news vote 2001search vote 2001
 You are in: Vote2001: Main Issues
Main Issues 
Correspondent Analysis 
Crucial Seats 
Key People 
Results &  Constituencies 
Opinion Polls 
Online 1000 
Virtual Vote 
Talking Point 
Voting System 
Local Elections 

N Ireland 

BBC News

BBC Sport

BBC Weather
Monday, 7 May, 2001, 14:48 GMT
Race: The Macpherson report

The report followed a long campaign by the Lawrences
What is the relationship between the UK's minority ethnic communities and the police - and has it changed since the Stephen Lawrence tragedy?


The publication of the Macpherson report in February 1999 is regarded by many as a defining moment in British race relations.

The report by Sir William Macpherson followed an inquiry into the Metropolitan police's investigation of the murder of a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

The 18-year-old A-Level student was fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack as he waited for a bus in Eltham, south London, in April 1993.

Nobody has been convicted of his murder.

Allegations of incompetence and racism against Metropolitan police officers in charge of the case soured race relations as did two internal police inquiries which exonerated the Met itself.


The Macpherson report delivered a damning assessment of the "institutional racism" within the Metropolitan police and policing generally.

...the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin

Macpherson Report definition of institutionalised racism
It made 70 recommendations many aimed specifically at improving police attitudes to racism and stressed the importance of a rapid increase in the numbers of black and Asian police officers.

The government pledged to increase the number of officers from minority ethnic groups from around 2,500 to 8,000 by 2009.

But a survey carried out on the second anniversary of the Macpherson report in February revealed only 155 new officers from ethnic minority had been recruited in the past year compared to an increase of 261 in the year following the report.

Thirteen forces had either failed to recruit a single Asian or black officer or had seen their numbers fall.

In spite of the lack of progress in recruiting ethnic minority officers a year after the publication of the Macpherson report public perceptions of the police appeared to be changing.

A survey of more than 1,200 people showed that three quarters believed the police had learnt from the Stephen Lawrence case and only 3% believed the police were 'very racist'.

In response to heavy criticism in Sir William's report, an independent police authority was set up in July 2000 to oversee the Metropolitan police which had been the only force in England and Wales not to be monitored by such a body.

The Met also set up an independent advisory group to advise it on race issues.

But in February four black members of the group resigned, saying they had been reduced to being "nodding dogs".

In their resignation letter the four said that the group was controlled by the police and had lost its independence and credibility.


As well as recommendations relating to the police, the Macpherson report also proposed changing some laws.

The most controversial proposal was to amend the law of 'double jeopardy' so that in certain circumstances a person could be tried twice for the same crime.

In March this year, the Law Commission (the statutory body charged with recommending legal reforms to government) backed the proposal. A response from government is expected by the autumn.

A second controversial proposal - that of making the use of racist language in private a criminal offence - is also being considered.

Critics have said this would be a contravention of an individual's human right to freedom of expression.

But the government has said it might change the law in particular cases such as where a neighbour hurls racist abuse at another through a shared wall.

Concrete action has already been taken on one of the report's key proposals - strengthening the Race Relations Act.

The new law, which comes into effect from April 2001, extends the 1976 Act to cover public authorities and bodies.

It will oblige major central and local government bodies, the police and educational establishments to ensure their workforce reflects their communities, and that policies and practices do not indirectly discriminate.

The change will mean that admission policies to schools and police stop-and-search operations could be investigated by the Commission for Racial Equality.


The Macpherson report was initially supported by the major political parties but became an issue of contention at the end of last year.

The Conservative leader, William Hague, was accused of 'playing the race card' following a speech he made to the Centre for Policy Studies in which he talked about a 'post-Macpherson crisis' in the Metropolitan police.

Mr Hague linked a rise in violent street crime in some areas to a drop in stop and searches of black people because police officers feared being called racist.

However, many black and Asian people - including Stephen Lawrence's father, Neville, who filed a complaint after being stopped last year - said they were still being unfairly targeted.

And in January figures from the Home Office showed that the fall in searches was greatest for white suspects with black people still five times more likely to be stopped in London than white people.


Issues Finder

Home Affairs


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites