The father of David Norris, one of the men who murdered Stephen Lawrence, used a network of corrupt Metropolitan police officers to protect himself and his close relations from justice, according to claims made by his family.
Victoria and Naomi Smith, who are related to the Norris family by marriage, have broken 25 years of silence to allege that Clifford Norris used corrupt officers to thwart a murder inquiry four years before Lawrence was stabbed to death in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.
Lawrence’s parents, Doreen and Neville, have long suspected that Clifford Norris and police corruption played a part in their son’s killers evading justice for almost two decades.
Doreen Lawrence said if the new claims were true her “sense of outrage will have risen to new heights”.
The 25th anniversary of Stephen’s murder is on Sunday, reigniting scrutiny of errors made by police in the initial investigation, and what may have caused them.
The extent of Clifford Norris’s reach into the Met has long been a matter of controversy. The Smiths now allege that Norris used his influence with police after his brother, Alex, became a suspect in the 1989 shooting of Tony Smith following a pub fight. No one was ever charged, and the Smiths allege sensitive information given to police ended up being passed to Norris.
The family of Tony Smith are related to Clifford Norris through his marriage to Theresa, a cousin of Tony and Victoria Smith and the mother of David Norris.
Police intelligence shows detectives believed Clifford and Alex Norris had worked together in their criminal enterprises. Clifford Norris, a convicted former drug importer, denies ever having corruptly influenced police officers.
A document obtained by the Guardian shows that Alex Norris was the prime suspect for the Tony Smith shooting. Smith is said to have stabbed Norris, who allegedly then shot him dead.
The Smith family say that after Alex Norris became a suspect in the shooting, Clifford Norris, who lived on the south London and Kent border in Chislehurst, used his influence to intimidate witnesses.
The links to the police were well known within the family, according to Tony and Victoria Smith’s mother, Naomi: “It was known as the cocaine mile: from Bermondsey to Greenwich, Clifford Norris had the old bill in his pocket in every nick.”
The Smiths also say Clifford Norris used his influence with the police after Stephen Lawrence’s murder; Norris’s son David was among the men jailed in 2012 for the racist killing after 19 years of evading justice.
Victoria Smith said: “If the police had done their job after my brother was killed, then [Doreen] Lawrence would not have gone through what she went through. They left Clifford Norris at large and untouched to use his influence with the police.”
The Smith family say they told the Met about their corruption claims, and were not taken seriously. The new allegations point to the Norrises having a much greater reach into the Met than previously believed, or has ever been admitted by police chiefs.
Doreen Lawrence told the Guardian: “I thought that after 25 years I could no longer be shocked by the conduct of the Metropolitan police. However, if it is true that they did this, my sense of outrage will have risen to new heights and I will want immediate answers from them as to why it happened and why I was not told.”
Connections between Norris and the police were also suspected by a former senior investigator in HM Customs and Excise who feared corruption was blocking the agency’s efforts to look into his drug-smuggling operations.
Former Met officers have also revealed longstanding concerns about Norris’s reach into the force, with one claiming it went back as far as 1978.
Stephen Lawrence was attacked by at least five white youths, who were shouting racist abuse, on 22 April 1993; three of the attackers are still to be brought to justice.
Clive Driscoll, the former Met DCI who in 2012 helped secure two convictions for Stephen’s murder – including that of David Norris – believes a proper re-examination of the Smith case could help investigators in the Lawrence case, which the Met has said is stalled.
Driscoll told the Guardian that examining how Clifford Norris operated after the Smith killing may help investigators hoping to bring new charges in the Lawrence murder: “It is important because there are nominals [people of interest to the police] in the Tony Smith murder that are also nominals in Stephen’s murder.
“It gives an insight into criminal activity in that area and how they operated, which may be relevant to both cases.
“It’s always intrigued me that anyone would think that [the Norrises] would not try to influence the investigation. If they had the links already, common sense tells me they would use them.”
The new corruption claims involve a police officer never previously named as having suspected links to the Norrises.
The claims that Norris had officers in his pocket are also made by a former senior investigator for HM Customs and Excise, which believed Norris had a substantive reach into the Met.
Furthermore, a former associate of Clifford Norris alleges he bribed officers and claims to be able to name a specific premises where payments were made. The witness says they went to the Met to offer this information but their testimony was not acted upon.
