Racial disparity in policing remains 22 years after Stephen Lawrence inquiry, MPs warn

30 July 2021, 08:49

Racial disparities in police remain over 20 years on from the Lawrence inquiry.
Racial disparities in police remain over 20 years on from the Lawrence inquiry. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

MPs have called for "urgent action" after warning there are still racial disparities in policing 22 years on from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

The Home Affairs Committee warned that "on the current rate of progress, we will not have properly representative police forces in England and Wales for another 20 years", arguing that the current system for delivering on race equality was "not working".

It came after the committee ran an inquiry - not specific to any individual policing institution - examining progress made 22 years on from the Macpherson report, finding that disparities still remained across recruitment and use of stop and search, among other areas.

The 1999 Macpherson report looked at the failings of police investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence, with "institutional racism" being one of many.

The black teenager was killed in 1993 in a racist knife attack by five white youths in south London.

The committee said there has been a "welcome focus by all policing organisations" to implement the Macpherson report's recommendations and bring about institutional change.

However, "progress has stalled" in too many areas, according to Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee.

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In its report, the committee said: "We have found that policing today is very different from 22 years ago.

"Since the Macpherson report was published there have been important improvements in policing including significant improvements in the policing of racist crimes, in the commitments made to promoting equality and diversity and in good examples of local community policing.

"But our inquiry has also identified persistent, deep-rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas including a confidence gap for BME communities, lack of progress on BME recruitment, problems in misconduct proceedings and unjustified racial disparities in stop and search.

"In those areas, we propose urgent action."

It went on to say that police had not taken race inequality in the force seriously enough.

"There has been a systematic failure on the part of the police service and government, over many years, to take race inequality in policing seriously enough.

"The Macpherson report's objective at the end of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry to 'eliminate racist prejudice and disadvantage and demonstrate fairness in all aspects of policing' has not been met."

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The committee said no evidence to their inquiry "adequately explained or justified the nature and scale of the disproportionality in the use of stop and search powers".

Ms Cooper said: "We have found that in too many areas progress has stalled and for too long there has been a lack of focus and accountability on race equality in policing.

"Without clear action to tackle race inequality we fear that, in 10 years' time, future committees will be hearing the very same arguments that have been rehearsed already for over 20 years.

"That cannot be allowed to happen."

Recommendations from the inquiry included a new statutory race equality commissioner for policing and a new race equality steering group to be chaired by the Home Secretary to respond to the commissioner's reports.

Read more: Boris Johnson to boost police stop and search powers under Beating Crime Plan

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said the Macpherson report "left an indelible mark" on policing.

"Good progress has been made since its publication," he said.

"Our police are more diverse than ever before, forces have worked hard to improve community engagement and we have seen major improvements in the way the police deal with racist crimes.

"But we know there is much more to do - that is why attracting more officers from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds is a core ambition of our drive to recruit an extra 20,000 officers.

"Stop and search along with other preventative activity set out in the Beating Crime Plan is also vital to ensuring we create safer streets and neighbourhoods."

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