Imran Khan QC gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee which was considering the Macpherson report, 22 years after it was published. The purpose of the report was to assess the progress of the key recommendations of the Macpherson report. Although improvements are said to have been made, the Committee identified deep rooted racial disparities in areas such as recruitment and stop and search for which it has proposed urgent action.
Stephen Lawrence was murdered on 22 April 1993 in an unprovoked racist knife attack in Eltham, South London. The Inquiry into his murder led by the late Sir William Macpherson uncovered major failings in the police investigation and in the way Stephen Lawrence’s family and his friend Duwayne Brooks were treated. The report, published twenty-two years ago in February 1999, was truly ground-breaking, leading to major changes in the law, in policing, in the response to institutional racism and the treatment of racist crimes, and ultimately to two convictions for Stephen Lawrence’s murder.
Many of the findings and subsequent 70 recommendations made by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry focused on longstanding issues which remain as relevant today. Our inquiry was prompted by concerns that in some areas, in the words of Baroness Lawrence, “things have become stagnant and nothing seems to have moved.”
We have assessed progress against some of the most important Macpherson report recommendations: on community confidence, on tackling racist crimes, on recruitment and retention of Black and other minority ethnic officers and staff, on race disparities in the use of stop and search and other powers, and on the overall aim set by the late Sir William Macpherson of “the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing.” We have also looked at the structures needed to deliver further progress today.
We have found that policing today is very different from twenty-two 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.
Confidence in policing among BME communities
The Macpherson report called for it to be a Ministerial Priority that all police services “increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities.” However, twenty-two years on, evidence to our inquiry shows that there is a significant problem with confidence in the police within Black communities, particularly among young people.
Adults from Black and mixed ethnic backgrounds are less likely to have confidence in the police than adults from White or Asian backgrounds, and the confidence gap has widened over the last few years. 67% of White adults say they believe the police will treat them fairly compared to 56% of Black adults. All victims of crime should feel confident in turning to the police for help. That Black people have much lower expectations than White people that they will be treated fairly and with respect by the police is a matter of deep and serious concern.
Our inquiry has found a lack of proper local or national plans to tackle the confidence gap, and we found that increasing trust and confidence in policing is not being treated as a policing priority or a Ministerial priority today. The Committee calls for new plans from police forces and the Home Office to increase confidence among BME communities, regular gathering and publishing of confidence data and information for all forces, and inspections on progress.
Racist incidents and victims of crime
Stephen Lawrence, his family and Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks were all victims of a racist crime. The Macpherson report was highly critical of the way they were treated and the failure of policing to monitor, understand or investigate racist crimes properly. The recommendations brought about a transformation in the way police recognise racist incidents and deal with racist crimes which is one of the most important legacies of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. We welcome the changes that were made and found a strong commitment from senior police officers to maintain that progress.
However, racial hatred remains a significant problem in society, more than 75,000 race related incidents were recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2019/20.We are deeply concerned that victims of hate crime are less likely to be satisfied with the outcome of a police investigation than they are in other crimes, and that some Black men and women still report that they have been treated as suspects not victims of crime. The Committee calls for better recording of hate crime offences, including disaggregating race hate crime, as well as work between the Home Office, NPCC and Victims Commissioner to improve support for BME victims of crime.
Going forward we are concerned that the Government and police forces are being left behind by the rise of online racism and racist crimes. Whilst we welcome the proposed Online Safety Bill, we call for a new Home Office and NPCC strategy for policing hate crime online including urgently needed skills, training and digital infrastructure.
Recruitment and progression of BME officers and staff
The Macpherson report recommended that police forces should be representative of the communities they serve, and that targets should be set for recruitment, progression and retention of minority ethnic police officers. But the ten-year targets set by the then Home Secretary, including overall minority ethnic representation of 7% in the service by 2009, were not met. Even by 2020, BME officers represented just 7% of the police service across England and Wales, still far below the 14% of the population in England and Wales who identify as BME. Levels of under representation are most marked among senior ranks: only 4% of officers at or above the rank of chief inspector are from BME backgrounds.
It is extremely disappointing that twenty-two years after the publication of the Macpherson report the police service is still a very long way from being representative of the diverse communities it serves. The Peel principles that have underpinned British policing for nearly 200 years are based on the understanding that the police are the public and the public are the police. These principles apply to everyone: it cannot be the case that they apply to some communities and not others based on the colour of people’s skin.
