Scotland Yard has admitted that commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was told a year ago that undercover officers had spied on supporters of Stephen Lawrence's family but did not tell the murdered teenager's parents for another 11 months.
A letter seen by the Guardian states that Hogan-Howe was personally briefed on 16 August 2012 about the infiltration by police of groups involved with and supporting the Lawrence campaign for justice after officers bungled the 1993 case.
On Monday Scotland Yard said the Lawrence family had not been told of this until 28 June this year, after the Guardian reported allegations from a former undercover officer turned whistleblower.
Last month Mick Creedon, the Derbyshire chief constable who is leading an investigation into a covert police unit called the Special Demonstration Squad, was called before MPs. He revealed that his inquiry had found documents showing that the undercover officers had collected intelligence on groups supporting the Lawrence family and that Hogan-Howe had been informed.
After Creedon's comments, Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, demanded to know exactly when Hogan-Howewas told.
In a written response, Creedon said the commissioner was briefed on 16 August last year that the police's internal investigation into the undercover unit had shown the targeting of supporters of the Lawrences.
Hogan-Howe was briefed by the deputy assistant commissioner Patricia Gallan and by the senior investigating officer on the inquiry into the activities of the Met's undercover unit.
Creedon wrote: “The briefing … included the fact that the SDS were providing information on groups that were involved and were supporting the Lawrence campaign.”
His letter stresses that this material did not cover allegations of an attempted smear campaign. In June the Guardian and Channel 4's Dispatches programme published testimony from the former undercover officer Peter Francis who said he spied on the Lawrence campaign and was asked to find information that could be used to undermine the family and their supporters.
Creedon told Vaz's committee that the intelligence had been gathered by undercover officers who had been sent to spy on what he called violent protest groups that were campaigning for a better investigation of the murder.
A Metropolitan police spokesperson said on Monday: “As part of a wider briefing on Operation Herne on 16 August 2012 the commissioner was briefed by DAC Patricia Gallan that the inquiry received information which indicated undercover officers were deployed into supporters and campaigns surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence.”
The Met declined to say why the information had not been passed on to the Lawrence family earlier.
It said Stephen's mother, Doreen, and his surviving brother, Stuart, were told of this in a meeting with Hogan-Howe on 28 June this year and then in a letter sent to them by the Met in early July which said: “There are records that indicate undercover officers were deployed into supporters and campaigns surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence.”
The Met say the information is still being examined by its investigation into undercover policing, called Operation Herne, and by a senior prosecutor, Mark Ellison QC, who was already examining corruption allegations in the Lawrence case at the request of the home secretary.
In recent weeks Scotland Yard has disclosed some details of the surveillance following testimony by Francis.
Francis, who infiltrated anti-racist supporters of the family of the murdered teenager, has revealed extensive details of his covert mission and the Special Branch unit he worked for.
The Met admitted last month that at least two undercover officers “were deployed into the supporters and campaigns surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence”.
One of them was Francis, who has described how he infiltrated a group known as the Youth Against Racism in Europe.
In the years after the teenager's murder by a racist gang in 1993, the family and their backers criticised police for failings that left Stephen's killers free. Their complaints were later borne out by an official inquiry headed by the retired judge William Macpherson in 1999.
The teenager's parents, Doreen and Neville, have said they are in favour of a public inquiry. Doreen Lawrence has said she has no confidence in the police and that it was not right for “police officers to investigate each other”.
Since Francis's testimony was made public, Hogan-Howe has declared that he was “committed to finding out the truth behind what would be indefensible behaviour”, adding that he “felt the frustration of Doreen and Neville Lawrence as they seek immediate answers”.