Racism still an issue for UK police

2009-07-22 23:14

London - Racial discrimination remains a problem for police and in certain areas has become worse a decade after a damning report said Britain's biggest force was guilty of "institutional racism", a committee of MPs said on Wednesday.

In 1999 a judicial inquiry by William Macpherson into the murder of 18-year-old black student Stephen Lawrence outlined a catalogue of failures by London's police force, accusing it of "professional incompetence" and identifying "institutional racism".

Lawrence was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in Eltham, southeast London, in April 1993. The case sparked a public outcry after serious police errors meant no one has ever been convicted of the killing.

The Home Affairs Committee said the police had since made "tremendous strides" in the service provided to ethnic minorities, in dealing with racism amongst officers, and had implemented 67 of Macpherson's 70 recommendations.

But its report said failings remained.

Those in black communities were far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, with the situation worse than in 1999, and they were excessively represented on the National DNA Database, which retains DNA samples from anyone who is arrested.

The committee's report said the Equalities and Human Rights Commission estimated that more than 30% of all black men were on the database compared with about 10% of all white men.

"We congratulate the police on the strides they have made in tackling the institutional racism identified by the Macpherson report ten years ago," said committee chairman Keith Vaz.

"However, while there is such blatantly disproportionate representation of particularly black people in the criminal justice system ... there will continue to be damage to community relations which in turn undermines police work."

The report said police would also fail to meet a target of employing seven percent of officers from ethnic minorities nationally by 2009.

Furthermore ethnic officers still had difficulties in getting promotions and were more likely to face disciplinary proceedings.

Last year Britain's most senior Asian police officer, former London Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, settled a claim for racial discrimination against the force.

He was paid an unspecified sum of money and in return withdrew allegations of racism against senior officers.

The capital's Black Police Association also urged minority recruits to boycott the force, saying there were fewer ethnic minority staff in senior positions than before the Macpherson report.

"We acknowledge that there will always be more we need to do in relation to equality and diversity," said Steve Otter from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He said a new strategy to outline priorities on the issue would be published later in the year.