Why were the police so slow to move against the gang who murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993?
The Ellison review in March named a police officer who allegedly had a corrupt relationship with Clifford Norris, the criminal father of one of the killers. Now Part 3 of our exclusive investigation reveals new evidence of how Norris could tap police officers who had already been “bought and paid for” before the murder.
Dream Deferred has spoken to an individual who in the 1980s and 1990s was intimate with the racist and violent networks of which Stephen’s killers were a part. This evidence is uncorroborated, but it fits well with the details already in the public domain.
Only two members of the racist gang who murdered Stephen Lawrence have ever been convicted and sentenced for the crime – and that took 19 years. They are Gary Dobson and David Norris.
In April 1993, when Stephen was killed, south east London crook Clifford Norris – David’s father – was living the high life. Despite being sought by the law for illegal drug importation he enjoyed family life, access to unlimited funds, a big house, flash cars and the protection of corrupt cops, making him seemingly immune from arrest. Yet a few months later he had disappeared from the scene, on the run not only from the police but his former associates. Today, after serving seven years in jail, he is reported to be destitute and without friends.
There is a reason for that. We begin this part of the story with the baleful and malign influence of major criminal Kenny Noye.
Kenneth “Kenny” Noye was born in 1947 in Bexleyheath, a nondescript suburban town a few minutes drive from Welling, Eltham and Thamesmead in south east London. A career criminal, he is presently in jail serving a life sentence for the “M25 road rage murder” of Stephen Cameron in 1996.
According to a biography by Wensley Clarkson, Noye embarked on a life of crime from an early age. As a young man he began to mix with career criminals from south east London, and was mentored by notorious gangster Billy Hayward. Clarkson says: “Hayward taught him that clever criminals were the ones who handled the stolen goods and money rather than committed the crimes themselves.”
This seems to have become Noye’s modus operandi from then on: hiring others to do the dirty work (and take the flak if needs be) while he used the proceeds to build a haulage empire – all the time cultivating relationships with police officers and others who he thought could help him and then “turning them” until they were implicated in his criminal activities. From the early days he was also a police informer, feeding the police selective information on his opponents to knock them out of the game.
He was an outsider to the traditional south east London criminal families but was adept at building alliances.
Our source, who moved in the same circles as Noye, describes a man who not well liked, was feared for his violent temper and cursed as a bully. Noye fancied himself as a “ladies man” and kept a string of mistresses. If you were approached by Noye to do him “a favour” you were certain of two things – firstly that you could not refuse him, secondly that it would end badly for you.
Noye used his early gains to get into the gold-smuggling business, building his own smelter to melt down contraband such as gold coins and then selling them on. This meant he was perfectly placed to profit from handling the gold bullion stolen during the audacious £26 million Brink’s-Mat armed robbery that took place in 1983.
However the Brink’s-Mat millions proved to be a curse – most of those involved in the heist were either jailed, murdered or sued through the courts to return the stolen proceeds. In 1986 Noye was found guilty of handling stolen gold from the robbery, had his assets frozen and was jailed for 15 years. However millions of the Brink’s Mat proceeds were never recovered.
While in jail Noye paired up with a violent criminal and major drug dealer from Essex named Pat Tate (shot dead in 1995 in a gangland assassination). Clarkson says Tate “convinced Noye there was a fortune to be made out of drugs”. This coincided with the rise of the drug Ecstasy and the massive profits involved (see Part 2 of this story).
Clarkson quotes a detective involved in the Brink’s-Mat investigation: “There is absolutely no doubt that the flood of Ecstasy into Britain was backed by Brink’s-Mat cash.” Gangsters began to open and/or control nightclubs as clearing houses for drugs. For example, our source says Noye forcibly took over the notorious Waves nightclub on Thamesmead (for £1 apparently) so he could distribute drugs from it.
In British crime TV dramas the police are nearly always seen as heroes, with perhaps a few “rotten apples” bending the rules to nab the villain. The Ellison review of the Stephen Lawrence case reveals a very different reality. It concluded that in south east London “corrupt elements already well-established within the Police Service” were involved in “network crime” and were “actively engaged in illegal activity with members of the criminal fraternity”.
The corrupt activities included running unauthorised police checks for criminals, providing details of police operations, weakening and losing evidence, conspiring with informants to plant drugs or firearms or to steal drugs and cash, being centrally involved in the drugs trade and shielding criminals from arrest.
Noye rebuilt his criminal empire through the drugs trade while still in prison. On the ground in south east London his criminal associates, including Clifford Norris, were employed in the various links of the chain that made up the “business”. To successfully carry out the trade they needed to rely on the service of corrupt customs and police officers active at each link. In other words the structure of the criminal network was mirrored by and merged with an identical structure within the police itself.
That being so it makes perfect sense that in the south east London/Kent area, the centre of police corruption was the very organisation tasked to stop the drugs trade – the South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS) based at East Dulwich.
