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Stephen Lawrence Tuesday, 23 February, 1999, 08:13 GMT
Institutional racism - Sir Paul's inquiry challenge
Sir Paul Condon, Tom Cook and Sir William Macpherson
Sir Paul Condon is quizzed by the Lawrence Inquiry team
Sir Paul Condon has admitted the Metropolitan Police has some racist officers. But he has firmly denied that the force is "institutionally racist". It now looks as if the Macpherson report has come up with a definition of institutional racism that Sir Paul can live with.

In this extract from the public inquiry into the handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder case, Chairman Sir William Macpherson and Tom Cook, former West Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable, take turns to challenge the commissioner.

THE CHAIRMAN: Let me if I may give you two examples which may figure in our report. The first really comes from the evidence of Mrs Lawrence herself, who was sensitively asked questions by Ms Weekes during the inquiry, you may remember the passage. She was asked how she put the impact of racism.

She said more than once, and of course I shorten her answers - she said more than once "they were patronising", "they patronised me because I was black", and that was collective. It wasn't just one officer. It was the approach. That was a collective failure.

The second example is this. Half a dozen officers in terms before us refused to accept that this was purely a racially motivated or a racist crime. One officer said, and reflected on his answer, said he thought 50% of his colleagues would have had the same view that it might not have been racially motivated. Nobody picked them up and nobody questioned that plainly wrong approach. So that is a collective failure.

You accept that those features may amount to institutional racism?

SIR PAUL: Where I think there is a danger in the leap of logic and collection, I am not challenging the areas of the behaviour you have described. To treat anyone patronisingly, for whatever reason, is wrong and offensive.

I will say a word in a moment about why I think officers said what they did about motivation. But clearly it is the decision for you and your colleagues sir, but by them describing those challenges and those issues as institutional racism I think you then extrapolate to all police officers at all times this notion that they are walking around just waiting to do something that is going to be labelled "institutional racism" because of some collective failure.

THE CHAIRMAN: I do not think that would be my approach, but it would be my approach that it exists.

SIR PAUL: The mischief exists the challenge is what we call it.

THE CHAIRMAN: What troubles me is this. The perception of the Lawrences and the community is that racism of that kind, that is to say a collective failure, played its part and was apparent in this case; other evidence that we have heard echoes that and suggests that that is a general view.

How can that be dealt with if it is not accepted that it exists?

SIR PAUL: I think we can - I am disappointed, chairman, if you think all I said earlier didn't recognise the existence of these problems and these challenges. I am not going to get hung up on the words.

Sir Paul Condon
All I am merely saying to you is that those words put together have a common meaning for a lot of people in wider society. If you now attribute them to a challenge in the way they have not been attributed before then I think there is just a responsibility to explain that attribution.

In answering your second point sir, this is not an easy environment in which to operate. I can cope. I understand the anger. I understand the frustration. I am privileged, I feel privileged to be in the presence of Mr and Mrs Lawrence again.

The grief that they have felt I have personally shared, but for a group of officers I think who came - I am not defending what they said or how they behaved but I think when in such a challenging environment I think many of them took comfort in what they thought was safe territory.

Safe territory is, say, I treat everyone the same, I am colour blind. I do not know what was in the mind, I do not know what was in the mind of the assailants, because we have not got them to the point of prosecution and I think because they have stood time and time again in the witness box and been challenged, how do you know what was in someone's mind, how do you know their motivation.

I think they, many of them, erred stupidly in not explaining their actions, and I acknowledge totally why that should give you concern, why it gives me concern and why it has led to dramatic changes in training to acknowledge these issues.

THE CHAIRMAN: You see it just strikes me - I hope that this is a golden opportunity for reform - that maybe everybody has to say the reform must be even more fundamental than they are planning at the moment.

SIR PAUL: If I could give an example, sir. You have listened, you have heard the complexities of the ACPO definition for racial incidents. You have heard various people say various things and again in the chaos, in the fog of war of street encounter and street endeavour, police officers quite often fall back on what is a safe definition.

In relation to racial incidents we have been piloting, we have given every police officer in a part of London a new form on racial incidents, the bullet point is in the red box, don't forget if anyone says it is a racial incident, it is. No "ifs", "buts", "maybes" qualifying, if anyone says it is a racial incident, it is.

It brings home to police officers, to other professionals and agencies that if there is underreporting of these issues, if people do not face up to the challenges of these issues, we will never reform. So I am not in denial of your analysis, of the problems, of the challenges, I merely offer you some caution around the use of some of the terminology. May I invite Mr [Denis] O'Connor [Assistant Commissioner, south-west London] to speak?


