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Stephen – Interview with former DCI Clive Driscoll

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Q: What inspired you to become a police officer?

“I used to watch Dixon of Dock Green on TV with my mum and Police Constable George Dixon was a character I liked. I liked that image of the police. When I joined the Metropolitan Police I was determined to be that police officer. I bought myself a pushbike and I cycled around the streets of Epsom where I was based when I first joined. I can only speak personally, but it worked 100 per cent for me. I got a cape off one of the old boys and I used to wear a cork helmet. So it was totally down to Dixon of Dock Green that made me want to be a police officer.”

Q: Could your life have taken a very different path?

“I left school without any qualifications to talk of at all. At the time I genuinely believed I was going to be a professional footballer. I was on the books of Watford as a goalkeeper and I played for the reserves at the age of 16 against Tottenham in a friendly and had a really good game. The manager said some very kind and pleasant things about my prospects for next season, but then I got glandular fever and I ended up playing for some lower league clubs.

“What I really wanted to be was a police officer. When I was 21 I applied and they turned me down. Eventually I joined the London Ambulance Service. I was an ambulance man for six years and worked closely with the police. Then I applied again to join the police force at the age of 29 and was successful. I finished my training at Hendon and from that moment I did become Dixon on the beat in Epsom. I loved being a uniformed PC and eventually became a Detective Chief Inspector.”

Q: You weren’t involved in the case at the time, but can you recall how you first heard about the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993?

“I was working at Brixton at the time. From what I heard I genuinely felt it would definitely be solved.

“Stephen Lawrence was out with his friend Duwayne Brooks. They had gone round to Stephen’s uncle’s house after school where there was a computer they could play games on. It wasn’t like today when everything is on your phone. They later left to go home and were waiting for a bus on Well Hall Road in Eltham, south east London. On the other side of the road I believe there were six people. They always talk about five. But I believe there were six.

“Stephen had headphones on and wouldn’t have known what was happening to him. The gang ran over and attacked Stephen, who was apart from his friend Duwayne. The gang engulfed Stephen and he was stabbed twice. An incredibly cowardly attack. They were both totally innocent young men making their way home.

“When our later investigation began in 2006 I used to go down to Well Hall Road to read statements. I’m dyslexic so I’m not as clever with words as other people are. For it to come alive for me I have to virtually do it.

“Everyone had described it as a brief attack, but we realised it was never a brief attack so the opportunities for forensics were good, actually. That’s what we discovered. I’ve spoken to all of the scientists and that incorrect description of it being a brief attack clouded their minds and led to them saying various things were not worth doing. Our investigation changed that. We said, ‘It’s not a brief attack, please don’t treat it as that. Please allow your minds to be a lot wider.’”

Q: Why did the original police investigation not secure convictions? What went wrong?

“There were a lot of massive assumptions made during the early police investigation. There was also a real gap between uniform and CID. They didn’t utilise their opportunities as a team and therefore opportunities within evidence were missed. In a lecture I give I show what the police knew on April 23rd 1993, the day after Stephen Lawrence’s murder. And I ask young police officers now, ‘Would you have arrested?’ And they all say yes. There were missed opportunities.”

Q: How did you become involved with a new investigation?

“The Met had sold Deptford police station in 2006 and I was sent there to close it down. It was there I found a room full of papers relating to Operation Fishpool – the Stephen Lawrence murder. I can remember walking around the room thinking, ‘This can’t be right.’ Then coming straight out of there and phoning Cressida Dick, who was the commander then, to say, ‘I’ll take that on.’ So the decision was made and I took it on from the 20th June 2006.

“What I found was a bit like the Marie Celeste. You knew people had been there but they weren’t there any more. We ended up with an initial 540 boxes of papers at Deptford and then more because we kept finding them. Even in 2008 we found loads more stuff. To me it was a new investigation, but the Met described it as a case review.”

Q: The case was viewed by the Met Police as a poisoned chalice. Did some want you to fail?

“To this day, sadly, there are people who did not want it investigated again. It’s people’s reputation, isn’t it? Isn’t that the problem in everybody’s job? That people’s egos and reputations become more important than what you are paid to do?

“Through this case the police got the extra training and the highlighting of what we were not doing well, including mistakes and incompetence. The Stephen Lawrence case has been immense in making the police better, although, of course, I wish it had never happened, this case changed the police forever. All of the benefits that have come to make investigations better came from the Stephen Lawrence case and the Macpherson Review. And look at what Baroness Lawrence and her family have achieved.

Q: What were the main challenges you and your team faced?

“It was dealing with a family that had completely lost confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service. It was dealing with police officers who felt quite badly hurt by Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the case which in 1999 concluded the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. And it was dealing with witnesses who had felt wronged and, indeed, some of them felt we had not listened.

