Racism endemic to British society, not just to police, says Ashdown

 

The Liberal Democrats leader, Mr Paddy Ashdown, said yesterday that racism was endemic in British society and not confined to institutions such as the police force. His remarks came hours ahead of today's publication of Sir William Macpherson's report on the death of Stephen Lawrence which accuses the police of institutionalised racism.

Speaking last night as he accepted the Leadership Challenge from the Commission for Racial Equality, which urges prominent figures to use their influence to fight racism, Mr Ashdown said Sir William's report could be the force's "death knell or, just possibly, the spur for its rebirth", but it would be wrong for society to conclude that racism was a problem exclusively for the police.

Stephen Lawrence, he said, had died, in part, "because we have not been sufficiently vigilant against racism in our lives, our attitudes and our society". His comments came as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, insisted this week that he would not resign unless directly accused of dishonesty by Sir William, but it is thought that he is prepared to accept the report's conclusion that the force is "unwittingly" racist.

Accepting the definition is difficult for some police officers in Britain who have predicted that Sir Paul will lose support among his members as a result. Several police representatives have said acceptance of the term "institutionally racist" by other forces in Britain is linked to an increase in racial abuse among colleagues. Meanwhile, the central witness of the murder of Stephen Lawrence has increased pressure on the police force and the Commissioner by calling for an independent body to investigate complaints against the police.

Mr Duwayne Brooks, who was with Stephen Lawrence on the night he was killed by a racist gang in April 1993, insisted the current practice of outside police forces being brought in by the independent Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to investigate allegations should end. At one stage during the investigation into Stephen Lawrence's murder the Kent police force investigated discounted allegations against the Metropolitan Police that its officers were racist. "It is not enough just to replace the PCA. Now even Sir William Macpherson says the police force is institutionally racist. So long as the police continue to investigate themselves, why should I and other black people trust them?" he told BBC Radio 4 this week. He also called on the Commissioner to resign.