MR O'CONNOR: Chairman, briefly, we acknowledge that something was deeply wrong here. We believe that the sense of racism is corrosive to a relationship between ourselves and the black community.

The commissioner's endeavour has been and we hope we have taken a step in the direction you were suggesting to find common purpose, to find common purpose on the way forward, that is the only way great steps are taken.

We think it will be extremely difficult to find common purpose around the definitions that academics have used and we think that institutional racism in the way it is used, we think it will challenge the personal honour, the reputation of individuals and the basic moral fitness of our service.

We think it has the potential to antagonise and polarise and that is why, sir, the commissioner in his submission to you and the extrapolation and the action plan that goes with that we have a copy and we hope to offer that to you today, focused on anti-racism.

We believe that focusing on that aspiration and that must be the aspiration I would hope that we could all share as a common purpose and more importantly how to achieve it is a way forward, it is a way around which everybody can and should be able to mobilise. We have attempted to turn that for the first time into real practical endeavour in our organisation which can be tested, around which others can test us.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Just one sideline on this: we heard very impressive evidence from the Black Police Association on Friday, which I am sure you will have read. No doubt their views on this aspect of the case will be closely considered.

SIR PAUL: I had the privilege of encouraging the formation of that association and speaking at their inaugural meeting and have spent many hours with many colleagues within that association. They are a key resource in all of our endeavour. They are a key resource to John and his new unit. They are a key resource to Denis O'Connor as we take forward our aspirations around policing diversity.

I, in speaking to my colleague who joined with me over 30 years ago, he talks passionately of his first two years in policing where he went home and cried every night. He went and home and cried every night because of racism in the police service.

I have spent all of my career and at key moments in it seeking to move the service forward and there is an endeavour to do so now. No-one has had a more privileged insight into what it means to be and hear from black officers in particular in London.

THE CHAIRMAN: I am now going to ask Mr Cook to ask some questions and we will go on for about another quarter of an hour and then we will have a break because the stenographer has a considerable task in taking everything down: I understand we can continue so that we may not have to take a break. I will ask Mr Cook to ask some questions.

MR COOK: Can I come back to the question of institutional racism. I make no apologies for the fact that I will eventually come to a question but there is a long preamble. The person I should apologise to for that is the chairman.

Can I first quote from a paper before us from the 1990 Trust, which you may not have seen or probably have not seen, it refers to the Lambeth initiatives which you have spoken about and seem to me to be an excellent initiative. It refers to it as designed to build confidence:

"The initiative is predicated on the acceptance by the Lambeth Superintendents of the need to tackle institutionalised racism. This is in contrast to Metropolitan Police Commanders who refute any suggestion of the existence of institutional racism. This is extremely important as it provides the adequate basis for the development of partnership.

"Their acceptance of the existence of institutional racism is, in our view, a prerequisite to the restoration of confidence. This view is widely accepted and understood within black organisations and the communities that any attempt that resolving the desperate state of police, black community relations will ultimately fail if this is not accepted and understood by the police themselves."

That seems a very clear statement which seems to have some validity that there is clearly a difficulty between the Metropolitan Police and its relationship with the black community and there is a need to restore and increase confidence in that community.

I recognise your difficulty with the label of institutional racism and your reluctance to accept it at any price, at it were, that has been quite evident here today. I accept fully that institutional racism can mean many things to many people, there are all sorts of definitions some of them amount to academic treatises and certainly, as the chairman says, we do not want to get into that kind of words.

But I do wonder whether the Metropolitan Police Service is over-defensive on this and related issues. I quote some of your words this morning, you said: "The police service can amplify social disadvantage" a nice sounding phrase, I am not entirely sure what it means but it seems to be a substitution for words such as "stereotyping" and "racism".

Another phrase: "The mischief exists the challenge is what we call it." I would say that the challenge is to acknowledge it and address it, not what we call it. In fairness you do speak, all of you, eloquently and convincingly here this morning and in the papers that we have received but focusing on the problem as Mr O'Connor used the phrase "focusing on anti racism and anti racism policies", but seemed intent on avoiding the words and acknowledging there is a problem on which to focus in the first instance.

ACPO, I accept again equally one could legitimately deny institutional racism if it is defined solely in terms of deliberate racist policies. No one, as I am aware, makes that suggestion. The Black Police Association certainly did not make that suggestion. ACPO in their presentation indicated equally a wish not to get hung up on abstract definitions but totally accepted the concept of institutional racism, its existence in the police service in terms of unconscious prejudice and stereotyping and the your own Black Police Association made very much the same point.

