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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

UK Politics

Straw tells of Lawrence report impact

The report had far-reaching implications for public services

Home Secretary Jack Straw has said the murderers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence would have been more likely to have been convicted if he had been white.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events
Mr Straw was giving evidence to the Commons' Home Affairs Committee.

Committee chairman Chris Mullin asked whether the investigation into the teenager's murder had been marred more by incompetence or by racism.

Mr Straw replied: "The failure of competence is fundamental, which was compounded by lack of care, serious care, which was borne of institutional racism."

Mr Mullin asked whether the murderers of Stephen Lawrence would be prison if he had been white.

[ image: Stephen Lawrence was murdered nearly six years ago]
Stephen Lawrence was murdered nearly six years ago
Mr Straw said that was hard to answer but said there was more chance they would have been convicted of the killing.

He said it was clear that the establishment of the inquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson was justified.

It had produced far reaching lessons, not just for the Metropolitan Police but for other forces and public services.

Mr Straw denied the Metropolitan force was more racist than other police services.

It was the largest force with 26,000 officers, compared to the next largest force, the West Midlands Police, which has 7,000 officers.

Similarly, 25% of the population of Greater London was black or Asian compared to 10% in the West Midlands area.

Mr Straw said that the fire service had a "disgraceful" record as only 1% of firefighters were black or Asian.

Labour's Martin Linton asked whether the police service contained no more racism than in society as a whole.

The home secretary replied: "The point about police service is that its at sharp end of social conflict."

Mr Straw praised Stephen Lawrence's parents' Neville and Doreen for keeping the issue alive.

He said: "The offence took place six years this Thursday.

"I can't say that I'd been home secretary at the time of murder what decision I might have made. I hope I would have made the right decision."

Mr Straw said: "All we have learnt form this inquiry is owed principally to Doreen and Neville Lawrence."

Answering a question on the controversial documentary in which five men suspected of being responsible for the murder were interviewed, Mr Straw said: "I saw the programme, I have mixed feelings about it."

But it was a matter for broadcasting companies and authorities as to whether the programme should have gone ahead.

Conservative Gerald Howarth asked Mr Straw the report was a "grotesque over-reaction".

Mr Straw said progress in race relations had not been made by accident.

[ image: Sir William Macpherson chaired the inquiry]
Sir William Macpherson chaired the inquiry
Mr Howarth suggested immigrants should be sensitive to concerns of the native community.

Mr Straw replied: " If you are in a minority in a society you cannot but be sensitive to the prevailing norms of the community."

Labour's David Winnick suggested "presumably Stephen Lawrence was a native born Englishman".

Mr Straw said a sea change has taken place inside the service to recognise the importance of this issue.

Labour's Janet Dean, asked about the problems surrounding the publishing of the inquiry's report which led to some police informants being named in an appendix.

Mr Straw said: "My responsibility was to deliver document to Parliament as it was delivered to me"

The Home Office was a printing office for the document, he said.

The proof reading had been done by the inquiry team.

Some names had been deleted or given aliases, so it was believed the names were there for a purpose, he continued.

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