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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK


Crime rise 'linked' to Lawrence inquiry

Police do not stop and search suspects as often as they did

Police officers are warning that crime could be rising following reforms recommended by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

[ image:  ]
They are increasingly reluctant to stop and search suspects for fear of being branded racist, according to the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.

Figures from Scotland Yard show a recent increase in crime figures since last year, as well as a sharp drop in the number of searches being carried out.

Earlier this year the Macpherson report into the Metropolitan Police's handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence was published. It called for changes in the way officers deal with ethnic minority communities.

[ image: Stephen Lawrence: His parents have launched civil action against the men suspected of his killing]
Stephen Lawrence: His parents have launched civil action against the men suspected of his killing
Stephen Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death in a racist murder in 1993 at a bus stop in Eltham, south east London. No one has been charged with his murder.

Steve Fisher, from the Merseyside Police Federation, said his colleagues now treated street searches with "trepidation", which could lead to a rise in crime figures.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, agreed.

He told BBC News Online this year's market research by the Met showed that officers were now less likely to take action when they came across crime.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events
"Police in London are turning a blind eye to crime, because they are no longer confident about their powers," he said.

"Stop and search is nerve-wracking enough as it is without having to worry that you could get in trouble for it afterwards."

[ image:  ]
But he was keen to stress the police are not just wary of stopping and searching black people, or that the increased crime figures were attributable only to the black community.

He said the figures went "across the board", and that the crimes were committed by "white people, as well as people of other ethnic origins".

He also branded the collating of figures of all stop and searches as "positively Orwellian". Officers have a "huge amount to do already - how far does this go - to people asking for directions?".

[ image:  ]
Another problem was lack of confidence that a manager would back an officer if he made a genuine mistake, Mr Smyth said.

"The Lawrence inquiry demoralised the entire police force," he said. While agreeing it had made some valid points, he said the press had focused only on its negative aspects.

"There was some really praiseworthy work done during the murder investigation, but of course the headlines don't say that," he said.

"I've met some of the officers who were part of the case, and many have had breakdowns following the report.

"The human cost is enormous - it is on their minds 24 hours a day."

But Mr Smyth did not paint a completely bleak picture, and said there was a way of resolving the situation.

Most important was briefing officers properly on the report's findings, which were "not all negative".

'Cautious about figures'

Officers should not be bogged down by headlines saying they were "institutionally racist", he said, nor should they let the report distract them from good police work, which has always existed.

But Denis O'Connor, assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, said: "We have to be cautious around the interpretation of the crime figures.

"There could be a number of explanations. One could be that during March a significant number of officers were taken from day-to-day duty to police London for public or unexpected events.

"They include the Greek Embassy siege, public demonstrations over the war in Kosovo, and maintaining safety and order at the Crystal Palace re-development protests."

He said the reasons for the rise in crime were "currently being evaluated".

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