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Wednesday, 24 March, 1999, 10:44 GMT
Straw promises Lawrence reform
Lawrence plaque
A plaque marks the spot where Stephen Lawrence was killed
Home Secretary Jack Straw is unveiling new measures designed to combat racism in the wake of the inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Click here to read the Home Secretary's action plan

Mr Straw, setting out the government's point-by-point response to each of the 70 recommendations for change made by the inquiry chairman, Sir William Macpherson, said his plan of action should bring about "real, practical change".

Special Report: Stephen Lawrence
This would focus on tackling "institutionalised racism" in the police service, with a shake up of training and procedures.

But he warned that the government had "serious reservations" about proposals to allow prosecutions for racist offences which take place in private.

And he stressed that changes to the double jeopardy principle, whereby a defendant could not be tried for the same offence twice, would be considered without any firm prospect of action.

The action plan aims to bring the police fully within the remit of the Race Relations Act and states that all aspects of policing will be covered by forthcoming Freedom of Information laws.

But there would be exceptions regarding information relating to criminal investigations or informers.

Publishing the government's response to the report Mr Straw said the report had set the police service and the rest of society "a challenge to which we must rise".

Doreen and Neville Lawrence may never see justice for their son
"We know that we must deliver real practical change", he said. "The focus of this plan is mainly about improvements in policing, because that was the focus of the inquiry, but progress on policing must be part of a wider context.

"We have a commitment to build an anti-racist society."

Mr Straw will lead a steering group including members from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Black Police Association, the Metropolitan Police and other police organisations and the Crown Prosecution Service to enact most of the recommendations.

Sir William Macpherson welcomed Mr Straw's response.

He said he had seen the action plan and discussed its contents with the Home Secretary and the advisers to the public inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's death.

He said: "I'm very happy with the way in which the plan will take forward the recommendations set out in our report."

The action plan was also welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

John Newing, president of ACPO and Chief Constable of Derbyshire, said: "The issues raised by the Macpherson Inquiry are about the kind of society we want, not simply about policing.

"We recognise that action to tackle racism must begin at the earliest stage and be carried out across all agencies."

Mr Straw has promised to implement most of the recommendations, but as well as the issues of double jeopardy and private use of racist language he also expressed reservations about:

  • Making police officers liable for disciplinary action for up to five years after they retire

  • Publishing the number of racist incidents at every school - which could discourage the reporting of incidents

  • Granting legal aid in "appropriate" cases for parties to be represented at inquests - the government is proposing legal aid only in "exceptional" cases

  • Disclosure of evidence and documents before inquests - the report says this is only necessary in controversial cases of deaths in custody

  • Giving the Metropolitan Police Authority the same powers as other police authorities - the report says the government wants to retain the power to appoint the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.

Other measures which will be adopted include:

  • Accepting the new definition of a racist incident as one which the victim alleges is racist

  • Beefing up the Police Complaints Authority so that complaints against the police are investigated by an independent body rather than other police forces

  • Closer monitoring of stop-and-search practices

  • "Citizenship" to be given a prominent role in the revised National Curriculum

Mr Straw said the Government would push through changes to the Race Relations Act as a "very high priority" as soon as legislative time was available.

Other measures not requiring legislation would be implemented even faster, he said.

The report was commissioned to investigate the police handling of the inquiry into the death of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence who was fatally stabbed by white youths at a bus stop in south-east London in 1993.

Nobody has been convicted for the murder.

The BBC's Andrew Bomford and Jane Garvey discuss Jack Straw's proposals
Reeta Chakrabarti reports: "It must mean a beginning"
Jack Straw: "We are determined to make the police subject to the Race Relations Act"
The BBC's Andrew Bomford: Jack Straw will head a steering group to ensure the reforms happen
The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti: "The police are the main focus for the changes"
See also:

10 Mar 99 | UK Politics
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