Towards the end of his sentence in 1994 Noye was discovered by the US Drugs Enforcement agency to be involved in a plan to import cocaine via Miami. But Noye pulled out of the deal at the last moment after he was tipped off that he was being watched by a corrupt SERCS officer working in the drugs squad named John Donald. Donald was found to have been passing on surveillance and intelligence reports via an old friend of Noye’s named Mickey Lawson.
Detective sergeant Davidson
Corruption at SERCS reached a peak around the time of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. We know this because a corrupt detective, Neil Putnam, turned supergrass and provided evidence of criminal activity by a range of SERCS officers between 1994-95, including John “OJ” Davidson, a detective sergeant centrally involved in the first Lawrence murder investigation. After the failed investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, Davidson had been transferred to SERCS, where he teamed up with Putnam and other corrupt officers.
It has been widely speculated that Davidson was bribed by Clifford Norris to protect his son David Norris from arrest and conviction for the murder of Stephen Lawrence by somehow sabotaging the murder investigation. The evidence against Davidson is certainly damning. The Met’s own assessment of him (quoted by Ellison) concluded:
As can be seen by the numerous allegations of corrupt practice against Davidson he is a thoroughly corrupt individual. Davidson has no qualms about mixing with known criminals and utilising serving MPS officers to progress both his legitimate and corrupt enquiries. His many corrupt contacts within both the serving and ex-police arenas coupled with his level of expertise and knowledge of police techniques make him a viable commodity among the criminal community.
Putnam accused Davidson of various corrupt acts. One of them bore the signature mark of the type of dealings between detectives and criminals that our source says were rampant at the time. The Ellison report summarises Putnam’s supergrass allegations, some of which concern the drugs trade:
The cocaine seizure occurred in April/May 1995 and Mr Putnam was part of the surveillance for it. They observed the drug deal and went in for the raid. DS Davidson allowed the seller to leave and then took a white bag from the man’s car. The next day DS Davidson gave Mr Putnam an envelope containing £500 as his share of the proceeds.
This rings true. According to our source, top drug importers would supply wholesale amounts of cocaine, Ecstasy and cannabis to street drug dealers – up to £100,000 or £200,000 worth at a time. The supplier would then inform corrupt detectives where to find the stash. The police would then raid the dealer and give a portion of the drugs seized straight back to the supplier and get an immediate payoff.The supplier would then go back to the drug dealer and tell him he would have to make up the losses incurred during the raid. The dealer would then have more drugs forced on him to sell (in reality the same drugs that had been taken from him in the raid) and be told he was now in many tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt and at the supplier’s beck and call. The big supplier would immediately double his profits and the corrupt police would be richer by hundreds or thousands of pounds.
The drug dealer had nowhere to go – if he went to the police he would incriminate himself and be fearful that his name would go straight back to the big supplier. The big criminals were of course ruthless. You could be shot by a hired hit-man (the going rate was £30,000). Your family would be in danger – our source tells of enforcers pouring petrol through a letter box of a family home at night, then phoning the house and saying if you don’t cough up or keep quiet we’ll burn you and your family to death tonight.
Turf wars, fights over who grassed who up, and so on turned very bloody during this period. One casualty was another, older David Norris – not the young man who was one of the Lawrence killers – but a key police informant who lived in Belvedere in the London borough of Bexley. He is thought to have been related to the Eltham Norris family – he told the police he was Cliff and Alex Norris’s cousin. He was gunned down in his driveway in 1991 by two Loyalist hitmen hired for the job. Our source says he was killed because he informed on a major drug deal involving both the police and the junior member of a very prominent Old Kent Road gangster family.
During an interview for a 2006 BBC Panorama programme The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence Putnam reported a conversation during which DS John Davidson admitted shielding the younger David Norris on behalf of his father Clifford. According to Putnam, Davidson told him:
They’d looked after the boy – and the father because the, uh, old man Norris was uh, basically, he was [giving] them the information… police information and that, uh, they were looking after the boy for his sake to continue the information coming on because they were getting some good results…
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 getting a nice little earner out of it.
If this is true, it means Clifford Norris was an informer, probably in league with corrupt police to bust drug dealers and share the proceeds in the manner we describe above. It also means that corrupt police were not necessarily straightforwardly bribed with bundles of cash by Norris, because he was already in a longstanding and profitable relationship with them.
The allegations against Davidson in connection with the Lawrence case have not be proven.
But it is interesting that our source says detective sergeant Davidson was well known in Bexley and other parts of south east London at the time. He was regarded as “old school”, abrasive (hence his nickname Obnoxious Jock or OJ), tough, intelligent, dogged and good at getting confessions out of suspects. Yet during the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, Davidson was criticised (among other perceived failings) for his seemingly “light-touch” interrogations of the prime suspects and his mishandling of a key informant.
Given the nature of the corruption that we have described it is reasonable to assume that the sabotage of the Lawrence murder investigation would not have been the work of one rogue policeman alone. Each corrupt officer needed to implicate or influence those around him to be able to operate successfully and get away with it.