“I must praise with all of my heart the team I had, they were ‘can do’ people. They were fabulous. I said, ‘Let’s get out and speak to the witnesses and at least show them we are trying, that they can put their faith in us.

“Because we were trying, we were not going to hide anything or cover anything up. I wanted to show the witnesses they could have faith in us to do the job we were being paid to do.

“It was also crucial to show the family exactly the same. Why would they trust us after everything that had happened? But we could at least show them we were going to do everything in our power to try and bring the people who killed Stephen to court.”

Q: What was your approach to the case bearing in mind the prime suspects for Stephen’s murder had previously been identified and three acquitted after a private prosecution?

“We started off with 196 suspects, because I wanted to start again. We gradually got that list down and we could prove we hadn’t allowed our minds to get polluted. We could prove why we eliminated the people we did, and then we ended up with the people that you would know anyway. But we didn’t just assume that. We worked hard to get there.”

Q: What was Duwayne Brooks’ attitude to the police by this stage?

“Duwayne Brooks had sworn he would never, ever speak to the Metropolitan Police Service again. He would have absolutely nothing to do with us. I must praise and thank Lord Paddick, who was my old Chief Inspector at one stage. He knew Duwayne Brooks and eventually persuaded him to come to a meeting. Duwayne was incredibly helpful and to this day I talk to him, his evidence was very valuable.”

Q: What was the breakthrough for this investigation?

“We re-enacted how Stephen could have been attacked and took that video to LGC Forensics in Oxfordshire. We asked them not to treat what happened as a brief attack. They then found fibres linking some of the suspects to Stephen. That gave everybody a fresh impetus.

“The real breakthrough came in 2008 when they fired some ultraviolet light on clothing. On one fibre from Gary Dobson’s jacket they noticed something. It turned out to be Stephen’s blood and it had to be wet when it hit the jacket. Gary Dobson was found not guilty in 1996, under the Criminal Justice Act – or double jeopardy – so it had to be new and compelling evidence. We took our evidence to Keir Starmer, who was the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, who agreed we had enough new and compelling evidence to take Gary Dobson to court.”

Q: The Old Bailey jury returned guilty verdicts in January 2012. What was it like in court?

“When the foreman of the jury stood up and delivered the guilty verdicts it was one of those moments. Both Neville Lawrence and Baroness Lawrence, as she is now, were crying. I personally didn’t have any doubts the jury would return guilty verdicts. I thought we had done as good a job as we possibly could. More importantly, Neville, Doreen, Stuart and Georgina Lawrence along with Duwayne Brooks thought we had tried our hardest.”

Q: The judge commended you on the job you had done?

“He said some very nice and kind things about me and the team. He gave them a commendation. That was a wonderful moment, I was so pleased for the team. I am incredibly proud of them. I also felt there were good opportunities for further convictions and I would have loved to have had the chance to turn those opportunities into hard evidence. One thing I must stress, I never asked to go, ever, I would still be there today if I thought it would help.”

Q: Your memoir In Pursuit of the Truth was published in 2015. Why did you subsequently agree to become involved in this production?

“There are several different cases in the book including the Stephen Lawrence case. Mark Redhead, the executive producer of Stephen contacted me. I then spoke to Doreen and Neville Lawrence, because Stephen is their son. I wouldn’t have done any of this without their complete agreement. They were the ones who encouraged me to write a book. They were supportive of this drama and Mr Redhead was very honourable, so I felt very comfortable getting involved. It’s not my story. It’s the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks’ story. I’m just part of it. I knew it would be done with dignity and honesty. That was the big thing for me. I feel humbled and privileged just to be a part of this.”

Q: What did you make of the casting of Steve Coogan as you?

“For a nano second I had credibility with my own children, because they love Steve Coogan. I spoke to him on Zoom for two and a half hours. He was incredibly lovely and down to earth. We were going to meet up, but that was impossible due to the lockdown. He is a very talented man. I thanked him for actually taking the part, being part of the story and keeping Stephen’s story out there. I still think we can all learn from Stephen’s story and we should cherish his memory.”

Q: You also wanted to honour the memory of your own mother who you watched Dixon of Dock Green with?

“I did. I would have done a thoroughly professional job in any event, but I can remember her towards the end before she died, looking me in the eye and saying, ‘Clive, that poor family. You’ve got to do something.’ I couldn’t let her down. But this was for the Lawrence family. Doreen and Neville are two of the loveliest, bravest and most incredible human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

“I was extremely grateful I was allowed to be on that case. I look at it as a massive privilege. More than anything I am very humbled that I’m still in touch with Baroness Lawrence, Neville, Stephen’s brother Stuart and his sister Georgina. That means as much to me than anything someone could do, that at least the family felt I did OK. I tried.”