CPS defends stance on Lawrence

SENIOR Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have stood by their decision to reject the Stephen Lawrence case despite last week's committal to trial of two youths charged with the black teenager's murder.

They have warned that the test applied by magistrates in committing the defendants to the Crown Court is less stringent than that applied by the CPS before taking the decision to prosecute.

The decision to send Luke Knight, 18, and Neil Acourt, 20, for trial was seen as a victory for the Lawrence family, who brought the private prosecution, and a rebuke for the CPS.

The CPS will review evidence from the 10-day hearing before Belmarsh magistrates, in Woolwich, south-east London, and has asked for a copy of transcripts.

But a spokeswoman said it was standing by its earlier decision – made by chief prosecutor Gordon Etherington – to drop charges against two youths previously charged in connection with Lawrence's stabbing.

“We will not take over a private prosecution simply because it has been committed to the Crown Court,” she said.

“The tests are different. The magistrates are looking for a prima facie case, we look for a higher test, based on a realistic chance of prosecution.”

“We don't think that our

decision was wrong in the first instance. We weren't in court so we don't know what evidence was heard or how interviews stood up.

“What we are really interested in finding out now is whether any new evidence was presented in the court which we were not in receipt of when we made our decision.”

Lawrence was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in south London two years ago.

His family began the private action after the CPS decided to drop charges. Their legal team is being headed by Michael Mansfield QC.

The CPS can still take over the case and would have the option of dropping the charges again. However, the family has said it would fight to keep the prosecution in their hands.