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‘The Met is still on probation’

DIGNIFIED: Doreen Lawrence at a special service held in her son’s honour

IT IS 20 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence and we have all taken some time this week to remember the loss of a promising young life cut horrifically short.

As a father, I can only give complete respect to Doreen Lawrence and her family for the way they have acted since. Instead of retreating, Doreen faced up to the police and has worked hard to educate them and change attitudes through the charity she set up in Stephen’s name.

When I have met Doreen I have always been impressed with her dignity and determination.

Despite her unimaginable grief she refused to accept the result of the initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police and campaigned tirelessly for action, which led to the public enquiry by Lord Macpherson. The report effectively put them on trial by highlighting many uncomfortable truths and exposing the Metropolitan Police as an “institutionally racist” organisation. Even today, as the Met acknowledges, it is still on probation.

I am pleased that this report was the catalyst for major change within the police, forcing them to question the way they operate and ensuring they better represent the communities they serve.

Thankfully, most policemen and women are more sensitive to race issues than they used to be and no officer with racist attitudes can expect to remain in the force. But I am clear that although things are better than they were, they are nothing like good enough.

Progress has been made on diversity, but we must go further. In the Metropolitan Police, for example, at the time of Stephen’s murder there were only 600 officers from black and minority ethnic groups. Today this stands at over 3,000 – a significant improvement. Over the next two years they will be taking on 5,000 new recruits, giving them an opportunity to improve diversity even further.

PROGRESS BEING MADE: Conservative MP Damian Green

We are also introducing direct entry into the senior ranks, to bring in people with a range of skills and ideas from all backgrounds. We are already seeing some success: opinion surveys show that black and ethnic minority confidence in the police is significantly higher than 20 years ago.

However, it is not just the diversity of forces that is important. Each officer regardless of rank should act in a professional manner when they encounter any member of the public from any walk of life. Since the murder of Steven Lawrence diversity training is a core part of the initial training undertaken by all new constables. We have launched the College of Policing to focus on raising standards across the police and create a force fit for the future. An important part of its remit will be to improve diversity and equality.

Stop and search also continues to be the cause of some tension in black and minority ethnic communities. We all know there is a perception that it is used to target people because of their race, even though recently published figures show its use is declining across the country. I am clear that the police must get the balance right: of course they must prevent crime, but they must also use stop and search proportionately and fairly.

Individual forces continue to make improvements, but Government is playing its part too. By replacing central targets with local control and introducing elected police and crime commissioners we are giving the police the flexibility to respond to the needs of their local communities.

The efforts of Doreen Lawrence have been rewarded with the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris in January 2012 for her son’s murder. This shows that despite the passage of time the police are still seeking justice. I support the statements last week by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe that the investigation is still open and he is “determined to catch the rest of the gang”.

Stephen’s death shone a tragic light on attitudes and practices which were wholly repugnant and unacceptable. For the last twenty years his family have conducted themselves with extraordinary dignity and shown enormous bravery. Through the work of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust his name will live on.

Conservative MP Damian Green is the minister for police and criminal justice


‘Tory support for equality is skin deep’

By David Lammy

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION has never made it onto the agenda of the modern Conservative Party. The “detoxification” of the Conservative Party was only ever skin deep. Photo opportunities were courted, quotes from Tory frontbenchers were invariably tailored to mention “community X’s important contribution to modern Britain” and the old guard xenophobes and right-wing zealots were shuffled away from the public eye.

 In power, and at least two years away from needing votes from Britain’s ethnic minority communities, the Government has shown its true colours. It sought to scrap laws like the Equality Duty, demeaning it to“unnecessary red tape”. Worse still is the myth propagated by Tory ministers and duly printed by their allies in sections of the press that these measures created a “race relations industry” that “leeches” off of the taxpayer. Thousands spent a sizeable part of their lives marching and fighting for these measures because we believed that a country should be explicit in its desire to eliminate unlawful discrimination and advance equality of opportunity, now we are being branded as agents in an anti-business conspiracy.

Although the anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death is an appropriate time to reflect on how things have changed for the better, it is also a time to appreciate just how much further there is still to go. Black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched and in the 20 years since Stephen has died, 106 people have lost their lives in known or suspected racist attacks.

The recession has forced everyone to tighten their belts but it is Britain’s ethnic minority communities that have suffered the most. Black unemployment has grown faster than every other ethnic group so that there are now as many young black men out of work as there are in. Those with African sounding names need to make twice as many job applications in order to find employment than their English sounding counterparts.

Unmoved by these figures, the government is now planning to impose a 60 percent cut on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the body charged with fighting discrimination in the workplace. Most reading this will agree that a recession is the worst time to dismantle decades of anti-discrimination legislation because it is precisely in these times of comparatively little that racism rears its head. I regret that the Conservative-led Government has taken the opposite view.

David Lammy is MP for Tottenham and chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on race

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