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The Macpherson report 20 years on: What has changed?

ACTION: Stephen’s parents Doreen and Neville launched a campaign for justice following his death that eventually led to the Macpherson inquiry

THE DEATH of teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham in April 1993 has had a lasting impact on race relations in Britain.

Stephen, from Plumstead, south east London, was murdered in a racially motivated attack while waiting for a bus in Eltham.

Following five years of campaigning by his parents, Neville and Doreen, the then Labour home secretary Jack Straw announced a judicial inquiry into how the Met police handled the investigation into Stephen’s death.

The inquiry – led by retired High Court judge Sir William Macpherson of Cluny – heard evidence from 88 witnesses and considered 100,000 pages of statements and documents.

The Macpherson report, published in February 1999, famously concluded that the Metropolitan police force was “institutionally racist”, which he defined as the “collective failure of an organisation to provide a professional service … through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”.

TRIBUTE: Stephen Lawrence’s parents Doreen and Neville, lays flowers on the vandalised memorial plaque in remembrance of Stephen

The police investigation into Stephen’s death was found to have been marred by professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership.

It made 70 recommendations and had an impact not just on policing but on wider society - from the criminal justice system through to public authorities.

The report insisted that the 1976 Race Relations Act should apply not just to the police, but the whole of the public sector.

The 2000 Race Relations (Amendment) Act that followed Macpherson extended the protection of the law to the victims of discrimination by public bodies for the first time.

The new legislation also made clear that discrimination could take place indirectly as well as directly and placed a responsibility on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations.

When the Macpherson report was published two decades ago, it was described as one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain.

February 24 marks the 20th anniversary of the report’s publication. But has the Macpherson report delivered on its promise of a new era of equality and fairness for Britain’s black community following Stephen’s death?

Recruitment – a long way to go

Among the key recommendations of Macpherson in regard to policing was a review and revision of racial awareness training in police forces.

They were also required to reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the communities in which they serve so as to make the force more accessible and approachable to the public.

In 1993, when Stephen was killed, the proportion of black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) officers in England and Wales was two per cent compared to a BAME population of six per cent. Progress has been made on that figure.

By December 2008 the figure had reached just over four per cent.

Latest figures show that 6.3 per cent of police officers are from minority ethnic backgrounds. However, that is compared to a BAME population that is now 14 per cent of the UK total, so the gap remains significant.

According to the National Black Police Associaton (NBPA), the police are little nearer to meeting Macpherson’s aspiration that the police should reflect the communities they serve.

Speaking last year on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the NBPA, its president, Tola Munro said: “I think there has been some progress and I’m grateful for the progress and the increasing number of BAME officers, but if I was marking policing, I would give us a C at the moment.

“We, within the NBPA, would argue that at least some forces are institutionally racist.”

Stop and search – still a thorny issue
Alleged racial discrimination in the police use of stop and search has been a longstanding complaint of the black community.

In the years since Macpherson, police chiefs have said institutional racism is no longer the problem it wsas.

However, recent figures have shown that the racial gap in the use of stop and search by officers has grown despite government pressure for this to close.

While police use of stop and search powers has fallen significantly since Macpherson, there has been an increase in racial disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences.

According to a report published last year, The Colour Of Injustice: Race, Drugs And Law Enforcement In England And Wales, produced by the London School of Economics, the Stopwatch coalition and drug law campaign organisation Release, black people were 8.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched by officers than white people.

The report also said they were also 7.9 times more likely to be stopped and searched for other offences.

According to the analysis, drug searches account for 60 per cent of all stop and searches, with the vast majority for simple possession.

The report also found that black people are treated more harshly when they are found in possession of drugs.

Its co-author, Dr Rebekah Delsol, said: “More than four years after [then home secretary] Theresa May declared that stop and search is unfair to young black men, it is shocking that the situation has got worse, not better. The police are clearly unable or unwilling to deal with the problem and a solution needs to come from elsewhere.”

The Gangs Matrix
Launched by the Metropolitan Police in 2012, the Gangs Matrix is a database of suspected gang members in London and those who pose a risk of committing gang violence or being victims.

Part of the Met’s response to the London riots of 2011, it was designed to be a risk-management tool.

Those on the matrix can face sanctions relating to housing and other public services, with which the data about who is on the gangs list is shared.

However, a 2018 Amnesty International report criticised the database as unfit for purpose, part of a racialised war on gangs that stigmatised young black people and left Britain breaking its human rights obligations.

A review of the database for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, also found it to be potentially discriminatory against black people.

Khan’s review found that too many black people were on it compared with their likelihood of offending or their chances of being a victim.

There are around 3,800 people on the list currently with more people from an African Caribbean background than the percentage of African Caribbeans in London’s population.

Around 38 per cent of those on the matrix were assessed as posing no risk of committing violence.

The review said this level of disproportionality cannot be wholly explained by AfricanCaribbean levels of offending or being a victim.

