Racism takes its toll on the Met: Following the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, the Metropolitan Police has had to cope with a media blitz as it tries to implement new anti-racism measures

The murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence six years ago was a heinous crime that was to have profound implications for policing in London. Unlike, say, the assassination of a president, the importance of which is apparent from the start, this was a murder that was to grow and grow in the public consciousness until concerns about the way it was investigated called into question the attitudes towards race permeating the country’s largest and most high profile police force.

The murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence six years ago was a

heinous crime that was to have profound implications for policing in

London. Unlike, say, the assassination of a president, the importance of

which is apparent from the start, this was a murder that was to grow and

grow in the public consciousness until concerns about the way it was

investigated called into question the attitudes towards race permeating

the country’s largest and most high profile police force.



Seldom has an institution that is one of the pillars of society come in

for such prolonged and savage obloquy as the Metropolitan Police has

faced in recent years because of the Lawrence affair. So how has it

responded?



And how successful is it likely to be in rebuilding its reputation?



At the heart of the Met’s response was the creation in July 1998 of the

Racial and Violent Crime Task Force under deputy assistant commissioner

John Grieve, who previously had the high-profile job of running the

Met’s anti-terrorism branch. Grieve, the personal choice of commissioner

Sir Paul Condon, accepted the role under no illusions about the enormity

of the task ahead.



’I make no bones about it,’ he says, ’I immediately applied for the same

team I’d been working with in terrorism - not because it’s analogous to

terrorism, but because of the scale of what we were going to have to

do.



I wanted people who I was confident in and who were capable of

delivering sustained activity over a long period of time.’



Communications was a vital element of the task force’s role. Press

officer Carol Bewick was seconded full-time to the team, and Met

director of public affairs and internal communications Dick Fedorcio

also worked intensively to provide strategic support.



On 18 August last year, the task force began to brief internally about

the ’change of thinking’ it was looking to bring about. Although this

was clearly an internal communications issue it also had an ’external

outcome’ as the media had such a strong interest in what the Met was

doing to put its house in order.



’While we were delivering practical change, investigating crimes and

changing the way we look at things, there were absolutely unremitting

demands from the media,’ says Grieve.



On a personal level, Grieve believes he has averaged a meeting with one

journalist every day since last summer. The policy, he avows, has been

to be as frank as possible. ’I don’t think we put a spin on it,’ he

says.



’I think we were very open. A journalist would ring up and would be in

here in an hour sometimes.’



A TV film crew was even given unprecedented access to shoot footage for

a recent documentary on the Met’s handling of the Lawrence affair shown

on Channel 4.



As the publication date of the Macpherson Report on the public inquiry

neared, Grieve concedes he began to feel ’jaded’ by the number of

internal and external briefings he had given and came to the conclusion

that he needed to be refreshed somehow.



On the Saturday prior to publication, he explored the issues with a

group of fellow officers to find new ways of ’expressing things’. A

journalist known by Fedorcio was also invited in to give Grieve a chance

to practise answering some of the questions likely to be fired at him by

the media.



’There are a lot of pitfalls in talking about this,’ says Grieve. ’One

wrong word and you spend hours recovering from it. You have to think

very carefully and clearly about what you are trying to say. It is a

very complex area which opens up enormous anger, anxiety, ambiguity,

fear and guilt. It has a long, historic train behind it. And it all

wells up to the surface in a very short space of time.’



While the Home Secretary was telling the House of Commons about the

content of the report, Condon (who had been given advance access to it)

briefed 150 of his most senior officers on how the Met was going to

respond. Fedorcio stresses that internal briefings such as this are a

very important part of the communications process in ensuring that

information cascades down to more junior officers.



On the media relations front, there was little doubt that the Met faced

a rough ride. It duly came.



’We never had any control over what was coming next or where the story

was going,’ says Grieve. ’But we got some messages over that we had

agreed.



My line was that I had apologised to Doreen and Neville Lawrence

personally.



I am not into serial apologies. I’m not coming here to apologise again -

we’ve done that - what I’m here about is this. And whatever they (the

media) wanted to say, I kept bringing it back to that.’



