The Home Secretary Theresa May has put new pressure on the top brass at Scotland Yard by paying a glowing tribute to the “strength” and “persistence” of Baroness Lawrence, the campaigning mother of murdered student Stephen and an outspoken critic of the Metropolitan Police.
In a special message to the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme, the Home Secretary endorsed Baroness Lawrence’s long fight for justice, which has most recently included a call for “heads to roll” at the Yard after the damning Ellison report into the investigation of the murder of her son in 1993.
Ms May described Baroness Lawrence as “an example to us all” as she declared the peer as Woman’s Hour’s “game changer” of the year.
“Faced by a terrible tragedy, she picked herself up and carried on fighting to ensure that justice could be done, and the fight still continues,” said Ms May. “What is most striking about this woman is the great strength that she has shown over decades – strength to carry on, to keep on going, even in the most difficult times when all seemed impossible. Also striking is the persistence that she has shown, because she has never given up. And finally, what is most impressive about this game changer is that throughout it all, over the years, despite blow after blow, she has dealt with everything with absolute dignity. She truly is an example to us all.”
The Commissioner of the Met, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, last month faced criticism from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee over the force’s alleged failure to act on death threats being made against Baroness Lawrence.
Among the other women recognised as “Game Changers” in British society in the past 12 months are Julie Bailey, founder of Cure the NHS (the group which campaigned for a public inquiry into health care failings in Mid-Staffordshire); Professor Nazneen Rahman, a geneticist and cancer specialist; Carmel McConnell, activist and founder of Magic Breakfast (which provides healthy breakfasts to primary schools); Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding; and Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein, campaigners against female genital mutilation. The “Game Changers” theme is this year’s incarnation of Woman’s Hour’s annual Power List of influential females.
Emma Barnett, the chair of the judging panel and the women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph, said it was significant that no female politicians were chosen for the list. “We on the panel felt that is a clear indicator of two aspects of modern-day Britain: how ‘safe’ politics has become and how the power to effect real change in society has shifted away from bureaucratic Westminster,” she said. “The majority of today’s MPs are focused on upholding the status quo and sadly struggle to be true game changers.”
The other judges on the panel were: Liz Bingham, managing partner at Ernst & Young; Reni Eddo-Lodge, a writer and campaigner; Heather Rabbatts, non-executive director of the Football Association; and Rachel Johnson, former editor of The Lady.
Later this month Baroness Lawrence will be one of five daily guest editors taking part in the “Woman’s Hour Takeover” week, when those invited are encouraged to explore areas that resonate with them. She will talk about people who have inspired her, including Maya Angelou and Barack Obama, and host reports on health issues and the need to equip young people with the right skills for modern society.