Straw cautious on Lawrence findings

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday that he was taking "personal responsibility" for building an anti-racist society by implementing most of the recommendations of the Macpherson report into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

But Mr Straw will have disappointed the inquiry team by raising objections to several of its key suggestions. The Home Secretary expressed "serious reservations" over the recommendation to consider prosecution for racist language in the home. Although he agreed to look at the issue, Mr Straw said: "We need to balance the concerns expressed with the right to privacy, and family life and freedom of speech."

Mr Straw also stressed that his acceptance of the "double jeopardy" recommendation by the Macpherson report, which would allow people to be tried twice for the same offence where fresh evidence was presented, was no more than a commitment to "consideration" of the issue.

The Home Secretary will chair a group, which will include representatives of police and ethnic organisations, to drivethrough measures called for in the report.

A feasibility study has been ordered into the setting up of an independent system to investigate complaints made against police officers by the public.

Officers will also be subject to disciplinary proceedings where they are found to have used racist words or committed racist acts. Police are also to be made subject to the Race Relations Act for the first time.

Mr Straw accepted the report's wider definition of a racist incident - where any interested party considers that there was a racial element to what took place - and said this would be adopted by police and other agencies. He also said that racist incidents in schools would be recorded.

Pilot schemes are to be carried out into the value of registering all stop-and-search incidents.

Legal Aid is to be provided in "exceptional cases" for the families of victims at inquests and evidence and documents are to be made available to such parties in advance of the hearing. People who make complaints about police officers are to be allowed access to the investigating officer's report into their complaint.

Mr Straw said he was anxious that, unlike Lord Scarman's report into inner-city riots in 1981, the Macpherson report should be a platform for "real practical change".

But the Macpherson team is likely to be disappointed by the Home Secretary's inclusion of a series of caveats. Although Mr Straw has promised to include policing in freedom of information legislation, he wishes to exclude details relating to informers, investigations and prosecutions.

The Home Secretary accepts the recommendation for a new Metropolitan Police Authority to oversee the Metropolitan Police, but says it should have no powers to appoint the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner.

Although Mr Straw was committed to disciplining police officers found to be responsible for racist words or actions, he said that dismissal in such cases could not "be applied in a generalised way because each case must be decided on its merits".

He also said the report's suggestion that retired police officers should be liable to being disciplined for up to five years after retirement "needs further consideration".

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