A report denounce "a culture of institutionalised racism" in the police

19/04/1999
Press release

Stephen Lawrence was a young black man who was
murdered, allegedly by five white racist youths while he
waited at a bus stop in South East London five years ago.

The police took little action and were ver y dilator y,
although Stephen’s friend and his family insisted that this
was a racist attack and that they were able to identify the
murderers.

Eventually, after some months three of the alleged
murderers were charged, but the prosecution evidence
was inadequate and badly prepared, and as a result,
the accused were acquitted. Subsequently, the Daily Mail
published a front-page article accusing these three and
two others of the murder.

Because of this attack of the presumption of innocence
there could not be a further prosecution, because it
would now be impossible for them to have a fair trial on
account of the prejudicial material that had been
published.

Meanwhile, Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen
Lawrence started a public campaign for the culprits to be
prosecuted and generally against racism within the police
which attracted enormous support, particularly from the
ethnic community.

Finally, in 1998 a judicial mission of enquiry was appointed
by the Home Secretary which reported in 1999 with a
report which was devastating for the police. The
Commission stated that there was a culture of
institutionalised racism in the police and that public
confidence in the police (particularly among ethnic
communities) was at an all-time low. The Metropolitan
Commissioner of Police, Sir Paul Condon, accepted that
there was an institutional problem of racism in the police
force, and that it was not (as it had previously been
maintained) a question of a few racist officers.

However,
Sir Paul Condon refused to resign despite numerous
calls for his resignation, and despite an increased number
of deaths in custody, particularly among black people.

Liberty has welcomed the publication of the report and in
particular :
- the proposals to rid the police of racism ;
- the acknowledgement that the police complaints system
needs to be changed by appointing an independent body
to investigate such complaints, so that the public are no
longer reliant on the police investigating themselves -
and that police reports in such investigation should
normally be disclosed ;

- that at inquests (judicial enquiries into the death of a
person), the police should disclose all documents to
relatives of the deceased - and that legal aid should be
available to the family to pay for lawyers to attend the
inquest ;
- that the proposed freedom of information legislation
should apply to the police with limited exceptions ;
- that the Race Relations Act should apply to the police.

Liberty points out that many of these issues have been
raised repeatedly by Black organisations and also by the
UN Human Rights Committee and by the Committee for
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The
recommendations are welcome and long overdue - and
they should be implemented immediately.

However, some recommendations raise concern about
human rights and civil liberties. For example, the
Commission proposed that in certain circumstances the
Court of Appeal should allow a second prosecution after
an acquittal, where fresh and viable evidence is presented.

Liberty points out that this is contrary to article 14 (7) of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This report, resulting from the public campaign by Steven
Lawrence’s parents has had a tremendous effect on
public opinion in Britain. Since its publication, the Home
Secretary Jack Straw has started a campaign against
racism in the police, and has announced a number of
concrete steps. First, he has announced an enquiry to see
whether previous potentially racist murders in recent
years have not been overlooked by the police. Secondly
that policemen, and also other civil servants, would be
liable to prosecution for racism; and police forces should
recruit more members of ethnic minorities. One can only
hope that this shock report will achieve its objective of
preventing racist behaviour in the police, so as to restore
public confidence in the police force.

Michael Ellman

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