Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Racism 'still haunting society'

Doreen Lawrence
No-one has been convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence's mother has said we have yet to achieve a "truly united kingdom" despite a decade of efforts to overhaul race relations.

Doreen Lawrence was speaking at a conference to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Macpherson report.

The report, published after the 18-year-old's murder, heavily criticised the approach and attitude of the force.

The chief of the Met Police said the label "institutionally racist" was no longer appropriate or useful.

Ms Lawrence said society was in danger of becoming complacent while racism continued to haunt our institutions.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson also spoke at the conference in central London.

'Devastating murder'

Mrs Lawrence said racism must remain at the top of the agenda, highlighting a disproportionate use of stop and search, a lack of senior black and ethnic minority teachers and a shortage of effective oversight of race issues in government.

She said: "It has been 15 years, 10 months and two days since the devastating murder of my son, Stephen Lawrence.

"The sheer brutality of Stephen's wounds should have shocked the police into action to take down his killers.

The most important need is to make sure that we are providing the right service for the community that we serve
Doreen Lawrence

"In the years that followed, our family had to fight all of the levels of the justice system, which has repeatedly denied us justice for his death."

She said "racism and incompetence" were to blame for the failure of police to catch her son's killers.

"The most important need is to make sure that we are providing the right service for the community that we serve."

The conference was organised by the National Police Improvement Agency to examine what progress has been made since the report was published.

'Defining moment'

Mr Straw said the response to Stephen Lawrence's murder represented "a defining moment in our history" which profoundly changed the character of British society.

He said: "One of Macpherson's charges was that the police service as a whole was institutionally racist. No longer, I suggest, is that the case.

"It is true that the ignorance and prejudice of some individuals still does a disservice to the vast majority of officers who conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and dedication.

"But by and large the police service has purged itself of the systemic racism Macpherson identified."

But he added: "The progress is fragile - it's got to be nurtured and protected."

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a gang of white youths

Sir Paul said the label "institutionally racist" was no longer appropriate or useful.

"We have set out the evidence that demonstrates we have moved from collective failure to a collective determination to ensure that our service does not discriminate and that we truly reflect the diversity of London in our ranks.

"What matters to the people of London is that we continue to change. It is actions, not definitions, that solve problems."

Mr Lawrence was stabbed to death in Eltham, south-east London, in a racist attack by a gang of white youths.

No-one has ever been convicted of the murder.

The Macpherson Report blamed "a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership" for the mistakes in the investigation.

Chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, Alfred John, challenged the Commissioner's statement that the force had moved on.

He said: "Saying there are pockets of institutional racism is like saying there are pockets of cancer.

"The results are still the same."

The Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales said it believed significant progress had been made in the recruitment and retention of black minority ethnic officers in the last ten years.

Chief Superintendent Ian Johnston, president of the association said: "All minority groups should be encouraged to join what is considered to be the finest police service in the world."

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