N81: Meeting with the Lawrence Review Team
This page is one of series on N81 and the spying on the Stephen Lawrence campaign. It focuses on a meeting between N81, an undercover police officer who was with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) from 1996 to around 2001/2, his handler Bob Lambert and then DI Richard Walton. At the time of the meeting Walton was part of the Lawrence Review Team, a group of senior officers tasked with preparing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Condon submissions to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
N81 was infiltrated a political group in London involved in the campaigns around the Stephen Lawrence murder, and came to notice when he was mentioned in the 2014 Stephen Lawrence Independent Review - commonly known as the Ellison Review. The Review looked into allegations of SDS undercover-whistleblower Peter Francis who says he had been instructed to find information to smear the Lawrence family and those around them.
For both Ellison and the related work of Operation Herne the investigation was hampered by an apparent policy within the SDS of not keeping records, which made them reliant on interviews in many cases and thus on what police officers involved remembered - or chose to remember. This reconstruction below is based on a careful reading of both the official reviews, fine-combing them for details and re-assembling the collected information.
In addition to our first N81 profile based on Ellison, this page summarises the detailed findings of the Review about the 1998 meeting.
- N81: Profile from the Ellison Report,
- N81: File Notes SDS,
- N81: IPCC investigation,
- Lawrence Review Team.
Ellison considered the meeting between an active undercover officer and the Lawrence Review Team highly inappropriate; it showed that information gathered by spying was used to mould the Commissioner's response to what was supposed to be an independent inquiry. While worries about possible riots are used by those responsible as the main reason for the infiltration of campaign groups back in the days, Ellison concluded there was no conceivable ‘public order’ to justify it. On the contrary, the spying as such was the risk - if it would have come out at the time. Ellison: "the MPS may itself have caused the real risk of the public disorder and the kind of ‘meltdown’ it so feared."
However, in the late 1990s - as the Ellison Review documented - nobody had any second thoughts about the meeting. It was only after Richard Walton was informed that he was going to be criticised in the final report of the Ellison Review, that he understood he was in trouble. His attempt to change his account was dismissed by Ellison, and the subsequent fall-out would lead to Walton being temporarily removed from his post as Commander of Counter Terrorism Command in March 2014. (Walton was restored to his post in October 2014 before the IPCC was finished with its investigation.)
The Ellison Review confirmed that crucial information on corruption within the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation had been withheld from the Macpherson Review, and that indeed there had been undercover officers spying on the Lawrence campaign - N81 being one of them. These publication of these findings resulted in the Home Secretary announcing an Independent Inquiry into the undercover policing scandal a few days later, in March 2014.
The meeting of 14 August 1998
The Ellison Review made an effort to reconstruct the meeting of 14 August 1998. Many details around the disputed meeting are unclear, forgotten or cannot be remembered for other reasons. The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) made a point of not leaving paper trails, however some documents about the meeting survived.
- DI Walton was at that time one of our customers I suppose, he was a particular customer with a particular requirement because he was working directly for the Commissioner in relation to the Metropolitan Police response to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry ...I also recall that ‘Pete Francis’s’ intelligence around the campaign was passed to DI Walton for the same purpose...
- But here, this is a file note where DI Walton has actually met with one of the field members after ‘Pete Francis’ had left the field… and so N81 is probably the person who was best placed to help the Commissioner with what is happening in groups (like the one N81 was in)...),
Richard Walton's memory of the meeting was vague when he was first interviewed about it, but reading Lambert's file note was refreshing: "Funnily enough, I could not remember this when [Operation Herne] asked me about it, but, having looked at the documentation here, I can recall it much more clearly..." The extensive interview with Walton shows that as the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry proceeded, the reputation of the Metropolitan Police was a key concern and that a well-positioned undercover officer - such as Peter Francis or N81 - was helpful:
- I remember the meeting being helpful, particularly around (N81’s group and another group) because there were genuine concerns around them... We were concerned on the Lawrence Review Team about extremism undermining the Inquiry, etc. etc. So when I went for this meeting and there was discussion about it, this operative was able to shed light on this group and what they were about, which, basically, I seem to remember completely correlated with our assessment... that there were core elements... potentially trying to... in those days we called it entryism.
During his first interview with the Ellison Inquiry, in October 2013, Walton confirmed the official record of the meeting and his role in the Met's Lawrence Review Team. As is explained in more detail at the Richard Walton page, he retracted his testimony when he heard the meeting and his role in it were going to be criticised by the Ellison Review. He claimed he was already working for John Grieve and the Unit set up to restore relationships between the police and black communities in the aftermath of the Macpherson Inquiry, the Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force or CO24. Ellison specifically investigated the timeline of events and concluded that Walton was at this point, mid-August, actually still with the Lawrence Review Team, although Walton claimed was 'transitioning'.
