In his strongest comments to date, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny also urged the Home Office and other bodies to assume that the concerns of the black community about discriminatory policing were well-founded.
He was speaking on the opening day of the second part of the public inquiry, which aims to identify the lessons to be learnt from the investigation into Stephen's 1993 murder by a white gang. Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen, have claimed that police racism was a key factor in the failure to convict his killers.
Sir William said he did not accept that racism was limited to a few "bad apples" - the conclusion reached by Lord Scarman, who chaired the last inquiry into race and policing in 1981.
"What we are looking at here is a collective failure of police working together. It is a collective failure that has to be addressed - not one individual here or there that has to be hauled over the coals - and a general discrimination, conscious or unconscious."
The public inquiry, sitting in Elephant and Castle, south London, heard submissions yesterday from representatives of the Home Office, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Superintendents' Association. In the public gallery were relatives of Michael Menson, a black musician who died of injuries after being found on fire in a London street, and of Ricky Reel, an Asian teenager who drowned in the Thames.
The families of both victims claim that police failed to investigate the deaths properly because they discounted the possibility that they had been murdered by racists.
Intervening during evidence by Paul Pugh, the head of the Operational Policing and Policy Unit at the Home Office, Sir William said that the inquiry had exposed "an obvious crisis of confidence between the black community and the Metropolitan Police.
"Some say it has damaged race relations. I hope very much that this will not turn out to be the epitaph of this inquiry. But it might be good for the Home Office and everybody else involved to take on board the perceptions of the black community and assume it is right, rather than make excuses and assume it is wrong."
Sir William gave the example of recent Home Office research, which found that black people were eight times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched by police, but which concluded that there could be "demographic and sociological reasons" for the discrepancy.
"'Stop and search' is an example of the ethos which it will be necessary to change if this inquiry is to create a watershed for the improvement of relations," he said.
He told Dan Crompton, a senior Inspectorate official, that if he had listened to evidence from the first part of the inquiry, he would have been "aghast".Reuse content