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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
The legacy of Sir John Stevens

Neil Bennett
BBC crime correspondent

Sir John Stevens at Scotland Yard
Sir John Stevens will step down in January next year
Sir John Stevens inherited a bitter and disillusioned force when he took over as Metropolitan Police Commissioner five years ago.

Branded institutionally racist by the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, many officers seethed with resentment and looked to the new boss to restore morale.

He has succeeded in that - and in many other areas of his brief. But policing being policing, he has bequeathed to his successor a number of really tricky problems.

The measure of the distance the Met has travelled under Sir John can be judged by two police murder investigations. The victim was black in both cases, but they were handled in very different ways.

Botched case

The inquiry into the death of teenager Steven Lawrence was botched and left black Londoners with the view that if the victim had been white, the police would have tried much harder to solve the case.

Damilola Taylor
Damilola Taylor was killed in 2002
But when Damilola Taylor was left to die in the streets of south London, the police did try much harder. Although they did not get a conviction in that case either, the black community accepted they had done their best.

At the same time as the police were restoring their reputation with the community, morale inside Scotland Yard went up as well. With 30,000 police officers the Met is at its highest strength ever.

Crime has gone down as well and although the police can only take part of the credit for that, it does look good on the CV. So what about the rest of the Stevens legacy?

So far London has escaped the sort of terrorist attack which Sir John and politicians have been warning about. But that success has come at the cost of alienating many members of the Asian community.

Figures released last week showed that they are disproportionately affected by the stop and search powers given to the police under anti-terrorism legislation. The new Met commissioner will have to deal with the fallout from those statistics.

It is the most sensitive issue facing the police in 2004 - particularly in the capital.

Sir John will be missed in the looming battle with the Home Office
Sir John will be much missed in the looming battle with the Home Office over the independence of local police authorities; a battle which chief constables believe is inevitable.

They have looked at the way the Home Secretary David Blunkett has flexed his muscles in insisting on the suspension of the Humberside chief David Westwood and they wonder who could be next.

Sir John has always been a robust champion of the absolute independence of the police from political influence and his fellow chief officers would have wanted him beside them in the trenches.

He is not leaving detective work just yet though.

He has said that it would be unfair to saddle his successor with the inquiries into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. He will finish them himself.

Hardly retirement then.

Profile: Sir John Stevens
17 Mar 04 |  UK
Stevens Inquiry: At a glance
17 Apr 03 |  Northern Ireland

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