Speaking of the meeting, N81 said:
- At one stage, I was called to (Bob Lambert’s) house to meet with an individual I was told was an official from the Home Office. This was on direction of [Bob Lambert] my line manager. The official asked me generic questions about the campaign such as the mood on the streets and the impact of (N81’s group) around the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the black community and the churches. I cannot remember the specific details of the conversation, but according to (Bob Lambert) the official was very impressed and had commented ‘it was like meeting one of them’. I met this individual only once and it is only recently that I now know the individual was in fact a police officer by the name of Walton...
- At the time, I thought the meeting was unusual and I relayed this to [Bob Lambert]. N9 later told me that it was quite usual for SDS management to arrange meetings between operatives and outside persons at the management’s homes. This was because such persons would not be able to attend SDS safe houses.
Ellison made an effort to find out who took the initiative, and who authorised the meeting between N81 and Walton. Again, memories are hazy, and often contradicting, supplemented by the - however few remaining - reports and recommendations written at the time.
When asked whose idea it was to go and see N81, Walton says he can't remember who exactly, he thinks he may have bumped into Bob Lambert at some stage::
- Yes... as I say it is a long time ago, but I think that it might have been a chance meeting with Bob Lambert where he would have said something like, ‘Well, if it helps, do you want to... would it help to meet the actual operative in the field?’, I think it might be that. I think I said, ‘Yes, Bob, that would help because it would allow me to contextualise what is actually going on out there because we are getting all sorts of feeds and to speak to a person actually in the field would probably be as good as it gets.
Walton would try to withdraw his statements on being notified he was going to be criticised in the Review. He now claimed not to have known that the undercover he was going to meet would have coverage of the Lawrence family, and also says that the Lawrence campaign had not been discussed at the meeting. Lambert's File Note, written within days after the meeting, suggests the opposite. Likewise, when retracting his statement, Walton argued that by August 1998, he had already moved on to work for SO24, under DAC Grieves. However, the File Note introduces him as "currently working with the Stephen Lawrence review team."
On hearing that he too was going to be criticised by Ellison, Bob Lambert claimed the meeting had taken place at a request from his senior management, via the Commander of Special Branch Colin Black, and its purpose 'was so that Mr Walton could fully brief the Commissioner'. There were no limitations as to what the meeting could cover and Walton would ask questions, and N81 would answer. The only thing specified that intelligence was wanted on was whether the Commissioner should attend a particular public meeting in relation to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
For more detail, see the Richard Walton profile.
Did the Commissioner know?
And did Met Commissioner Paul Condon know about N81, and Walton meeting him?
- First, I didn’t know that (N81) was in the actual [Stephen Lawrence] Inquiry but if that was so... Well, the Commissioner certainly would not have known... Paul Condon, I would not have thought. Would Paul Condon have known that there was an undercover officer in this domain? Possibly, because we would have told him that there was coverage on the fringes of the Lawrence Inquiry. Would he have known about the depth of that? Probably not. He might be shocked about that.
N81 remembered it differently:
- I was informed, at the height of the Macpherson inquiry, that my reporting was going straight to Sir Paul Condon’s desk each morning via N24, and N127 (SDS Sgt) passed on to me from N24 ‘congratulations from the Commissioner for your excellent reporting...’
Lambert's File Note, written within days after the meeting, does not specifically mention this issue, but says ""It was a fascinating and valuable exchange of information concerning an issue which, according to DI Walton, continues to dominate the Commissioner’s agenda on a daily basis" (emphasis added).
Also see: N81: File Notes SDS
Others asked by Ellison about N81 tasking and his meeting with Walton seemed to start controlling the damage by distancing themselves from the suggestion of targeting the Lawrences directly:
- Commander Barry Moss, the Head of Special Branch at the time, claimed to have little knowledge of the operational side of the SDS. About the meeting he said:
- I had no knowledge of any meeting between DI Walton and any member of the SDS... My permission for this meeting was not requested, nor was I told about it after the event... had my permission for this meeting been sought, it would not have been given, and I would have brought the matter to the attention of my senior officer, AC Veness... I agree with your comments that ‘there was no proper justification for intelligence... regarding the Lawrence family... being provided to an MPS officer working on the MPS case to be presented to the Inquiry... I was not aware of any SDS deployment close to the Lawrence family... or any suggestion that any disclosure regarding SDS deployment should be made to Sir William Macpherson. (quote as in original)
- Then Deputy Commissioner John Stevens told Ellison he would have been appalled to learn of it at time, and that the reporting on the Lawrence's personal life was 'unacceptable in any circumstances'.
