The Lawrence Report: `The police officers behaved towards us like white masters during slavery'

Click to follow
STRAIN, FRUSTRATION and disappointment were etched on the faces of Neville and Doreen Lawrence as they sat flanking their lawyer, Imran Khan, at the Home Office press conference at which they gave their reaction to Sir William Macpherson's report.

Stephen Lawrence's parents have achieved what demonstrations, riots, campaigning journalism and vociferous complaints from the public could not. Their dogged fight to gain justice for their son may yet result in radical reform of the police force, but the report does nothing to help the Lawrences do what they want most - establish the truth about their son's death.

Sitting before the now familiar banner that exhorts us all to "Remember Stephen Lawrence", Doreen Lawrence, as ever more trenchant than her estranged husband, spoke first, reading from a prepared statement, sometimes finding it impossible to articulate the words she so clearly wished she did not have to say.

Making clear that there are parts of the report's findings she does not support, Doreen Lawrence talked bitterly of police officers who had behaved towards her family like "white masters during slavery", of "racist officers who walk the street", and of "killing on the streets and in the back of police vans". She suggested that if there were only a few officers of the Metropolitan Police who were racist, then "all of the officers who were racist were handling our case".

Nothing, she said, had changed since her son's death.

She questioned how exactly recommendations to make stop and search procedures "more fair" could be carried out, and suggested that proposals to increase ethnic minority recruitment were not worth the paper they were written on unless an independent body outside the police was established to monitor it. Otherwise, she said, the Metropolitan Police would continue with "patting themselves on the back saying how well they are doing, as they did in the Barker report".

Mrs Lawrence was angry too that the family had again been criticised in Sir William's report, and emphasised once more that she and her husband had had no alternative but to launch their failed private prosecution. She also again asked what had prevented police officers from giving her son first aid at the scene of the crime, a question which has still not been answered and which lies at the heart of this case.

She did welcome proposals that race eduction should be included in the national curriculum. "Our history and our background is what separates us," she said, and expressed her belief that if the white youths who had attacked her son had been educated about the role black people have played in making this country what it is today, then they would not have behaved as they did.

As for Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Mrs Lawrence did not reiterate her calls for his resignation, but said instead that "he must examine his own self". If he felt he had the support of the black community, which he would need if he really did want to reform the police force, then "he should stay if his conscience allows".

Summing up her statement, Mrs Lawrence stated that the report had "only scratched the surface. It has not gone to the heart of the problem."

Nevertheless, she hoped that it would lead to "a time of change in this society".

Neville Lawrence had much less to say than his wife, andthanked the Home Secretary for ordering the inquiry.

"The previous government," he said, "would not have given us this chance." He spoke too of his hope that the report would prove to be a catalyst for change. "People are now aware. We must go forward in the name of our son."

Both of Stephen's parents displayed the dignity that has marked their campaign and the decency without which they could not have gained the strength to punch through the ring of self-protection the officers in this case had tried to build around themselves.

That such an exemplary couple as the Lawrences had to lose a son before the public will to end police racism was mobilised is all the proof that is needed that racism is a problem not just for the police force but for society as a whole.

Other members of the Lawrences' legal and campaign team spoke at the conference of their hopes that the report would prove to be a catalyst for change. But they also noted their frustration at the report's failure to address the role of the five men widely believed to be the killers of their son.

There had been high hopes that the report would pave the way for perjury charges, for which the penalty is a maximum of 15 years' imprison-ment. But while these hopes have been dashed, Imran Khan will be reading the report closely, and with a view to finding room for new legal action by the Lawrences.