'Flaws' of Lawrence report


A key architect of the Government's policy on race crime has attacked the 'fatal flaws' in the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Dr Marian FitzGerald said its conclusion that the police were institutionally racist 'lacks analytical content', has 'no legal force' and offers 'no practical basis for action'.

The former Home Office adviser added that the inquiry has failed to meet 'expectations' of ethnic minorities and may even have caused them more harm than good.

She also warned of a 'white backlash' from people who believe minority communities are getting 'preferential treatment'.

The comments from Dr FitzGerald, regarded as an authority on race and crime issues, come in a book to be published just before the General Election next month.

She warned that the Macpherson report, by concentrating on police treatment of black people, risks undermining trust in the police by both whites and blacks.

The report from retired High Court judge Sir William Macpherson into the 1993 stabbing of the black teenager in London was ordered by Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Published in 1999, it condemned the police investigation, which has led to no convictions, and made sweeping recommendations for changing the way the police deal with ethnic minorities.

Most controversially, the report branded the entire police service 'institutionally racist'. It defined this as '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.'

Dr FitzGerald said the Macpherson definition has been harmful in three ways. In a draft copy of the book she wrote: 'First, people who really are the cause of the problem may co-opt the idea that its nature is institutional rather than individual to deny personal responsibility.

'Second, other individuals may feel personally accused because, collectively, they are the organisation, and the verdict that they are guilty of "unconsciousî racism is almost impossible to challenge.

'Third, now the label is official, it is difficult to imagine it being officially lifted but it is equally difficult to imagine how members of the ethnic minorities can have confidence in a criminal justice system permanently marked in this way.'

She argued: 'People do not define themselves exclusively in a single dimension' - whether of ethnicity, gender or age.

'This means individuals may be differentiated from each other on one dimension but have far more in common on other dimensions than may appear to divide them.'

Dr FitzGerald also addressed the sensitive issue of stop and search.

The Macpherson inquiry triggered a slump in the use of the tactic by police and street crime soared.

The report cited official statistics to claim black people were unfairly targeted for searches by police.

But Dr FitzGerald argued that more blacks may be stopped because, on average, they are younger than whites and young people are more likely to be involved in crime.

She said there is a danger 'racialising what are essentially agerelated differences by the uncritical use of crude ethnic statistics'.

Dr FitzGerald added that black people searched by the police were 'as likely as white people to have criminal records and were arrested at the same rate after searches'.

In a bleak warning, she said singling out groups for special treatment may damage police efforts to win the trust of the whole community and trigger a 'white backlash' from those who believe their grievances were being neglected.

The comments are likely to be welcomed by Tory leader William Hague, who sparked controversy last year when he blamed the report for a drop in stop and search, and a rise in muggings.

Last night Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, claimed Mr Straw had been sitting on much of Dr FitzGerald's research for more than two years.

'We welcome Dr FitzGerald's contribution to the debate,' he said. 'Macpherson should be for all peoples and all communities.'

Since leaving the Home Office. where she was a senior adviser to Mr Straw, Dr FitzGerald has been an independent consultant and researcher.

Her views are recorded in a chapter of Crime, Disorder and Community Disorder: A New Agenda.

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