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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK


Lawrence inquiry reaches climax

Protestors criticised police handling of the murder investigation

The first part of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry is coming to an end, after a marathon four months of evidence.

As the BBC's Community Affairs Correspondent, Reeta Chakrabarti, reports, while the climax for many was the appearance of the five suspects, the most compelling and damaging evidence has come from police officers, some of whom have revealed an astonishing level of ineptitude.

Restoring public faith in their ability is now a top priority for the Metropolitan Police.

[ image: Lawrence was the victim of a racial attack]
Lawrence was the victim of a racial attack
Racial harassment is a fact of life for many in the South London area where Stephen Lawrence died.

Mr and Mrs Khan (not their real name) live in Woolwich and have been forced to move house three times in recent years because of persistent and vicious racial harassment.

Four weeks ago, they were the victims of an arson attack when a burning letter was put through their door.

Although an arrest has since been made, on the day of the incident, it took the police two hours to respond. Such delays are commonplace.

The Racial Incidents Unit of the Metropolitan police concede that such delays in answering a call are unacceptable and have set up an internal inquiry into the Khans' case.

Police - 'we can do better'

BBC Community Affairs Correspondent, Reeta Chakrabarti: A change in attitudes
The unit has the difficult task of convincing local people that the police are sincere about taking racially motivated crime seriously.

Chief Inspector Tony Cross says police morale has been hit since the Lawrence inquiry, but does not want the focus on past incompetence to detract from the work the unit does now.

[ image: Police controlled angry crowds at the inquiry]
Police controlled angry crowds at the inquiry
However, the priority for senior officers across the force extends beyond relations with minority communities to tackling racism within the force itself.

The evidence of the Lawrence inquiry has revealed a shocking level of managerial incompetence combined with a sometimes painful lack of understanding about race issues.

Last month, the Met's head of crime, Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston, was prompted to make an unprecedented apology to the Lawrences.

But is such an apology enough?

The Met is instigating reforms as a result of the inquiry. These will emphasise race awareness training and on trying to convince potential ethnic minority recruits that any racism they might face from colleagues will be severely dealt with.

[ image: Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen's parents]
Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen's parents
Many in the black community want top police officers to accept responsibility for the failures in the Lawrence murder investigation.

Public fury at the evidence given by the five principle suspects at the inquiry last month was compounded by anger at the police's failure to secure a conviction.

For many, the Lawrence case has come to embody the iniquities of the criminal justice system. Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, says the inquiry's main achievement has been to get the general public to recognise such iniquities.

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17 Jul 98 | UK
The inquiry so far - key moments

16 Jul 98 | UK
Lawrence inquiry shakes trust in police

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Metropolitan Police: racial incidents

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