- There was only one SDS officer who stated that N81 was tasked to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, N72. He told Ellison that any such tasking would have been done outside a normal SDS meeting; N81 and Peter Francis were close work colleagues and were likely to have confided in each other about their deployments; authorisation would have come down from the then Deputy Commissioner John Stevens who denied N72's claims. According to Operation Herne, N72's deployment only occurred after the Inquiry. Ellison qualifies his report as 'hearsay of some sort'.
In an assessment written less than a fortnight after the meeting, SDS Detective Chief Inspector N58 speaks of "SDS assistance to the Stephen Lawrence Review team" and even recommends to continue the "discreet briefings":
- In addition to providing valuable public order intelligence for C Squad, N81’s unique insight into the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Lawrence campaign has also proved invaluable to A/DI Walton who is currently attached to the Stephen Lawrence review team. At a recent SDS meeting N81 was able to give A/DI Walton a first-hand briefing on the case and offer some sound advice (e.g. that the Commissioner would be ill-advised to attend a public forum at XXXX as provisionally planned). In terms of the Metropolitan Police’s long-term strategy of seeking to rebuild damaged relations with the black community, N81 was able to comment authoritatively on the enormity of the task generally and in (N81’s) own local area...
- Source protection dictates that SDS assistance to the Stephen Lawrence Review team should continue to be restricted to the current channels as outlined above: regular reporting to C Squad and additional discreet briefings to A/DI Walton when necessary.
(C Squad refers to a unit of Special Branch which dealt with what would now be termed ' domestic extremism')
Subsequent use of N81's intelligence
In October 1998, Walton transferred to the Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force (RVCTF, also known as SO24) under DAC John Grieve, one of the units set up to respond to the anticipated criticism of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Among its initial work was to re-investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
However, prior to that, on 14 September 1998, Special Branch operations commander Colin Black set up a route for communication of information coming out of C Squad to go to the RVCTF, via an ex-Special Branch officer DS. McDowell now with the RVCTF. The same day Black made the following note to a Det. Supt. 'S':
- Thank you. These papers confirm that SDS is, as usual, well positioned at the focal crisis points of policing in London. I am aware that (DI Walton) of CO24 receives ad hoc off-the-record briefings from SDS. I have reiterated to him that it is essential that knowledge of the operation goes no further. I would not wish him to receive anything on paper. I have established a correspondence route to DAC GRIEVE via DS MCDOWELL, formerly of SO12, and opened an SP file for copy correspondence with CO24. It will, of course, fall to C Squad to provide the bulk of that material. They will undoubtedly consult SDS as appropriate.
On 26 September 1998, Commander Black makes the following note:
- If at all possible, I would wish to see a flow of suitable material to DS McDowell, both tactical intelligence around the Lawrence enquiry and broader work on race crime. Please carry forward.
Richard Walton did remember a conversation with Colin Black, acting Commander at Special Branch, but also added "this I could not recall until prompted, so it is important to say that." He told Ellison:
- So [Black] said, ‘We need a conduit to ensure that anything we pick up, particularly from SDS, can be fed in to support your reinvestigations of Lawrence, of Menson and Ricky Reel... We need to be absolutely certain that [John Grieve] got the whole story and the whole picture. And, as you know, Richard, we have got good coverage’...That was the sort of conversation... ‘Are you comfortable with receiving intelligence related to SDS at this time?’ ‘Yes, I am, of course.’ ‘Look, we will do it, it will not be on paperwork, it will be personal briefings to you.’ I said, ‘That is fine’"
Ellison then notes:
- The correspondence file that was opened by Commander Black on 14 September 1998 still exists, and it includes retained notes and briefings sent to CO24, apparently from 28 September 1998 onwards. The majority of the correspondence consists of threat assessments relating to possible public order issues. These were around the London-based venues where Part Two of the Inquiry was considering holding hearings within the MPS area. Such briefings fitted the description given in Commander Black’s note on 26 September 1998, which suggested: “suitable material to DS McDowell, both tactical intelligence around the Lawrence enquiry and broader work on race crime”. Included within this retained correspondence was what we have summarised above as reports that touched on personal details regarding the Lawrence family emanating from N81’s reporting.
