The Macpherson Report - Ten Years on

Does racism still exist in the police? Some communities think so, as do friends of Stephen Lawrence and even the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, seems to have doubts.

The Home Affairs Committee have in effect said that racial discrimination still exists in the police, 10 years after a report described Britain's biggest force as 'institutionally racist'. It is hard to believe that it was 10 years ago that the Metropolitan police came under such close scrutiny and came out of it battered and bruised with its reputation badly dented.

The Macpherson inquiry severely criticised the police over its handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.  Police found themselves in the dock and the report labelled the Metropolitan police force 'institutionally racist' and condemned officers for 'fundamental errors'.

The Lawrence family were represented by Michael Mansfield QC who had previously made his name in a succession of high profile cases in which he helped highlight numerous miscarriages of justice.  Such cases included the Birmingham Six, alleged IRA bomber Judith Ward, the Tottenham Three and the Bridgewater Four.  Michael Mansfield acquired a formidable reputation as a civil rights lawyer. He spoke of his experiences and why he mistrusted the police.  At the time there was much said about what was wrong and what should be done.  The inquiry, headed by Sir William Macpherson, came up with a report which set out 70 key recommendations. 

The Macpherson inquiry also took the view that the public's confidence needed to be restored and openness and accountability encouraged.  Home Secretary, Jack Straw , unveiled  measures designed to combat racism in the wake of the inquiry. 

Mr Straw, setting out the government's point-by-point response to each of the 70 recommendations for change made by the inquiry chairman, Sir William Macpherson, said his plan of action should bring about 'real, practical change'.  Brave promises indeed.

Sir Peter Condon was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at the time, but Commissioners come and go, and ironically it was the former police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair who gave evidence to an inquiry in April this year into how race and religion affected employment in the Metropolitan Police. 

The Metropolitan Police Association Race and Faith Inquiry came 10 years after the Macpherson Inquiry which looked into the way police handled Stephen's murder.  Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, called for the inquiry following a number of race allegations against the police.

Sir Ian, resigned in October 2008 amidst controversy and speculation following the shooting of Charles de Menezes. In June, the Met's most senior Asian officer, assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, said he would sue the force for racial discrimination and victimisation.

Sir Ian Blair has said he did not think 'there was anything racist' when asked about how the police had investigated Stephen's death. 

Nobody has been successfully prosecuted in relation to the murder and Stephen's family have not been able to see justice done for their son It was Stephen's case and others like it that prompted the government into reviewing the 800 year old double jeopardy rule which prevented someone being tried again for the same offence if they had previously been acquitted.  The law was eventually changed and legal history has now been made with the first successful prosecution brought as a result of new compelling evidence.  So the case is a graphic illustration of how victim's families can be apparently denied justice as a result of such alleged 'fundamental errors'.

Moving on to more practical issues, the thorny subject of 'stop and search' has reared its head again.  For those of you who are looking for a contemporary reference on this issue the Committee in question accepted that there had been some progress, but that black people are still more likely to be stopped and searched. This will invariably give rise to negative influences within communities and get in the way of good policing.

The Chairman, Keith Vaz, also spoke of the Home Affair Committees disappointment that 'While there is such blatantly disproportionate representation of particularly black people in the criminal justice system... there will continue to be damage to community relations which in turn undermines police work.'

Equally of concern is the suggestion that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people also had their profiles held on the police DNA database.  This comes hard on the heels of the concerns that we are out of step over the issue of retaining DNA profiles of persons who have been acquitted of charges against them.


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