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The Equal Rights Trust: Two Found Guilty of Murder of Stephen Lawrence
Two Found Guilty of Murder of Stephen Lawrence
London, 6 January 2011
On 3 January 2012 two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were found guilty of the racially-motivated murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence (R v Dobson & Norris). The murder, described by the head of the judiciary of England and Wales as a crime “which scarred the conscience of the nation”, occurred in April 1993. Yet police failings in investigating the crime meant that until 2012, no one had been brought to justice. ERT welcomes the convictions, which mark the latest stage in a chain of events which have fundamentally changed the landscape of race relations in Britain.
Thanks to campaigning by the parents and supporters of Stephen Lawrence, a public inquiry was established in 1997 to consider "matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence (…) in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned for the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes". The inquiry’s concluding report, known as the Macpherson Report, is considered groundbreaking for shedding light on the existence of “institutional racism”, which it defined thus:
"Institutional Racism" consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
In addition to finding that the investigation in Stephen Lawrence’s case was “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”, the report went further:
institutional racism affects the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service], and Police Services elsewhere. Furthermore our conclusions as to Police Services should not lead to complacency in other institutions and organisations. Collective failure is apparent in many of them, including the Criminal Justice system. It is incumbent upon every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities.
The report contained 70 recommendations, including in relation to:
- the independent inspection of police services;
- the application of freedom of information rights to all areas of policing;
- the application of race discrimination legislation to all police officers;
- the definition of a “racist incident”;
- guidance and procedures on the reporting, recording and investigation of racist crimes;
- the availability, training and duties of Family Liaison Officers;
- the treatment of victims, victims’ families and witnesses of racist crimes;
- the prosecution of racist crimes;
- racism awareness training in the police services;
- police powers to stop and search;
- recruitment and retention of minority ethnic staff in the police services; and
- public education.
The report also recommended that the objective of increasing trust and confidence in policing amongst ethnic minority communities should be a Ministerial Priority.
In 2009, a UK parliamentary committee considered progress made to tackle racism in the police in the 10 years since the Macpherson Report. It was told by the Home Office that 67 of the report’s recommendations had been either partly or fully implemented. The parliamentary committee concluded that while “tremendous strides” had been made by the police “in the service they provide to ethnic minority communities and in countering racism amongst its workforce”, there remained “[a] number of concerns”. These included the disproportionate representation of black communities amongst those subject to stop and search by the police, the number of police officers from ethnic minority communities and the problems such officers face during their employment.
Commenting on the convictions in the Stephen Lawrence case, Dimitrina Petrova, ERT’s Executive Director, said:
“The racially-motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the police failings in the investigation which followed, highlighted the significant problems which the UK faced in tackling racism many years after the enactment of the country’s first race equality legislation. Yet these events also acted as a catalyst for significant improvements in the understanding of institutional racism and the effectiveness of measures to address it.
The successful prosecution of two of Mr Lawrence’s killers is welcome, both in itself, and as a powerful symbol of the marked shift in attitudes towards racism which has taken place in response to the murder and investigation. It also acts as a timely reminder of the need for constant vigilance in the fight against prejudice and discrimination.”
To read the judge’s sentencing remarks in R v Dobson & Norris click here.
To read the Macpherson Report click here.
To read the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee click here.