The ’that’ in question was the Diversity Strategy launched by the force

with the aim of increasing confidence in policing among ethnic minority

communities over the next two years - a process which some newspapers

superficially labelled as a ’charm offensive’, but the substance of

which was widely reported.



Among the targets set out in the strategy are an improvement in

intelligence on racial crimes, higher clear-up rates for such offences,

race relations training for officers and changes in recruitment policy

with the aim of creating a staff and management structure that more

closely mirrors the ethnic make-up of London. As the media has been

briefed on these objectives there can be little doubt that the Met will

be held to account should it fall short of achieving these targets in

any capacity.



’The whole of the Met’s response is based around the Diversity Strategy,

which is a series of route maps which encompass where the Met is

changing,’ says Fedorcio. ’We have changed, we are changing, and there’s

more change coming.’



At the end of last year, the Met held a well-received conference -

Working Together Towards an Anti-Racist Police Service - at which Condon

and Commission for Racial Equality chairman Sir Herman Ouseley both gave

keynote addresses.



Continuing in this vein, the Met is staging a series of forums and other

public events, organised by Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications, at which

it is promoting its Diversity Strategy and seeking to strengthen its

relationship with the community. Black broadcaster Trevor Phillips

chaired the first of these, which was held at Westminster Central Hall

on 24 March.



Internally, briefings on policing diversity are continuing. Posters have

been produced to drive home the message that combating racist crime is

now one of the highest priorities in the Metropolitan Police Operational

Plan and the force’s staff newspaper, the Job, is also being used to

underline the seriousness with which the Met is engaging with the issue.

The 5 March edition of the paper, for example, had three headlines on

its front page - all linked to stories about race relations.



While few would now argue that senior officers at the Met are not trying

to grasp the nettle, many observers still feel the service has a long

way to go in both its policy and communication programmes to effect real

change.



’The commitment of John Grieve and his officers has not yet reached the

fingers and toes of the Met in relation to all of their dealings with

black people on the streets, all of the time,’ says Commission for

Racial Equality principal legal officer Barbara Cohen.



’It’s a question of whether institutional inertia overwhelms the new

vitality and commitment that’s been demonstrated,’ she adds. ’The will

and commitment has to be communicated throughout the force.’



Grieve believes that when society finally comes to terms with the

’scourge and sickness that is racism’, people will look at the police

and offer congratulations on the ’journey’ it has made. It is to be

hoped so. But the road ahead is a long one, and the Met has only just

begun to travel it.



STEPHEN LAWRENCE: THE RAMIFICATIONS



In April 1993 black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in what is

believed to have been a racially-motivated attack in Eltham, south

London.



At first the crime received little media attention, but as criticism of

the Metropolitan Police’s pursuit of the investigation began to

snowball, so too did media interest.



Misgivings by the Lawrence family and their supporters led to an

internal Metropolitan Police inquiry. As criticism of the investigation

continued the Police Complaints Authority ordered a second inquiry, this

time conducted by the Kent constabulary.



There followed a private prosecution brought by the Lawrence family

against five men suspected of Stephen’s murder. After its collapse,

pressure for a public inquiry proved irresistible and newly installed

Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered one in 1997. The inquiry began last

year and heard over 60 days of evidence.



In July 1998, the Met set up its Racial and Violent Crime Task Force

under deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve as a means of boosting

the number of prosecutions brought for racist offences and stamping out

racism within the ranks of the service.



In February of this year, the Macpherson Report on the public inquiry

was published and contained the damaging finding that the Met was

’institutionally racist’. The Met gave its response and announced

details of its Diversity Strategy, the main aim of which is to increase

confidence in policing among minority ethnic communities.



The Government responded to the Macpherson Report with a plan to shake

up police training and procedures, boost ethnic recruitment and bring

the police fully under the remit of the Race Relations Act. On 28 March,

the National Civil Rights Movement was launched to campaign for

equality: the Lawrence affair was a major factor leading to its

creation.



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