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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 04:49 GMT 05:49 UK
Q&A: Lawrence murder, ten years on
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

What happened ten years ago?

A decade ago, teenager Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death near to his home in Eltham, south London. The Metropolitan Police launched a murder inquiry but failed to bring the killers to justice.

The family doggedly pursued the case and eventually five young men were identified as suspects. A private prosecution of three of the men by Stephen's parents failed and none of the five have ever been convicted in connection to his death. After coming to power in 1997, Tony Blair's government launched a public inquiry into Neville and Doreen Lawrence's allegations.

What did the inquiry conclude?

The Macpherson Inquiry became one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain. It concluded that Stephen Lawrence had been failed by a police force infected with "institutional racism".

"For too long the family and the public were led to think that the investigation had been satisfactorily carried out," said the inquiry.

The inquiry team said institutional racism applies where there has been a "collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin."

The inquiry also demanded the police categorise a crime as racist where the incident "is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person, rather than their own conclusion.

What was the effect of the inquiry?

Sir William Macpherson's inquiry had an enormous impact on the race relations debate - from criminal justice through to all public authorities.

Supporters of the Lawrences saw the inquiry as confirming what they already suspected - that justice worked differently depending on the colour of your skin.

The aftermath of Stephen Lawrence's murder marked a low-point in relations between ethnic minorities and the police in the UK, something which senior officers say they are still trying to rectify.

Morale within the Metropolitan Police took a collective dip.

Today the force is attempting to recruit more and more officers from non-white backgrounds and as of 2002 five officers in 100 were from minority communities.

Critics say the force's target of 7% falls well below the true picture of London, which is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

At Westminster, the government brought in the most sweeping change in race relations law in 25 years by putting a positive obligation on public bodies to promote equality and tackle discrimination.

But a lot of campaigners say the system is still failing minority communities.

Why do they say that?

The latest statistics show black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people - even though only 10% of these incidents lead to the police taking further action.

Research into a specific area of stop and search powers reportedly suggests that Afro-Caribbean people are 27 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

Black men are also disproportionately over-represented in the prison population compared to white men.

Despite claimed advances by the Metropolitan Police, there was uproar from campaigners at how the force handled its investigation into the death of south London schoolboy Damilola Taylor.

What do the Lawrences say?

Doreen Lawrence recently said she believed the government had lost interest in race issues.

This had a knock-on effect where senior officers in the Met were struggling to get their reforms taken seriously by officers on the beat.

She said she believed another family could go through the same trauma as hers if there were a similar racially-motivated murder.

"In some respects we are beginning to become a little more complacent again. People think that we have had the inquiry and so everything's fine, but it's not. There are lot of people still complaining about racist attacks," said Mrs Lawrence.

What does the government say?

On the eve of the tenth anniversary of Stephen Lawrence's death, Home Office minister Lord Falconer said the Damilola Taylor case showed the legal system still had work to do.

"The tragedy of the Lawrence story is not only the horror of Stephen Lawrence's brutal and senseless murder but also the failure of the criminal justice system - the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts - to deliver justice to Stephen and his family," he said.

Police still 'racist'
22 Apr 03  |  London


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