Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): Madam Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a statement about the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Copies of the inquiry's report and the appendices are available from the Vote Office. I know that hon. Members will want time to read and consider the report, and I can therefore tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has agreed that there should be a full day's debate on the report as soon as possible.

Stephen Lawrence was a bright 18-year-old student with a promising future. He wanted to be an architect and was studying hard for his A-levels. At about 10.30 pm on Thursday, 22 April 1993, Stephen was waiting at a bus stop with his friend Duwayne Brooks in Well Hall road, Eltham, in south-east London. He was set upon in an unprovoked knife attack and was killed. There was only one reason for his murder. Stephen was black.

Any parents faced with the death of their son in such circumstances would have been devastated, but for Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, their sense of despair has been compounded by the failure of our criminal justice system to deliver them justice--to secure the conviction of those responsible.

I think that I can speak for the whole House when I say that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence's campaign for the truth has been pursued by them with huge dignity, courage and determination. I should like to pay my personal tribute to them today.

I first met the family in early 1997, and saw both parents again shortly after becoming Home Secretary in May that year. They persuaded me of the case for a thorough, independent scrutiny of the investigation into their son's murder. In July 1997, I therefore announced to the House that I had appointed the former judge of the High Court, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, to conduct a full judicial inquiry. This was the first such inquiry under the Police Acts since Lord Scarman's into the 1981 Brixton riots.

The terms of reference the new inquiry were as follows:

The inquiry examined the handling of the case in comprehensive detail. It held 69 days of public hearings, heard 88 witnesses and received some 100,000 pages of evidence. I wish to put on the record my deep gratitude to Sir William Macpherson and his three advisers. They were Tom Cook, the former deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire police; the Right Reverend Dr. John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney; and Dr. Richard Stone, chairman of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality. I would also like to thank members of the inquiry team for their commitment and sensitivity in handling this very important inquiry.

The report is divided into two parts. The first part covers the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence; the second part the wider lessons to be learned.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 390

The main findings of the first part of the inquiry are as follows:

The inquiry finds that that first investigation of the murder was "palpably flawed" and deserves severe criticism. The inquiry concludes:

    "there can be no excuses for such a series of errors, failures and lack of direction and control."

A review of the case was conducted in autumn 1993 by Detective Chief Superintendent John Barker. The inquiry has found that this review was factually incorrect and inadequate. The inquiry was concerned that no senior officer at any level tested or analysed the review and that Mr. Barker had produced a "flawed and indefensible" report.

In 1994, a second investigation of the case was established and this attempted to salvage the situation. The inquiry makes it clear that the second investigation, led by Detective Superintendent William Mellish, was conducted with great imagination, skill and sensitivity by the officers involved.

The inquiry also identified work by police officers and others at other stages of the investigation which it said was exemplary. Those officers are praised for their unstinting commitment to bring the racist killers to justice, but their efforts, in the view of the inquiry, were not sufficient to overcome the catalogue of errors and basic incompetence in the handling of this investigation.

The report concludes that

The Government accept the findings and conclusions of the first part of this inquiry, which relates to the investigation into Stephen's murder.

The House will share my sense of shame that the criminal justice system, and the Metropolitan police in particular, failed the Lawrence family so badly. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Condon, has asked me to tell the House that he shares that sense of shame. He has also asked me to tell the House that, as head of the Metropolitan police service, he fully accepts the findings of the inquiry, including those relating to him.

Sir Paul Condon took over as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in February 1993. Since coming into office, he has given strong personal leadership to improving the quality of service that the Metropolitan police provides to all sections of the community. A great deal has been achieved. For example, reported crime in London is at its lowest for nine years and Sir Paul is tackling the problems of police corruption with great vigour.

I have asked Sir Paul to continue to lead the Metropolitan police to deliver the programme of work that is now required. He has agreed. He will use the remaining 10 months of his office to take that work forward, including the agenda set by this report. I will support him and his successor in the work that lies ahead.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 391

The central and most important issue for the inquiry was racism and whether and how that affected the handling of the case. The inquiry addresses that matter with care and with sensitivity. On the critical issue of institutional racism, its definition is:

The inquiry found that, on that definition,

    "institutional racism exists within . . . both the Metropolitan Police Service and in other Police Services and other institutions countrywide."

The report says that institutional racism was apparent in a number of areas of the police handling of the case. The inquiry emphasised, however, that its findings do not suggest or imply that all police officers are racist or that the Metropolitan police service is racist in its policies. Indeed, the inquiry emphasises that, by the establishment under Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve of the Metropolitan police's racial and violent crime task force, the

    "signs are that the problem is being recognised and tackled."

The report then expresses the hope that

    "the catharsis of this Inquiry will lead to constructive action and not to further divisive views and outcomes".

