Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Phillips clears police of racism

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs

Interview with Trevor Phillips

The police should no longer be accused of institutional racism, the UK's equalities chief has said.

In a speech marking 10 years since the Stephen Lawrence murder report, Trevor Phillips said the UK and the police have changed massively.

He said that Britain is "by far the best place in Europe to live if you are not white".

But Mr Phillips also criticised Prince Harry's use of the word Paki to describe a fellow officer.

In a wide-ranging speech on Monday, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission chief said the UK is now a much changed place at ease with racial diversity - even if problems still remain.

Different approach

He said the accusation of institutionalised racism levelled against the Metropolitan Police by the Macpherson Report into Stephen Lawrence's death was no longer appropriate.

Today Britain is by far - I mean by far - the best place in Europe to live if you are not white
Trevor Phillips

"The use of the term was incendiary," he said. "It rocked the foundations of the police service and caused widespread anguish in government.

"Today most people would argue that despite the controversy, on balance the positive changes provoked by Macpherson have outweighed the cost of the political turmoil.

"But does this mean that I believe that the Met, or any force for that matter, should be pilloried with the single blanket accusation of being institutionally racist? I don't think so. That would imply that nothing has changed.

"Would the police deal with Stephen Lawrence's murder differently today? Evidence from the murder of Anthony Walker in Merseyside in 2005 indicates they would."

Eighteen-year-old Anthony Walker was killed with an ice axe in a park at Huyton in July 2005. Two men were convicted of his murder.

Det Ch Supt Peter Currie, who led the investigation into the racist murder, was later awarded the Queen's Police Medal.

Mr Phillips called for a national debate on equality, saying the agenda must shift from single issues, such as racism or age, and a red-tape box-ticking culture that has developed around racism law.

In its place must come a broader drive for equality, based on forthcoming reforms, which ensures anyone from any background has the same chances in life as anybody else.

'One of the boys'

Mr Phillips' speech highlights data and surveys indicating that younger people are increasingly relaxed about ethnic diversity because they have grown up with it.

In contrast, he turned to Prince Harry's recently-revealed casual use of the word "Paki" while an officer cadet.

"Few of us feel that Prince Harry is some kind of racist or homophobic bigot, however ill-judged his choice of fancy dress costume, however crude and offensive his remarks," Mr Phillips said.

"But we can see he likes to be one of the boys. And as one of the boys, he operates by the unwritten code of his environment - a code that didn't once cause him to question whether calling fellow officers 'Paki', 'raghead' or 'queer' was insulting or inappropriate.

"Our nation is changing dramatically. We are becoming more diverse by the day. The trend is clear: the younger you are, the less prejudiced you are."

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