Our inquiry found police forces across the country have failed to do enough to increase BME recruitment, retention and promotion for decades. There has been a lack of focus, consistency and leadership in driving BME recruitment and promotion in the police service for far too long. Our analysis suggests that, on the current rate of progress, we will not have properly representative police forces in England and Wales for another twenty years. That would be four decades after the Macpherson report raised the seriousness of this issue and nearly half a century after the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
We agree with the Home Secretary that the Government’s commitment to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers must be used to make immediate and significant progress in tackling the persistent underrepresentation of BME communities within police forces. We found that some forces are making significant progress in increasing BME recruits, notably Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester, using positive action such as targeted recruitment campaigns, youth engagement and outreach, and working with local community and faith leaders. However, we found that the vast majority of forces are still failing to recruit BME officers in proportion to their local population.
We recommend that the Government agrees minimum targets for the recruitment of BME officers with each constabulary reflecting the respective composition of its local population, in order to achieve at least 14% of officers nationally by 2030. Evidence from forces which use positive action demonstrates that forces should be able to achieve these targets using tried and tested measures. A national strategy should be drawn up by the National Policing Board with a clear timeline, a requirement on chief officers to use positive action, rigorous scrutiny on progress and remedial measures for failure to achieve these targets. It should include a new framework for inspections, and accountability and follow up action using the Home Secretary’s statutory powers if targets are not being met. The Home Office should work with the Law Commission on further measures which might be considered where forces can show that tried and tested positive action is not able to address historic underrepresentation.
Police misconduct and discipline
Achieving the representative workforce that Macpherson recommended requires effective retention and progression of BME officers as well as recruitment. However, we found there was clear racial disparity in the number of officers being dismissed from police forces and in the number of BME officers and staff being subjected to internal disciplinary processes. BME officers are more than twice as likely to be dismissed as White officers. Yet data on racial disparity in police misconduct has been inconsistent and incomplete to the point where it cannot be understood or acted upon, despite years of HMICFRS warnings.
We welcome the work by the NPCC to instigate reforms including improvements to training, misconduct guidance, welfare support, and addressing the lack of BME officers in Professional Standards Departments. However, it is extremely troubling that this disparity has been allowed to continue for so long without serious action being taken by police forces to investigate or address the problem. It is essential that progress is consistently monitored and reported transparently across all forces.
Stop and search
In the year to 31 March 2020, Black people were over nine and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people. Despite the serious concerns raised and recommendations made in the Macpherson report and other reports since, the disproportionality is greater now than it was twenty-two years ago. We agree with HMICFRS that these disparities have damaged confidence in stop and search itself and undermined the legitimacy of policing for the BME communities most affected by it.
Stop and search is an important police power and the Macpherson report’s conclusion that it has a useful role to play in the prevention and detection of crime still applies. However, no evidence to this inquiry has adequately explained or justified the nature and scale of the disproportionality in the use of stop and search powers. This is especially the case for searches for the possession of drugs where evidence shows that Black people are less likely than White people to have used drugs in the last year, but are 2.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drug possession. We recognise the importance of the police being able to take action against knife crime including through stop and search but note that only 16% of ‘reasonable grounds’ searches in 2019/20 were conducted to find offensive weapons.
We also heard troubling examples of stops and searches being conducted in a manner that was deeply alienating and uncomfortable, including from the IOPC. Given that the majority of people stopped and searched are not found to be committing any crime, stops should be initiated in a respectful and appropriate manner, with care taken to manage conflict and de-escalate encounters where necessary.
Stop and search must always be used in a focused and targeted way. The Metropolitan Police increased their use of stop and search during the first national covid-19 lockdown to the highest levels seen in London for many years at a time when far fewer people were on the streets. They were wrong to do so: the result was that far more people who were not committing crimes were stopped and searched, the proportion of searches which found weapons or drugs dropped, and the racial disparity widened. It should never have been possible for the equivalent of 1 in 4 Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 in London who were not committing a crime to be stopped and searched during a three-month period.
Sensible recommendations from HMICFRS on stop and search from four years ago have still not been widely implemented or sustained. That needs to change urgently. The Committee is also calling for further reforms, including recording the ethnicity of those who are subject to road traffic stops, additional training for police officers and staff on communication, conflict management and de-escalation, and full use of body worn video, with internal reviews and external community oversight, both to build confidence and to ensure improvements are made.
Use of police technologies and tools
New policing technologies and powers have developed in the decades since the Macpherson report—for example the MPS Gang Violence Matrix, Live Facial Recognition Technology or policing the Coronavirus restrictions—which have raised similar kinds of questions about avoiding racial disparities, ensuring fairness in policing, and about the importance of sustaining confidence among minority ethnic communities.
Concerns raised about disproportionality in the use of fixed penalty notices as part of police enforcement of the covid-19 regulations provide cautionary evidence about the need for care and oversight in the way new policing powers are introduced. In the first lockdown Black people were 1.8 times more likely to be subject to covid enforcement measures than White people.
At the same time the introduction of body worn cameras, if done properly, is a new technology that could help rebuild community confidence: for example, it could be used to ensure oversight of stop and search. It is vital that police forces, policing institutions and the Home Office have systems in place to ensure that new technology and new powers are implemented fairly, without racial bias and without widening unfair racial disparities.
Racism and the police twenty-two years on
The Macpherson report found that racism was an important factor in the failure of the Metropolitan police investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder. It concluded that the problems it found amounted to “institutional racism” and highlighted racism at both individual and institutional level.
Our inquiry has found that policing today is very different from twenty-two years ago and there have been important and welcome improvements in policing since the Macpherson report was published, including on the policing of racist and hate crimes, the commitment of senior officers to promoting diversity and equality and good examples of local community policing. However, we have also found persistent, deep rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas. The failure to make sufficient progress on BME recruitment, retention and progression, troubling race disparities in the police misconduct system, unjustified inequalities in the use of key police powers such as stop and search and a worrying decline in confidence and trust in the police among some BME communities all point to structural problems that go beyond individual bias. 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.
We found that there has been an increased focus within policing on race inequality since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the USA in 2020, which shone a spotlight on race injustice across the world. Reforms announced by individual forces, the NPCC, HMICFRS and the IOPC are welcome. However, it should not have required video footage of the murder of a Black man by a police officer and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests to concentrate the minds of the Government and the police on the imperative of race equality.
The Committee recommends a comprehensive review and overhaul of police training on racism, diversity and equality, led by the College of Policing and supported by the Home Office so that training in the future explicitly focuses on anti-racism, including seeking to reduce differences in experience and outcomes by racial and ethnic group.
We also call for action to challenge racism within policies, structures, organisational culture and institutions, including the adoption of the approach set out in the David Lammy review of the Criminal Justice System: explain or change. Race disparities must be robustly investigated and where forces cannot provide evidence based explanations of disparities, they must set out changes to eliminate them.
Our objective has been to consider progress, twenty-two years on, against the key Macpherson themes and recommendations which we set out in chapter one. We have not sought to carry out the kind of in-depth investigation in respect of individual policing institutions that either Macpherson conducted into the Metropolitan Police or that Wendy Williams conducted into the Home Office. We have not therefore been in a position to apply the tests of institutional racism that, for example, Wendy Williams used. However, the fact that Black and minority ethnic police organisations told us that they continue to experience and bear witness to institutional racism in our police forces today should be grounds enough for policing leaders, the Home Office and Government to take seriously the imperative for change.
We believe that the concept of institutional racism set out by the Macpherson report remains important today and that institutions must be able to challenge themselves and be held publicly to account for addressing racism within structures or policies as well as within individual attitudes. We recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission undertakes work to determine a framework against which individual institutions including police forces can be rigorously assessed.
Delivery and accountability
In the years following the Macpherson report there was a welcome focus by all policing organisations to implement the report’s recommendations and drive forward institutional change. However, over time that progress has stalled and race equality has too often not been taken seriously enough. The NPCC’s announcement that it is developing and implementing a national race equality action plan is welcome, but it is disappointing that it is taking so long for forces to agree on much needed action. The withdrawal of the Home Office from an active role in policing has also been responsible for fragmentation in addressing race equality issues. We do not believe that the current structures will be sufficient to deliver change that is already twenty-two years overdue.
The Committee calls for the Home Secretary to establish and chair, under the aegis of the National Policing Board, a Race Equality Steering Group. The Home Secretary should have oversight of progress in addressing race equality across the 43 police forces.
We further recommend that a new independent Race Equality Commissioner for policing is established to provide ongoing scrutiny, including analysis and advice on policing policy, tools and procedures that have a potential impact on racial disparities.
Across the country police forces work hard each day to tackle crime and keep all our communities safe. Police officers and staff work immensely hard to deliver fairness in policing, to support Black and minority ethnic victims of crime, to tackle racist hate crimes and support community cohesion. But it is because the role of the police in communities is so important that the issues raised in our report need to be addressed.
Our inquiry has found that the Macpherson report’s overall aim of the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing has still not been met twenty-two years on, and we have identified areas where too little progress has been made because of a lack of focus and accountability on issues of race.
The commitments made over the last year by the NPCC, by individual forces and by senior police officers to a step change in addressing race equality in policing are important. But commitments have been made in the past that were then not delivered. This time needs to be different or confidence may be permanently undermined. This time, Government and police forces need to work with local communities to ensure there is real and sustainable change that improves the experiences of, and outcomes for, Black and minority ethnic communities whether within the police service or outside of it, that raises confidence and demonstrates fairness in policing for all.