Straw says race report goes too far

Lawrence campaigners seek memorial day Parents of suspects write to PM for support
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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW, the Home Secretary, will reject key recommendations of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence - including the proposal to outlaw racist language in the home - because the Government is determined not to become entrenched in "political correctness".

Ministers are preparing to dump the most controversial aspects of Sir William Macpherson's damning report on the murder of the black teenager on the grounds that they are excessive and unworkable.

The proposal to ban expressions of racial hatred behind closed doors is to be thrown out, say insiders. One minister said it was "not a runner" because it would constitute a gross infringement of civil liberties and create a "thought police" culture.

Mr Straw also remains to be convinced of the case for changing the law to allow people to be prosecuted twice for the same crime. The Law Commission, which has been asked to examine the proposal, will have to come up with very strong arguments if it is to persuade him that amending the so-called "double jeopardy" rule is justified. Another of the 70 recommendations, that a "racist incident" should be defined only by the victim, is also being considered with scepticism.

It also emerged last night that the parents of the five youths accused of murdering Stephen have written to Tony Blair asking him to intervene to prevent their sons from being "victimised" in an atmosphere of public hysteria.They told the Prime Minister that they had received dozens of death threats even though they had not been convicted of any crime.

In their letter, sent before the inquiry's conclusions were published, the parents insisted that their sons "are British too" and urged Mr Blair to recognise their predicament. An official wrote back with a bland reply on behalf of the Prime Minister telling them to wait for publication of the report.

Today's news follows growing concern about some parts of the Lawrence report. The Cabinet agreed it should "tread cautiously" and avoid legislation on the basis of an emotional reaction to tragedy. "We are not in the business of political correctness," one minister said, "but in the business of building a more inclusive society."

The Government is also reacting coolly to a proposal for an annual "Stephen Lawrence day" to commemorate the death of the teenager. But Mr Blair will use an article in the New Nation, a newspaper for the black community, tomorrow, to emphasise his commitment to tackling racism. "In all honesty, I don't think I can say that enough has been done to improve race relations in the UK," he says.

Mr Straw will also voice strong concerns about the findings of the Inspectorate of Constabulary, out tomorrow. The report concludes only five of 43 police forces in England and Wales have made any progress in improving race relations.

Although initially hailed as the tool for stamping out racism, the Macpherson report has become increasingly mired in controversy. The credibility of the inquiry team was severely damaged by the inclusion in an appendix of the names of informants who had given the police details of suspects.

The recommendation to outlaw racist language and behaviour in the home stemmed from the police surveillance video which showed four of the suspects acting out stabbing and using abusive racial language. If the law were changed, the police could use such video material as evidence in court. It has been fiercely criticised by civil liberties campaigners and lawyers.