Doreen Lawrence told the Guardian: “What this shows is that practically everybody seems to have known about this corrupt relationship. It appears to have been an open secret. It therefore beggars belief that those investigating corruption in the police did not know.
“I don’t accept that they didn’t know, especially when it now appears that the police refused to act upon this information when it was handed to them on a plate.”
The Guardian has also learned that:
- A detective involved in the inquiry into Tony Smith’s killing had close links to an associate of the Norris brothers.
- Information was passed to police after the Smith murder that a new witness was prepared to name Clifford Norris in another shooting; the next day, it is claimed, she received a death threat if she went to the police.
- A police intelligence report showed that Clifford Norris had “an active criminal involvement with his brother” Alex.
Tony Smith’s mother, Naomi, said Clifford was known to pass information to the police and recalled a local saying in south London: “There goes Clifford, giving up bods”, a slang term meaning giving up fellow criminals to the police.
Victoria Smith said in 2014 the Met was told of their claims about the Norrises and the corrupt links to police officers: “They did not seem interested. We told them everything. They did not press us on anything to do with Clifford Norris.”
Alex Norris denies being present when Tony Smith, then aged 24, was shot twice at close range on 16 May 1989, in the Old Manor pub in Deptford, south London. Despite there reportedly being around 20 people in the small pub at the time, no one saw the shooting.
The Smith family claim potential witnesses were intimidated.One female associate of the Norrises was so appalled by Smith’s killing that she decided she would give evidence to the police claiming that Clifford had shot her in the throat in January 1989.
The woman was Christine Clapp-Smith, who had an affair with Clifford, sold drugs for him and was his sister-in-law. Two days after the pub shooting, Clapp-Smith visited the Smiths and said she would go to the police. The information was passed to Naomi Smith, who in turn told the police that they were about to get a new witness about the Norrises.
The next morning, the Smith family allege Clapp-Smith was visited at her home and told at gunpoint she would be killed unless she kept silent.
Alex Norris was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Tony Smith, but the case against him was dropped. He was later jailed for drug offences following an investigation by HM Customs and Excise, who operate separately to the Met.
The Smith family say the conviction of David Norris for murder, 19 years after he was part of the gang that attacked Stephen, has given them the confidence to come forward. “They never got done for anything,”, said Victoria Smith, a teacher. “Dad believed if we did anything we would be at risk.”
The claims about the Tony Smith case is the latest example of the alleged influence of the Norrises over the Met. The former Met deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve, who led the third investigation into the Lawrence case, said in 2006: “During the investigation I led, we feared corruption might have played a part in the failure of the first investigation.”
In 2002 the Guardian reported claims of corruption in the Lawrence case from Neil Putnam, a former detective. He alleged that John Davidson, a key detective in the first investigation into Stephen’s murder, had admitted being paid by Norris. Davidson has always denied all wrongdoing.
In 2006, the BBC prominently reported the allegations. It would take until 2014 for an official report ordered by Theresa May, to find there was “reason to suspect” Davidson of corruption in the Lawrence case, some 12 years after the allegations first surfaced.
The potential fear the Norrises were able to exert on a murder investigation was noted by the Macpherson inquiry. Macpherson described Clifford Norris as an “evil influence” and a “malign influence”. The report said that in the Lawrence case “officers were aware of threats coming from him which were discouraging the witnesses who were so desperately sought”.
Another Met officer, David Coles, was seen meeting Clifford Norris and exchanging packages, the Macpherson inquiry heard.
In a 2006 interview with the Observer, Clifford Norris denied he ever had corrupt influence with police officers: “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.”
Norris admitted, however, that he was aware of corruption between officers and other criminals in the period around Stephen’s murder.
The National Crime Agency is investigating claims of corruption in the Lawrence case.
After the Lawrence murder in April 1993, Clifford returned to Eltham from a self-imposed exile overseas to threaten a witness,Stacey Benefield, who was alleged to have been stabbed by David Norris with a sword, the Macpherson inquiry heard.
The threats against Benefield were made three days after he had picked David Norris out of an identity parade as the person who had allegedly attacked him. Clifford and an associate even knew what room the identity parade had taken place in, according to the Macpherson report and witness statements from Benefield.