrence’s killers remain at large….
Last night, a member of the Macpherson inquiry’s advisory panel confirmed it had suspected that corruption played a role in the failure of the original police investigation and that not all information available had been handed over by the Met. Dr Richard Stone said: “There was a whole lot we were not told. If this is true, it confirms suspicions we had during the inquiry that seemed very likely with David Norris’s father around.”
The Indy has produced a story that adds just more suspicion with no evidence or proof. The paper then talks of Putnam:
Ever since the allegations about Davidson having a corrupt relationship with Clifford Norris became public, Scotland Yard “sources” have tried to downplay Putnam’s credibility as a witness. But senior figures at the Yard in fact privately enthused about Putnam’s credibility, Met documents now show.
Police intelligence files show that John Yates told his superiors categorically in 1998: “Putnam’s value as a witness to the Crown cannot be over-estimated. In spite of his criminality he will present as a credible witness thoroughly contrite about what he has done and the shame that this will bring upon him, his family and the MPS [MetropolitanPolice Service]. This has been a consistent thread throughout his debrief.”
The same police intelligence report shows that Yates regarded Putnam as “an unremarkable figure – a follower rather than a leader, a grass eater rather than a meat eater, a man desperate to show he was one of the boys – a trait that led him into a spiral of heavy drinking, debt and thus vulnerable to corruption.”
The nightmare scenario for the Met was that Davidson would be found to have thwarted the Lawrence murder investigation. It can now also be revealed that David Hamilton, the Met’s head of legal affairs at the time, submitted a witness statement to the recent police corruption proceedings also recalling that there had been “a suspicion of an association or contact between Davidson and the Norris family”.
This appears to support a legal memo Hamilton wrote in August 2000 outlining the Met’s reluctance to disclose intelligence it held on Davidson – at a time when the force was facing a civil damages claim from the Lawrence family.
Hamilton, then the Met’s most senior lawyer, wrote in 2000: “Disclosures relevant to Davidson’s contact with the Norris family could have an adverse effect on the Commissioner’s position in the ongoing High Court action by Mr and Mrs Lawrence.
“Part of their claim is based on misfeasance in public office and alleges wrongdoing in relation to dealings between police and the Norris family.”
The Met speaks:
Asked why its own head of legal affairs from 1998, David Hamilton, said in his witness statement to the recent corruption proceedings at the Old Bailey that there had been a “suspicion of an association or contact between Davidson and the Norris family”, the Met spokesman replied only: “Inquiries by the MPS and the IPCC have found no evidence of a link between ex-DS John Davidson and the Norris family.”
A spokeswoman for the IPCC said: “We are aware of Mr Putnam’s claims and were aware of them during our investigation…There is nothing which would change our findings or cause us to look into this matter again – they provide no more to substantiate Mr Putnam’s claims than the information we previously had….We have no reason to believe that the Macpherson inquiry was not fully aware of allegations involving DS Davidson.”
Evidence. That’s what sends criminals down. It’s why only two men have been jailed for Stephen Lawrence’s murder. The rest is speculation…