Straw ready to water down Lawrence report proposals

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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 racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

But Mr Straw will have disappointed the inquiry team by raising objections to several of its key suggestions.

In particular, Mr Straw expressed "serious reservations" over the recommendation to consider prosecuting 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 Macpherson, 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 personally chair a steering group, which will include representatives of police and ethnic organisations, which will be driving through a raft of measures called for in the Macpherson Report.

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

Police officers will also be subject to disciplinary proceedings where they are found to have used racist words or committed racist acts. Police are to be made subject to the Race Relations Act as a Government priority, making chief constables legally responsible for the actions of their officers.

The Home Secretary accepted Macpherson'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 universally adopted by police and other agencies.

Mr Straw said he was anxious that, unlike Lord Scarman's report inner city riots in 1981, the Macpherson report should be a platform for "real practical change". "The trouble with Scarman was that it was seen as a bolt-on extra, and it didn't become infused into the police service or its culture," said Mr Straw.

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 new Freedom of Information legislation, he wishes to exclude details relating to informers, investigations and prosecutions.

The Home Secretary is committed to disciplining police officers found to be responsible for racist words or actions, but 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 that Macpherson's suggestion that retired police officers should be liable to being disciplined for up to five years after retirement "needs further consideration".

Mr Straw's Action Plan will be debated in the House of Commons next Monday.