The Lawrence inquiry: Condon 'must face up to racism'

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The Independent Online
THE LAWRENCE inquiry report recommends radical changes to the criminal justice system, including the abolition of a centuries-old cornerstone of English law: the "double jeopardy" rule that prevents people being tried twice for the same offence.

The report, by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, states that the Metropolitan Police is riven by "pernicious and institutionalised racism", according to the Sunday Telegraph. It adds, ominously, that Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner, will be unable to do his job properly unless he accepts the existence of the problem.

The leaked extracts echo The Independent's disclosure last week that Sir Paul is personally criticised by the inquiry on two counts: for accepting without question an internal review of the Lawrence murder investigation and for attacking the public inquiry itself.

The double jeopardy rule means that three of the main murder suspects - Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight - who stood trial in 1996 are now immune from prosecution, although they were acquitted without a jury hearing any evidence against them.

In a highly controversial move, Sir William, a retired High Court judge, recommends that the Court of Appeal be given powers to permit prosecutions after an earlier acquittal, if fresh and important evidence is produced.

He makes a total of 70 recommendations for improving the investigation of racist crime and transforming race relations. Among them are radical measures that would make it illegal to use racist language and possess an offensive weapon in private - clearly a response to a police surveillance video that showed the Lawrence suspects brandishing knives and exchanging racist abuse. Sir William also recommends that people convicted of racist offences should be required to undergo education and "treatment" to change their attitudes.

The report's conclusions on Sir Paul reinforce the impression that his position has become untenable. He had pledged to resign if he was personally criticised by Sir William. Now it seems that the issue of institutional racism may also precipitate his departure.

When he testified at the public inquiry in October, the Commissioner repeatedly refused to accept the existence of what the report calls the "corrosive disease" of institutional racism.

In his report, Sir William contrasts his attitude with that of David Wilmott, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, who acknowledged that racism was ingrained in his force.

According to the Sunday Telegraph excerpts, Sir William asserts: "There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutionalised racism and its nature before it can be addressed, as it needs to be, in full partnership with minority ethnic communities."

He goes on: "Any chief police officer who feels unable to so respond will find it extremely difficult to work in harmony and co-operate with the community in the way that policing by consent demands."

The report says there was a "lack of rigor" in the way that Sir Paul accepted the internal review, which gave the murder investigation a clean bill of health. It adds that he should not have needed the advantage of hindsight to realise that something was wrong.

The Commissioner's criticism of the inquiry, which he accused of damaging race relations, was neither "appropriate nor justified", it says.

Sir William recommends changes to the national curriculum to emphasise the value of cultural diversity and prevent pre-school children acquiring racist attitudes. He calls for a tougher Race Relations Act to cover the police, who are exempt from current provisions while performing their duties.

Sir William says the importance of race relations was constantly "underplayed or ignored" by police officers involved in the investigation of Stephen's murder in 1993.

He also condemns the "paucity of information" given to the Lawrence family by police and the lack of "open and meaningful communication".