That is a new definition of institutional racism, which I accept--and so does the Commissioner. The inquiry's assessment is clear and sensible. In my view, any long-established, white-dominated organisation is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture that tend to exclude or to disadvantage non-white people. The police service, in that respect, is little different from other parts of the criminal justice system--or from Government Departments, including the Home Office--and many other institutions.

The report makes 70 wide-ranging recommendations, and I welcome them all. I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to go through each of the recommendations in turn today. I will instead lay a detailed response and action plan before the House, before the promised full day's debate on the report. However, I want to use this opportunity to spell out how we are implementing the main recommendations of the report, as part of our major and continuing programme of change for the police service and for the criminal justice system.

First, on the police service, I have ordered an immediate inspection of the Metropolitan police service by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which will include thorough scrutiny of unsolved murders and reviews of such cases. To pick up one of the recommendations of the inquiry, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary already incorporates much of the approach of Ofsted in its inspections of the police service and it will be moving further in that direction.

A new police discipline regime will be introduced from 1 April. I will ensure that that is subject to effective monitoring and I will consider any further changes in the light of that experience. I will make an improvement in the trust and confidence in policing among ethnic

24 Feb 1999 : Column 392

minority communities a key ministerial priority for the police. I will use my statutory powers to ensure that every police force sets clear objectives to deal with racist crime better and to establish effective ways of demonstrating fairness in all aspects of policing.

I will set targets for the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority police and civilian staff. I announced last October our plans to ensure that every force reflects the ethnic diversity of the communities that it serves. I will chair a national conference of all chief constables and police authorities on that issue in April.

Stop-and-search powers under current legislation will remain unchanged, as recommended by the inquiry, but I will ensure that those powers are used more effectively and fairly. Londoners will, for the first time, be given a proper say in the running of their police service. From July next year, a police authority for London will sit alongside the new mayor and assembly. Legislation for that is already before the House.

Clear standards of performance will be put in place to ensure more effective police investigations of racist crimes. We have already changed the law to establish new offences of racially motivated crimes and the report makes wider recommendations for the criminal justice system. From next month, new guidelines will enable parties to an inquest to receive advance disclosure of evidence and documents. I have asked the Law Commission to consider the inquiry's proposal that the Court of Appeal be given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented.

As the inquiry proposes, we are already ensuring that victims, victims' families and vulnerable witnesses are treated more sensitively and fairly. The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will extend greater support to vulnerable witnesses, and yesterday I announced a 50 per cent. increase in funding for the victim support scheme. Next week, I shall publish a report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which examines police community relations across the country. It supports and reinforces the messages that have emerged from the inquiry.

The Macpherson report challenges us all, not just the police service. I want to use the opportunity that it gives us to tackle discrimination wherever it is found. I can announce today that we shall extend the Race Relations Act 1976 not just to cover the police, as the report recommends, but to cover all the public services. That means that in the civil service, the immigration service, and the national health service, for example, the law will back those who have been the subject of discrimination. The new law will allow the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate what is happening within individual police forces and other public services. Companies and other organisations in the private sector have long been subject to this legislation, but so far the Government have failed to keep their own house in order.

The Macpherson inquiry has demonstrated the failings of one very important public institution, the police service. The police have a special responsibility in our society, because day by day they are the immediate guardians of fairness and justice; but we would all be deluding ourselves if we believed that the issues thrown up by the inquiry affect only the police, for the report's

24 Feb 1999 : Column 393

implications go much wider. The very process of the inquiry has opened all our eyes to what it is like to be black or Asian in Britain today, and the inquiry process has revealed some fundamental truths about the nature of our society--about our relationships one with another. Some of those truths are uncomfortable, but we must confront them.

I want this report to serve as a watershed in our attitudes to racism. I want it to act as a catalyst for permanent and irrevocable change, not just across our public services but across the whole of our society. The report does not place a responsibility on someone else; it places a responsibility on each of us. We must make racial equality a reality. The vision is clear: we must create a society in which every individual, regardless of colour, creed or race, has the same opportunities and respect as his or her neighbour. In terms of race equality, let us make Britain a beacon to the world.

Many countries already envy our record on race relations, and the race relations legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has made a significant difference to the treatment of black and Asian people in our country; but it has plainly not been enough. Over the coming weeks, the Prime Minister and I will spell out what the Government will be doing to drive home the programme of change. The report must mark the beginning of that process, not the end.

In her evidence to the inquiry, Mrs. Lawrence said:

This report was born of the courage and determination of Neville and Doreen Lawrence: of their desire to get to the truth of what happened; of their desire to ensure that their son was never forgotten. The report is a testament to them, and upon the report we must build a lasting testament to Stephen.

Next Section

IndexHome Page