Scotland Yard was facing a fresh race controversy after Stephen Lawrence’s brother launched legal action saying he had been stopped up to 25 times because of his skin colour.
Stuart Lawrence, 35, a teacher, claimed that Metropolitan Police officers had repeatedly targeted him during a sustained campaign of harassment. Mr Lawrence, whose teenage brother was killed in a racist attack by a gang of white youths in 1993, decided to act after two officers pulled over his car in November last year near his home in Peckham, south London.
He said one officer told him he was “naturally suspicious” of him. “I am being targeted because of the colour of my skin, I don’t think it’s because I am Stephen’s brother,” he told the Daily Mail.
“Whenever I have been stopped, I have never subsequently been charged with anything, and nothing has ever been found to be wrong with my car. I have never, ever, done anything wrong. I have never been in trouble with the law. I have paid my road tax and my insurance, and always tried to keep my cars in a roadworthy state.”
He said he has been stopped around 25 times but was pulled over at police checkpoints – where officers were apparently checking drivers’ tax and insurance – on only two of these occasions.
A letter of complaint naming the two officers was sent to the head of Scotland Yard, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, on Tuesday. The force has called on the independent police watchdog to consider the case, which is currently deciding if it will handle the complaint.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “Mr Lawrence’s complaint… is a very serious matter and it will be investigated thoroughly and speedily. Stop and search is an important tool to combat crime and is supported by the community if it is used professionally and fairly.
“The Commissioner has made it clear that he will not tolerate any form of racism in the MPS. Strong action will be taken against any individuals in the MPS if they are found to have acted in a racist manner.”
Community leaders have identified the tactic as one of the main reasons for toxic relations between young black men and the police. Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission last year found that forces were up to 28 times more likely to use stop-and-search powers against black people than white people. The Met used the tactic more than any other force.
The campaign by the Lawrence family to secure justice for the murder of the 18-year-old aspiring architect in Eltham, south-west London, resulted in a public inquiry that found the force “institutionally racist” and led to a major shake up of policing.
But Dr Richard Stone, a member of the Macpherson inquiry panel, has been critical of the force’s failure to radically improve its monitoring of searches.
Under legislation intended to tackle football hooliganism, police have wide-ranging powers to stop and search people which have led to accusations that the tactic has been abused by officers.
“I’ve never heard of any white person being picked on that often,” Dr Stone said yesterday. “Mr Hogan-Howe has says he is very committed to stopping this discrimination. I very much hope he is going to do something positive about it.”
Two members of the white gang who killed Stephen Lawrence were convicted of murder last year after advances in forensic research.
The prosecutor in that case, Mark Ellison, QC, is conducting a review of the case after complaints by the family that police corruption effectively shielded some of the killers from justice.