Bigotry remains, admits police chief

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The Independent Online




Pockets of "stupidity and bigotry" remain in the police 16 years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, Britain's most senior officer admitted today.

But Sir Paul Stephenson said the label of "institutionally racist" no longer applied after 10 years of race reform.

The Scotland Yard chief said the 18-year-old's legacy was that equal treatment for all, whether within or outside the force, had become a yardstick for success.

Sir Paul signalled police must move on from an obsession with race and said diversity was no longer "an end in its own right".

Speaking at a conference to mark a decade since the publication of the Macpherson report, he said: "I do not want the Met to be distracted by the debate about institutional racism.

"That label no longer drives or motivates change as it once so clearly and dramatically did.

"What matters to the people of London is that we continue to change. It is actions, not definitions, that solve problems.

"The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence was a transformational moment, not just for the Met, not just of the service but for society.

"We have changed but I do not hide the fact that there is much more to be done."

A-level student Stephen, 18, was stabbed to death by a gang of racist thugs as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

Six years later, retired High Court judge Sir William MacPherson, delivered a damning assessment of the police inquiry.

His recommendations and criticisms, including a verdict of "institutional racism" within the Metropolitan Police, are seen as a defining moment in race relations.

The event came as fresh evidence of racism among the ranks of the capital's force emerged in employment tribunal papers.

Police community support officer Asad Saeed claimed an "apartheid" culture operated at Belgravia police station with different vans for black and white officers.

The Muslim officer alleged he was sacked after being set up by a racist clique of white colleagues.

A Met Police spokeswoman confirmed Mr Saeed had lodged an employment tribunal claim for race discrimination and said the force would "robustly defend" itself.

Stephen's mother Doreen told the conference that society was in danger of becoming complacent while racism continued to haunt major institutions.

Mrs Lawrence, who has dedicated her life to campaigning for equal rights, said we had yet to achieve a "truly united kingdom".

She said: "We are in danger of becoming complacent by lingering over the successes and forgetting the obstacles that we still must overcome."

She highlighted disproportionate use of stop and search, a lack of senior ethnic minority teachers and a shortage of effective oversight of race issues.

Mrs Lawrence said "racism and incompetence" were to blame for the failure of police to catch Stephen's killers.

She said: "Would frontline officers react any differently today if faced with the same situation of that night, April 22 1993?

"Would Stephen be dealt with in a way that any injured man would be? Would they automatically see a guilty black man or would they see a black person bleeding on London's streets?

"The most important need is to make sure that we are providing the right service for the community that we serve."

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who as home secretary established the Macpherson inquiry, said progress against intolerance was "fragile".

He said the response to Stephen's murder represented "a defining moment in our history" which profoundly changed the character of British society.

Mr Straw said: "One of Macpherson's charges was that the police service as a whole was institutionally racist. No longer, I suggest, is that the case.

"It is true that the ignorance and prejudice of some individuals still does a disservice to the vast majority of officers who conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and dedication.

"But by and large the police service has purged itself of the systemic racism Macpherson identified."

Alfred John, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, challenged claims that the force had moved on.

He said: "Saying there are pockets of institutional racism is like saying there are pockets of cancer. The results are still the same."

Mr John said a recent recruitment fair for the Met attracted only five "visible minorities" out of 2,000 attendees.