Lawrence inquiry told of police's `casual attitude'

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The Independent Online
ALLEGATIONS of ingrained racist attitudes in the police force towards black victims of crime were made yesterday at the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence by a senior manager at the hospital where he died.

Mandy Lavin, night services manager at Brook Hospital, in Greenwich, south-east London, said that the accident and emergency department dealt with casualties of racially motivated attacks at least once a fortnight during her five years in the job.

She said: "It is true to say that, on occasions, I felt a general sense of unease about the police approach to such attacks in that they tended to assume that they were drugs- related and therefore less important than other assaults."

This attitude extended to black victims of crime in general, Ms Lavin said. She gave the example of an Asian woman who was treated at the hospital at around the time of Stephen's death. "She had been subject to threats to kill, had been doused in petrol and had managed to escape before she was ignited."

"It was not clear whether or not this attack had been perpetrated by a family member or whether it was a racially motivated incident, and my view was that both of these were very serious circumstances. I felt at the time that the police did not view the incident with the same degree of seriousness," she said.

Edmund Lawson QC, counsel to the inquiry which is examining events surrounding Stephen's death in April 1993, asked Ms Lavin about a statement in which she described the police attitude towards racist attacks as "casual and relaxed". She said that she stood by that phrase.

Stephen, 18, an A-level student, was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London. Murder charges laid against five white youths were dropped for lack of evidence, and a private prosecution by the Lawrence family was also unsuccessful.

Under cross-examination by Jeffrey Yearwood, for the Commission for Racial Equality, Ms Lavin said that while racist attacks were commonplace in the hospital's catchment area, particularly during periods of heightened racial tension, she believed some black victims did not report them because of a lack of confidence in the police.

She said that she had observed police dealing differently with black victims of crime over many years. "Sometimes it's quite difficult to work out what's different. It hinges on things like attitude and demeanour and approach and manner."

Ms Lavin described to the inquiry how Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, were taken to see his body in the hospital's resuscitation room, where they recited prayers and sang a hymn.

"The distress of Mrs Lawrence stays with me to this day," she said. "She was in a state of extreme distress, a state of collapse."

Constable Michael Pinecoffin, a member of the Territorial Support Group who searched for the murder weapon, told the inquiry that he did not make any notes of conversations he had with local residents on the night.

The inquiry continues today.