Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially motivated attack whilst waiting for a bus in southeast London, on the evening of 22 April 1993.
His five attackers were initially arrested, but not charged. It was widely suggested that Lawrence was killed because he was black, and that the subsequent handling of the case by the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service was affected by issues of racial bias.
In July 1997, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw announced the establishment of a public inquiry into his death. Led by Sir William Macpherson, this inquiry concluded that the Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist’.
The inquiry was asked to ‘inquire into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence… in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned for the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes’.
A 350-page report concluded that the investigation into the killing had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership”. Specific officers in the Metropolitan Police were named and the entire Force was criticised.
A total of 70 recommendations designed to show “zero tolerance” for racism in society were made. They included measures not just to transform the attitude of the police towards race relations and improve accountability but also to encourage the civil service, NHS, judiciary and other public bodies to respond and change.
Here are the most important:
The vast majority of the report’s recommendations led to specific changes in practice or the law within two years of its publication. They included the introduction of detailed targets for the recruitment, retention and promotion of Black and Asian officers, as well as the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now IOPC) with the power to appoint its own investigators.
The abolition of the “double jeopardy rule” – which stated that people could not be tried for the same crime twice – eventually led to the 2012 conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for Lawrence’s murder.
Many of the underlying issues and concerns highlighted by the Macpherson report hold true today, and continue to be highlighted by the recent Lammy Review and the current work being undertaken by the Government’s Race Disparity Unit.
Many Black and BAME communities – especially young people – are still mistrustful of policing, and many will express the same concerns as those highlighted in the Macpherson review over 20 year ago.
Stephen Lawrence’s legacy is important because it is still relevant.
We are still striving for a society where everyone is treated equally, and has the opportunity to live their lives free from prejudice, fear and harm. This aim is rightly reflected in policing values, given its particular importance in delivering our role to protect the public.
If you would like to learn more about Stephen’s legacy, and the work being undertaken today, please visit the charity set up in his name.
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