Our source also explains that, contrary to press reports that over-inflate his prominence, Clifford Norris was not in the top echelons of the criminal network in south east London at the time, but in fact acted as one of Kenny Noye’s employees. His job was to be a “quartermaster” for Noye and his associates.
Norris was in charge of logistics – gathering intelligence, contacting corrupt police, supplying weapons and cars, holding crime proceeds and so on. He delivered whatever was needed to make a particular job a success. He fulfilled this role even though he was supposed to be on the run at the time of Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993.
Our source reveals how in the aftermath of the Lawrence murder, Clifford Norris used his longstanding and high-level contacts with the police to shield his son – and, by association, the other killers. No money would necessarily have changed hands: Norris simply called in favours from police officers who were already profiting from and ensnared in their relationship with Kenny Noye. In the words of our source: “The police had already been bought and paid for.”
All the police had to do was hold back and frustrate the investigation if they could, and allow the killers to be free to clean up any evidence linking them to the murder, to silence witnesses through threats or bribery and to sort out their alibis. If it looked to potential witnesses that the police were not moving on the suspects, the message was clear: keep your trap shut. If you do go to the police then who’s to say that your name would not find its way to some very frightening people?
No doubt the bent coppers and the criminals shared, or came to share, the same horrible immorality, twisted values and bigotry. Another dead black kid? So what?
However, Cliff Norris didn’t reckon on the huge amount of heat that the Lawrence murder would bring down on him, his family, the corrupt police – and subsequently the whole Met Police force – and his criminal superiors. Maybe he thought it would all blow over like the Rolan Adams case. This was the earlier murder of another black teenager, which – as we revealed in Part 2 was connected with Stephen Lawrence’s killing through the rivalry of two racist criminal gangs.
Our source says Norris senior was quickly taken to task by his crime bosses such as Noye, who were furious that he had called on people he had no right to, and had endangered a number of profitable relationships, potentially exposing his bosses and their mates in the police. Norris had used up valuable favours that did not belong to him and that were meant to be deployed in the pursuit of profit, not to protect his murderous son.
Norris’s bosses, already annoyed that the quartermaster seemed to be getting above himself, were further irritated when it later turned out that the firm of celebrated defence lawyer Henry Milner, who had defended Kenny Noye and other high profile criminals, was representing young David Norris and two other suspects – Neil and Jamie Acourt – in the Lawrence case.
When the police were finally forced to arrest suspects in the case, they picked up the Acourt brothers, Gary Dobson and later Luke Knight. But David Norris, unlike the others, was nowhere to be found. He had probably been tipped off by someone close to the murder inquiry. Young Norris instead turned up at a police station to give himself up. He was represented by the imposing Henry Milner himself.
Strong evidence that Norris senior had used his links with corrupt police to protect his guilty son – and so fallen foul of his underworld bosses – is revealed if we look at what happened to him in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence murder. Our source says that within weeks Norris was hung out to dry by his former associates. He was cut off and forced to pay all the money he had been holding and owed other people, whether he had it or not. He was denied access to his previous networks and any more proceeds of crime.
Clifford Norris was now not only on the run from the police but people like Kenny Noye. Our source believes the only reason he wasn’t murdered or his family touched was because Kenny Noye was, or had been, in a relationship with Norris’s wife Tracey. She may have pleaded on her husband’s behalf.
Norris senior was by this stage nowhere to be seen and only surfaced when he was arrested in 2001, hiding out in deepest Sussex. He was jailed for drug and firearms offences, serving a seven year term. Customs officials forced him to surrender £386,000 in drug profits and finally seized Norris’s plush Chislehurst home.
After leaving prison, the now penniless Clifford Norris ended up estranged from his family in a hostel in Ashford, Kent, living on benefits and taking part-time cleaning jobs.
Kenny Noye is still prison serving life but is believed to be still running his criminal enterprises – our source says that today nothing moves in south east London without Noye’s say so. Other top villains have moved out of London further into Kent and are living in “respectable” towns and villages such as Tunbridge Wells. They are still making massive profits from the drugs trade.
Gary Dobson and David Norris are in jail for murdering Stephen Lawrence. But at least four of Stephen’s murderers are still free – as are those who helped them clean up and get away on the night. They are all now approaching middle age, with nothing positive to show for their continued liberty. Members of the rival racist gang that killed Rolan Adams are still living in Thamesmead, Eltham and other parts of south east London.
This September Stephen Lawrence would have been celebrating his 40th birthday if he had not been struck down on that fateful evening in 1993.
The awful thing is that not only did Neville and Doreen Lawrence have a son taken from them in the most brutal of circumstances, but within minutes of the murder they were – although they didn’t know it – caught in and confronted by a powerful matrix of racism, violence and corruption, and shadowy forces that must have been beyond their imagination at the time.
The Stephen Lawrence murder case remains to this day very much unfinished business.