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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT


UK Politics

Lawrence inquiry rejects criticism

The Stephen Lawrence memorial plaque in Eltham, south London

By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann

A member of the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence has strongly rejected criticism of the inquiry team's report.


Richard Stone: "All the Lawrence inquiry recommendations should be accepted"
Dr Richard Stone, one of the four-strong inquiry team that investigated the 1993 murder of the black teenager, warned failure by the government to accept all its recommendations would undermine the report as a whole.

Dr Stone's comments came as Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner Sir Paul Condon dismissed one of those recommendations as unworkable before MPs.


[ image: Stephen Lawrence was murdered at a south London bus-stop in 1993]
Stephen Lawrence was murdered at a south London bus-stop in 1993
Dr Stone told BBC News Online that criticism directed at three of the report's 70 key recommendations was unjustified.

In the inquiry team's first response to the criticism, Dr Stone said: "I would like to feel that all of our recommendations are accepted, because if any of them are rejected by the government, I think that weakens the whole report."

He acknowledged the recommendations had been the subject of "quite a lot of hostility".

The three recommendations that have attracted the criticism are:

  • the Macpherson report's suggestion that making racist remarks in private should become a criminal offence
  • the suggestion that the law be changed to allow prosecution for a crime where the defendant has been previously been acquitted
  • the call for a change in the definition of a racist incident.

Double jeopardy

Special Report: Stephen Lawrence
Of the proposed change in the law to enable defendants to be tried twice for the same crime - the so-called "double jeopardy" scenario - Dr Stone cited the case of Rosemary West, sentenced to life in 1995 for murdering 10 people.

The law as it stood would mean "if she had been charged and acquitted of the murders early on, and then they found all those bodies buried in her garden and around her house, she couldn't have been charged with murder afterwards".


Richard Stone on double jeopardy: "The Court of Appeal should be allowed to have one more bite of the cherry"
Such an outcome would have been "appalling", he said.

The Lawrence inquiry team had no option but to call for the current law to be re-examined.

"We felt we had to address this issue because, after all, we'd been confronted with the reality now that three of the young men who were charged with the murder of Stephen Lawrence can never be charged again.


Richard Stone: "We could not ignore that surveillance video"
"Even if new DNA evidence came up, even if all sorts of new witnesses came forward saying they actually saw them committing the murder, they cannot be charged again.

"You can't just ignore that position."

'One more bite of the cherry'


[ image: Sir Paul Condon dismissed one of the report's recommendations just as Richard Stone was defending it]
Sir Paul Condon dismissed one of the report's recommendations just as Richard Stone was defending it
Dr Stone pointed out the report did not demand a change in the law, but asked, rather, for the issue to be considered: "So whether [the law] will be changed or not isn't part of our recommendations."

He said the whole inquiry team was "very glad" Home Secretary Jack Straw had already referred the issue to the Law Commission, because it meant that particular recommendation had already been implemented.


Richard Stone: "The third target has been our definition of a racist incident"
He backs a change in the law. "It seems to me as an ordinary person that maybe the Court of Appeal could later have the power to open a case once only, not lots and lots of times so people are chased for the rest of their lives until, as people say, they get a jury that will convict.

"But maybe once, on serious new evidence, they can have one more bite of the cherry. That seems sensible."

'Racism in private' law

On the suggestion of making racist remarks made in private a crime, Dr Stone said a chief factor behind the recommendation was the police surveillance film of the defendants.

"We could not ignore that the video that we were shown at great length, that was only part of the surveillance showing the appalling racism and the ease of using knives that these young men had."


[ image: The five suspects for Stephen's murder were called to give evidence to the Lawrence inquiry]
The five suspects for Stephen's murder were called to give evidence to the Lawrence inquiry
As a result, the inquiry team "couldn't not put in some recommendation that at least consideration be given to the fact that that sort of racism in private, at the moment, is not subject to the law".

Other actions carried out in private were subject to criminal law. "After all, if somebody grows cannabis in their house, the police have a right to go in and to charge you for growing cannabis in private.

"Does it have to be the case that this sort of appalling, vicious racism can't be prosecuted? I don't know, but at least let's have a debate about it."

Simpler definition of racist incident

The third recommendation that attracted critical comment was on the definition of a racist incident, which the report says should be "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

Dr Stone said the reason behind the call was the large number of police officers giving evidence to the inquiry who either did not know the existing definition, or interpreted it incorrectly.

The suggested new definition was, he said, "almost identical" to that from the Association of Chief Police Officers, only it was much simpler and shorter, and gave greater priority to the victim.

"We felt you must put the victim first and make it so simple that nobody could possibly not know what the definition is."


[ image: Sir William Macpherson was asked to head the four-strong inquiry into Stephen's murder]
Sir William Macpherson was asked to head the four-strong inquiry into Stephen's murder
Dr Stone said he was very pleased with the government's response so far to the report. In terms of the report's contribution to improving relations between the police and ethnic minority communities, he hoped that several years from now people would "look back and say 'Yes, 1999 is when it began to change for the better'."

Time for dialogue

In terms of concrete benchmarks he believed that figures for police use of stop-and-search powers, which are much more likely to be targeted on young black men than their white counterpart, could in future be used as performance indicators of improvement.

A year from now he would expect the figures to show less of a racial disparity, not least because senior officers would be more closely examining use of stop-and-search .

"I think they will come down in the next year. I think they've got to come down, and I think most police officers recognise that that's got to change now."

Dr Stone also said that now that Macpherson report had been published it was time to "open a dialogue" between the inquiry team and the police.

"I do relish the possibility now of talking openly with the police about how we move forward, listening to each other. I want to hear their pain, they can hear my anxieties too, and maybe we can begin to work with each other, understand each other and move forward."


Click here to read Sir William Macpherson's full report on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.




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