It said: “We must acknowledge the possibility of conscious or unconscious bias against young black males in London – whether the term ‘gang’ is now heavily racially loaded and that this perception that a gang is often comprised of young black males, and ergo that young black males are often in a gang, either directly or unconsciously influences the enforcement focus of the police and subsequent actions of the justice service.”

The force has been ordered to radically reform the matrix and been given a year to do so.

PICTURED: Met Commissioner Cressida Dick

However, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “As we approach the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report – a report that was a huge catalyst for change and reflection – we must consider just how far the Met has come since 1999.

“Thanks to Stephen’s parents’ dignity, passion and tireless drive to make sure the recommendations made in the report were, and continue to be, implemented, London, society and policing across the country has changed and improved.

“Society must not stand still, however. There is more to do to build further on Stephen’s legacy.”

Macpherson’s demand that institutional racism be tackled, not just in the police but in all public institutions, triggered a nationwide debate about recruitment, retention and promotion policies as well as setting a standard for human resources departments in private sector companies.

However, as with policing, it seems that despite Macpherson’s vision, major issues of racial disparity remain.

According to TUC figures released last year, there are currently 3.2 million BAME workers in the UK.

However they get paid 8.3 per cent less than white workers. There is also a qualifications pay gap: black workers whose highest qualifications are A-levels, earn 10 per cent less than their white peers.

TUC figures also showed that BAME workers are more than a third more likely than white workers to be stuck in temporary or zero-hours work.

More than a third (37 per cent) have been bullied, abused or singled out at work and over half (57 per cent) of BAME women affected by it have suffered mental health problems.

Furthermore, a recent survey by The Guardian found that 43 per cent of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years.

The lack of diversity in British boardrooms has long been a talking point since Macpherson was published 20 years ago.

According to research from recruitment firm Green Park, FTSE 100 companies will take nearly half a century to meet a government-backed target to have at least one ethnic minority director on their board.

It claims that top firms are currently on course to miss the government’s diversity target to have at least one ethnic minority member on their board by 2021, and that on current rates of progress – with one extra company each year – they will not meet this target until 2066.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of Green Park, said: “Britain still has to have a serious and courageous conversation about race and ethnicity.

“At a time when our country needs to show a modern, global face to the world, declining ethnic diversity in our business leadership looks like a spectacular own goal.”

In October last year, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the Race at Work Charter, a series of measures to tackle ethnic disparities in the workplace.

This problem of the disproportionate treatment of minority ethnic people runs right through the criminal justice system, according to the Lammy report published in 2017. Tottenham MP David Lammy’s independent review into the treatment of – and outcomes for – BAME individuals in the criminal justice system found that there was overt racial prejudice in Britain’s criminal justice system, although it is declining.

However, problems of covert and unconscious or implicit bias are becoming more apparent. The report urged the justice system to take major steps to increase diversity and transparency after the report found that BAME disproportionately in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer at least £309 million each year. Among the headline findings in the report were that young black people are nine times more likely to be locked up in England and Wales than their white peers, according to Ministry of Justice figures studied by Lammy.

British universities have made little progress in promoting black and other minority ethnic staff to senior positions, according to analysis of equality data.

Statistics collated by Advance HE show that in the 2016-17 academic year just 25 black women were recorded as working as professors, out of about 19,000 professors in total. More than 14,000 white men were recorded as professors, while just 90 black men held positions of the same status.

The data also showed that BAME staff remained more likely than their white peers to be in junior positions, to be less well paid and to be employed on fixed-term rather than permanent contracts.

Concerning students, figures from the Race Disparity Audit and the Office for Students also showed that while record numbers are attending university, black students’ general academic achievement is lower than their white peers in 2017, and black students are the most likely to drop out of university.

PICTURED: Runnymede Trust’s Omar Khan

Speaking about whether or not the Macpherson Report had achieved its vision, Omar Khan of the Runnymede Trust told The Voice: “There is a question mark over how far the recommendations of the Macpherson report have actually been implemented.

“For example, the numbers of black officers has improved but it’s not much better than the population growth.

“You could actually say there’s been almost no progress really since that time.”

Khan highlighted the failure of successive governments to implement the recommendations of the report.

Jack Straw, the home secretary who set up the Macpherson inquiry, created the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group in May 1999 to oversee the report’s 70 recommendations. However, Charles Clarke, who served as home secretary from 2004-06, scrapped the steering group in October 2005, a decision criticised by Stephen’s mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

Khan said: “The report didn’t fail but I think what failed really is the leaders of society to act on Macpherson and to shift wider public opinion to understand what racism really is, to make them understand it’s not just an occasional one off thing that is perpetrated by the English Defence League thugs, but is a systemic problem that has deep historical roots that affects people everyday and in every aspect of their lives, whether it’s walking down the street, buying a Coke in a shop, getting hired or going to the hospital.”

See next week’s edition of The Voice for part two of this story

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