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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 01:53 GMT 02:53 UK
Crucial lessons on race and policing
By Liam Allen
BBC News

"This is on a level with the Stephen Lawrence case. My son was killed purely because of the colour of his skin."

Stephen Lawrence
Comparisons between the murders of Stephen Lawrence (pictured) and Anthony Walker are inevitable

Ever since news of the death of Anthony Walker broke, the inevitable comparisons with the murder of Stephen Lawrence have been made throughout the media and also by the Merseyside teenager's mother Gee.

Both were well-educated 18-year-old black men apparently killed by gangs of white men in unprovoked attacks because of the colour of their skin.

An axe was used to kill Anthony in Huyton, Merseyside, on Friday.

Stephen was stabbed to death in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

Victims and witnesses

Merseyside Police Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe acknowledges the similarities but insists the crucial difference is his force's response to Anthony's murder.

Linda Bellos
Merseyside Police have been collecting evidence, they have taken statements from his girlfriend and cousin and they have believed it and acted on it
Linda Bellos

The bungled Metropolitan Police investigation which followed Stephen's death led to an inquiry exposing institutionalised racism in the force.

Mr Hogan-Howe's sentiments are echoed by Diversity Solutions' Linda Bellos, an equality and diversity trainer and an independent advisor to the Met Police.

"With Stephen Lawrence the police assumed that he and his friend Duwayne Brooks [who was with Stephen at the time of the attack] must have been guilty of something," she said.

"They were not treated as victims and witnesses.

"That's not happened this time.

"Merseyside Police have been collecting evidence, they have taken statements from his girlfriend and cousin and they have believed it and acted on it."

'Dragging of heels'

Professor Chris Mullard, chairman of Focus Consultancy, which has worked extensively with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said the reluctance of officers to accept that Stephen's murder was racially motivated led to "lots of missed opportunities" in the investigation.

In the case of Anthony Walker, police said, literally within hours, that the attack was racially motivated
Professor Chris Mullard
"For four years, there was a dragging of heels and a reluctance that really affected the investigation.

"Early on, there were massive opportunities if the police had acted quickly and believed Stephen's parents."

Officers had concentrated their efforts on other areas as a result of this reluctance, he added.

As a result, one of the key recommendations of the 1999 report by Sir William Macpherson on the Stephen Lawrence enquiry was that the definition of a racist incident should be "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

The contrast between the early stages of the police investigations into both murders could not be more marked, Mr Mullard says.

There have obviously been huge training and development changes around dealing with victims of hate crime especially with the family liaison side of things
Ray Powell
National Black Police Association

"In the case of Anthony Walker, police said, literally within hours, that the attack was racially motivated.

"So right from the off, they have worked on that premise and have been able to question people and detain people."

National Black Police Association (NBPA) president Ray Powell said forces had "moved a long way" since Stephen's death.

"There have obviously been huge training and development changes around dealing with victims of hate crime especially with the family liaison side of things," he told the BBC.

'Significant progress'

Both Mr Mullard and Ms Bellos agree that there have been significant changes in the way police forces deal with racism and racist incidents since the Macpherson report.

They also agree there is still much work to be done.

Anthony Walker
Within hours of Anthony's murder, police said it was racially motivated

"The one thing we must say about the difference is that the police have got much more sophisticated, more sensitive and more professional in handling murder and other critical offences arising from racism," Ms Bellos said.

She added there had been significant progress in implementing another Macpherson recommendation, "to increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities".

"In the case of the recent London bombings, police wouldn't have made any arrests without the relationship between the community and the police."

But she warned that, while significant progress had been made in the Met Police and some other urban areas, the picture across England and Wales was "patchy".

"Some communities might say they don't need to worry because they only have a small ethnic community and that's worrying.

"Sometimes in isolated communities these people are more vulnerable and not less vulnerable."

A spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) was not available for comment.


SEE ALSO:
Barton's appeal over axe murder
02 Aug 05 |  Merseyside
Hundreds at vigil for axe victim
02 Aug 05 |  Merseyside
Shame and sorrow at senseless death
02 Aug 05 |  Merseyside


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