Category: BAME Inclusion, Independent Office for Police Conduct, Social Justice, BAME Diversity, BAME Network, society, racism, police conduct
Stephen Lawrence was with his friend Duwayne Brooks waiting for a bus when he was stabbed to death in a racist attack in south London on the night of 22 April 1993. He was an 18-year-old student with aspirations to be an architect.
Today (22 April) is Stephen Lawrence Day, a celebration of his life and legacy. His murder was a tragedy for his family and the local community. But Stephen’s murder was only the start of the story that saw a family fighting for justice for the next two decades, with changes that would make a significant impact on our society.
Stephen Lawrence’s legacy is also an intrinsic part of our DNA as an organisation, reminding us of our purpose.
The police’s handling of the investigation into Stephen’s murder brought widespread criticism, with people believing that the police investigated the murder differently to other cases simply because Stephen was black.
Stephen’s family spent years trying to find out why no one was charged with Stephen’s murder and why there were irregularities in the police investigation.
In 1998, a public inquiry began into the killing of Stephen Lawrence, chaired by Sir William Macpherson. The purpose of the inquiry was to examine matters arising from Stephen’s death, and particularly to identify the lessons to be learned from the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes.
In 1999, the Macpherson Report was published. The report concluded that institutional racism existed both in the Metropolitan Police and in other police services and institutions countrywide. It made 70 recommendations, aimed at improving police attitudes to racism. It also proposed changes in the law, including strengthening the Race Relations Act to tackle discrimination.
One of the recommendations was: "that the Home Secretary, taking into account the strong expression of public perception in this regard, consider what steps can and should be taken to ensure that serious complaints against police officers are independently investigated. Investigation of police officers by their own or another police service is widely regarded as unjust and does not inspire public confidence."
In response, our predecessor organisation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), was created in 2004. This established a means by which serious public complaints, conduct matters and death or serious injury matters arising from police action or inaction could be investigated independently by a state body that was separate from the police service in England and Wales.
Importantly, this remains our focus today as the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Our ongoing mission at the IOPC is to improve and uphold public confidence by ensuring the police are held accountable for their actions and that lessons are learnt.
Stephen Lawrence Day serves as a reminder to us all that we need to hold true to the reasons we were created as an organisation. There is still more work to do 21 years after the inquiry into Stephen’s murder.
Stephen Lawrence’s legacy is our ongoing obligation to provide independent scrutiny of policing practice – ensuring police remain accountable and lessons are learnt. This means asking tough questions, exposing unpleasant truths and driving cultural and organisational change.
It’s also intrinsically about the role we all can play in creating and maintaining a society that treats everyone with fairness and respect.