There is no doubt equally that unconscious prejudice and stereotyping are a major concern of the black community and is one, as I said before, that must be addressed if confidence is to be restored. Paragraph 52 of your Part 2 submission talks about "particular care needs to be taken in the use of intrusive tactics such as stop and search that have the potential" and I stress the word "potential", "that have the potential to disproportionately impact upon minority ethnic groups." Every figure I think I have seen published demonstrates not potential but the actuality of that disproportionality.

I accept totally and I have been party to it in the past that one could introduce a lot of valid surrounding complexities about demography, school exclusions and employment and everything else but surely there can be little doubt now that these do not explain the degree of disproportionality and that the core problem remains.

It, therefore, seems from ACPO from the Black Police Association from evidence we have heard before us and this is the guts of the question, there seems to be a developing consensus to the effect that unconscious racism by individual officers is widespread, it leads to discrimination, it is demonstrated in anomalies in the stop and search figures and it has gone unacknowledged and uncorrected by the police service because of lack of effective training or other measures.

Would you accept that proposition? And if institutional racism or even if the word "institutional" were dropped and racism in the police service was described in those terms in that context, would you then accept that the police service is racist and the Metropolitan Police Service with it?

SIR CONDON: Thank you very much, Mr Cook, as you say that is a speech and not a question and I acknowledge the validity of it.

MR COOK: There is a question at the end of it.

SIR PAUL: I acknowledge the validity of it. Again, I am disappointed you say those things in the context of what we have said and done. I, within days of becoming commissioner, spoke of the dangers of racism, of the challenge, of the damage that can be done within a police service, by a police service and I have never, I have never denied that challenge.

After the tragedy of Joy Gardener, I did things which were profoundly unpopular within the police service because I acknowledge racism in the police service and so on. So I acknowledge and I have said today, I thought I had said today, there is racism in the police service.

There can be unconscious racism, there can be deliberate racism, that racism can be played out in discrimination in disproportionality, the unfair use of arbitrary powers, all of those issues I acknowledge, I condemn, I seek to reform, I have never ever challenged and I am disappointed that in your opening remarks you did not give me credit for having acknowledged those things.

I feel with great passion, I have tried throughout my career to move the service forward on of some these big issues. I now believe that this Inquiry has mobilised public opinion quite properly in looking for new ways forward, we are up to and up for the challenge.

I am acknowledging now racism in the service, all of the things that you have described. If, in describing that in ways of unconscious or collective, I am not denying any of that, that does not stop me offering you the challenges of applying particularly to those issues.

MR COOK: I accept what you say to a degree, but if we are going to talk about racism in the police service, whether institutional racism, then it must be spoken about openly. Some kind of words, some kind of label must be found.

SIR PAUL: We agree totally.

MR COOK: It would appear to be that it would be more productive to put efforts into finding an acceptable definition, an acceptable label rather than resisting every one that is proffered from everyone else. The basic question - forgive me, but it is not addressed: Would you accept the premise that "unconscious racism" by individual officers is widespread and leads to discrimination in the police service?

SIR PAUL: Not as you put it. If you say "widespread".

THE CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, please, I do very very genuinely ask you please to allow the answers to be given and the questions to be asked, otherwise we may have to do it privately and I would abhor that. So please, please.

SIR PAUL: If you say "widespread" - very easy to say yes to get a round of applause. I can only say yes if I honestly sincerely believe it and feel I am helping you to move forward. If in searching for that - be more specific Mr Cook. In terms of your own experience, do you feel that institutional racism was widespread in your last force?

MR COOK: I think the stereotyping, and again stereotyping is certainly widespread in my own force and would be widespread in all forces.

SIR PAUL: I agree stereotyping is a way that people go about their daily lives. Stereotyping in police terms is dangerous, pervasive, counterproductive and must be stopped in its pernicious manifestations. So stereotyping, I acknowledge discrimination, I acknowledge - and like you - the debate, the real challenge is not about scoring points about words.

The real challenge is how do we move forward in policing, in society, to address the evil which I think we have accepted and recognised. There is an evil around the peril of racism as it affects society, policing in particular because police are in a privileged position, a powerful position. I am not in denial but that doesn't mean to say I have to go against my conscious or my intellect and have to accept every single word you put forward.

MR COOK: I am not seeking my any means to drive you into a corner, quite the opposite.

SIR PAUL: I haven't been driven into a corner, if I believe it is the right corner to move the Inquiry forward.

MR COOK: It goes back to the essential point really again the organisation puts it better than I could, there is a need to demonstrate an acceptance of some form of racism in the police service in order to move that forward.

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