Walton told Ellison:
- Yes. If I can conclude, there was a channel, it was set up by Colin Black, I was the recipient and it was set up so that I could be made aware of the wider reporting on the Lawrence family; in particular I seem to remember – again it is important about the transition because I seem to remember that when we started at CO24 that would have been the time I would have been reading the material, I think, because it was so much more important then, because we were already investigating [the murder of Stephen Lawrence].
Among the numerous findings by Ellison in his report, he lists the following in relation to the meeting between Walton and N81:
- In mid-August 1998, the SDS arranged for an undercover officer, N81 (who was deployed into one of the groups seeking to influence, and to some extent succeeding in influencing, the Lawrence family campaign) to meet an ex-Special Branch officer, acting Detective Inspector Richard Walton, who had been seconded to the MPS Lawrence Review Team which was involved in drafting the final written submissions to be made by the MPS to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
- We find the opening of such a channel of communication at that time to have been ‘wrong-headed’ and inappropriate.
- The reality was that N81 was, at the time, an MPS spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS.
- The mere presence of an undercover MPS officer in the wider Lawrence family camp in such circumstances is highly questionable in terms of the appearance it creates of the MPS having a spy in the family’s camp.
- However, for a meeting to then be arranged to enable an in-depth discussion to take place about the Lawrences’ relationship with groups seeking to support their campaign, in order to help inform the MPS submissions to the Public Inquiry, was, in our assessment, a completely improper use of the knowledge the MPS had gained by the deployment of this officer.
- The meeting was apparently sanctioned at a high level of SDS management. Mr Lambert has claimed that he was asked to arrange it by senior management within the SDS. We also note that the file note he made was sent to the Detective Chief Inspector acting at the time. From a later file note that he made in September 1998, it would also appear that Special Branch Operations Commander Colin Black was aware of the meeting.
- In so far as we can discern, it appears therefore that the SDS management thought that it was a good idea to have the meeting because it might be useful to the MPS in dealing with the Inquiry, and because it might fulfil part of the ‘wider remit’ that the SDS was seeking to serve at this time.
- Nobody seems to have considered how opening such a channel of communication would be viewed by the Inquiry or the public, if it became known, in the context of the MPS’s opposition to the Lawrence family’s case at the Public Inquiry.
Later, Ellison writes:
- The Head of Special Branch at the time of the Inquiry, Barry Moss, has stated that he would not have allowed what occurred in terms of N81’s intelligence being passed to a member of the Lawrence Review Team. He has told us that there would have been no proper justification for such a course. This merely serves to underline the autonomy and secrecy of the work of the SDS, even in the context of Special Branch as a whole, which appears over the years to have led managers working within the SDS to make some questionable decisions.
Additional UndercoverResearch resources
- N81: Profile from the Ellison Report
- N81: File Notes SDS
- N81: IPCC investigation
- Lawrence Review Team
- The Ellison Review Full title: The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, Possible corruption and the role of undercover policing in the Stephen Lawrence case. Vol. 1. March 2014.
- Operation Herne Full title: Operation Herne, Report 2, Allegations of Peter Francis, March 2014.
- Rob Evans, Police facing claims that senior officers knew about spying on Stephen Lawrence family, The Guardian, 2 July 2015.
- Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Police 'smear' campaign targeted Stephen Lawrence's friends and family, The Guardian, 23 June 2013, accessed 2 May 2014
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.201
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.267
- Vikram Dodd, Met counter-terror chief moved from post over role in Lawrence scandal, The Guardian, 7 March 2014, accessed 2 May 2014
- Press Association, Terror police chief in Stephen Lawrence ‘spying’ row back on duty next month, The Guardian, 31 October 2014, accessed 25 November 2014
- The Ellison Report quotes the interview Herne had with Lambert; the interview itself is not in the Herne Report. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.231
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.236
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.234
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.236
- Ellison stated: "There is no definitive evidence as to when Mr Walton was first posted to CO24 or when he became detached from the Lawrence Review Team." Records show that that "DAC Grieve was first shown as being appointed to CO24 on 6 August 1998, and some indication that it took a few weeks before it was active. The MPS Human Resources Posting and Rank records (which we have been advised are not always 100% accurate) show that: Mr Walton was posted to CO24 from 5 October 1998." Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.251
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.232
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.235
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.243-44
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.233
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.242
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.258
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.259
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.228
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.260-261
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.253
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.229
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.229
- At first, Walton linked this conversation with Black to the meeting with N81 in Lambert's garden. However, when put in context with other interviews in the Ellison report, this conversation with Black took place after the disputed meeting.
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.231
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.241
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.263-265
- Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.271