Condon set to climb down over 'institutional racism' charge

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The Independent Online
SIR PAUL CONDON, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is preparing to make a dramatic climb down and admit for the first time that his force is "institutionally racist".

His acceptance of a new definition of "institutional racism" as laid out in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report will infuriate rank and file police officers but will boost the chances of Britain's most powerful policeman keeping his job.

Until now, Sir Paul, whose career hangs in the balance of Sir William Macpherson's report, has refused to admit that his force was "institutionally racist", arguing that the phrase suggested, wrongly, that the majority of his officers were prejudiced and the force was deliberately discriminatory.

Crucially, the definition of institutional racism chosen by Sir William in his report is expected to refer to "unwitting" prejudice and racist stereotyping.

The Lawrence report is expected to say that if any chief officer cannot accept the problem of institutionalised racism within the police service they should be sacked. But the new definition will allow Sir Paul to endorse it because it says racism can be "unwitting".

According to leaked extracts of the inquiry's findings, the definition of institutionalised racism will be: "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.

"It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people."

The report is expected to state: "There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutionalised racism and its nature before it can be addressed."

The report will conclude that there was a "pernicious and institutionalised racism" among the Metropolitan Police.

Speaking just before it was leaked Sir Paul said: "I hope, pray, anticipate that the judge will say something very significant around institutional racism. I will embrace that with zeal."

The Commissioner spent about two hours at the Home Office yesterday reading the completed report. Stephen Lawrence's parents, Doreen and Neville, also accepted an invitation to the Home Office to read the report. Sir Paul has insisted that he will not resign unless the report accuses him personally of malpractice or dishonesty. A senior Scotland Yard source said: "He's (Sir Paul) determined to stay. He has no intention of leaving before January 2000 when he has said he will retire."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said Sir Paul expressed his concern at the inquiry that the phrase "institutional racism" could be interpreted "as meaning that most police officers were deliberately racist".

He asked Sir William to provide a "new workable definition" that could act as a "rallying point for reform". But some campaigners believe Sir Paul's position is untenable even if he admits to institutionalised racism.

Suresh Grover, the head of The Monitoring Group, a west London based anti-racist group, said: "As police commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul dug himself into a massive hole when he vehemently refused to admit to institutional racism.

"I can't see how he can remain as head of the Met. His authority has been so badly damaged." Jack Straw also suffered some damage to his authority yesterday during angry clashes in the Commons when the Home Secretary was attacked for his "autocratic" attempt to ban publication of details of the report before the official launch on Wednesday. Mr Straw disclosed that an inquiry had been set up to find who leaked parts of the document to a Sunday newspaper.

Shadow Home Secretary Sir Norman Fowler branded his efforts to block publication of the inquiry report "entirely unjustified and an autocratic course of action". Mr Straw is expected to use Wednesday's publication of the Lawrence report as a spring board to announce sweeping reforms to race laws and police training.

Among the changes will be to bring the police under the Race Relations Act, from which it is currently exempt. This will enable individuals to take officers to court for racist behaviour and makes forces subject to investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality.

There will also be a national recruitment target of seven per cent of officers from ethnic minorities, and race relations training for all police officers.

Public bodies will also be expected to monitor the employment and promotion of ethnic minority employees.

Inquiry ordered, page 2

Heart of case, page 2