The Government agency responsible for bringing prosecutions in England and Wales is facing widespread claims of racism, including allegations that senior black lawyers have been segregated from their white and Asian colleagues, The Independent has learnt.
Some of the most disturbing claims centre on a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) office in south-east London, where the botched investigation into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence led to findings of institutional racism against the police.
The CPS has confirmed that it is defending a total of eight cases of racism brought by members of staff working across the service, and is also trying to overturn a successful racism claim won two years ago.
Two senior crown prosecutors, who are both black, have lodged claims under whistle-blowing legislation. They say their warnings about racism, bullying and segregated working conditions were dismissed by managers at the CPS office in Lewisham.
The new claims of segregation relate to an alleged policy of excluding some black prosecutors from being allowed to take charging decisions in criminal cases in 2007. This, the lawyers claim, has led to a racially divided office. Tyica Riley, 30, one of the two senior crown prosecutors who has lodged a claim, also alleges that she came under pressure to drop an allegation of criminal damage made against the police by one of Stephen Lawrence's closest friends after his car was vandalised.
Ms Riley also says that prosecutors considering charges relating to the criminal damage caused to Stephen Lawrence's memorial centre in Deptford questioned why so much money had been spent on a memorial for a "dead black boy". The £10m building project was inspired by the 18-year-old's love of architecture.
Ms Riley says in her grounds of complaint to the employment tribunal: "I considered the comments were a complete and deliberate disregard to the feelings of the black lawyers in the office...in order to unsettle the black lawyers." Aniere Ebuzoeme, 50, a black senior crown prosecutor who joined the CPS in 2001, says he was racially excluded from Lewisham's "super team" of white and Asian lawyers, which he says had sole responsibility for charging in criminal cases in 2007.
He alleges that managers "effectively reinforced the divide on racial lines within the workplace" and also claims: "The non-black super team felt that they had a licence from management to harass the black lawyers." He said this helped to create an "us and them culture based on racial dynamics".
The alleged mistreatment of Mr Ebuzoeme is partly corroborated by Ms Riley, who claims she heard non-black lawyers ridiculing Mr Ebuzoeme's African accent as "not speaking proper English". The two race and whistle-blowing claims are to be heard later this year at Croydon Employment Tribunal, when they are expected to revive concerns that the CPS has not properly tackled racism in the agency. The further six race claims are at different stages of the legal process and relate to different CPS offices.
In 2001, an independent report into racism in the CPS found that another south London office was segregating white and black workers. The study concluded that under new laws, the CPS could have faced prosecution for allowing one floor in the Croydon branch office to be occupied by ethnic minority staff only, while the one below was dominated by white workers.
Ms Riley, who has been working for the CPS since 2004, also claims to have been bullied by a male prosecutor who verbally abused her because of her "small stature", and further alleges management undermined her when she was in court prosecuting cases.
Mr Ebuzoeme also alleges that ethnic minority lawyers were excluded from a training course for higher court advocacy. In May 2008, 10 delegates applied for the High Court Advocacy qualification training course, including Mr Ebuzoeme. Of these 10, at least three were from an ethnic minority background. But the lawyer says only the white prosecutors were allowed to participate in the training.
Responding to the claims made by Ms Riley and Mr Ebuzoeme, a CPS spokeswoman said: "The CPS undertook a thorough and high-level investigation into the allegations of race discrimination made by two members of staff in London which found that the grievances were entirely unsubstantiated. There were two subsequent appeals which reached the same conclusion. We will be resisting these claims in court." She also said that since 2005, 35 CPS staff have complained of racism but none has been successful., It is not clear, however, how many of these cases were confidentially settled before reaching a tribunal.
The CPS is still trying to overturn parts of an employment tribunal ruling which found the agency had discriminated against an Asian lawyer, Halima Aziz, who was victimised over false allegations made against her. She was awarded a record £600,000 in damages in 2008, but is still fighting the case despite winning in the Court of Appeal. A CPS spokeswoman said in addition to the £600,000 damages, the agency had spent £555,000 in legal fees defending the case.