There will be a debate in the Chamber on 25 February 2019 on a motion relating to the twentieth anniversary since the Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The subject of the debate was proposed by Alex Norris MP before the Backbench Business Committee on 5 February 2019.


On 22 April 1993, Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man, was stabbed to death at a bus stop by a group of white youths in an unprovoked, racist attack. The Metropolitan Police’s actions at the scene and in the investigation that followed were heavily criticised as incompetent and institutionally racist. Almost twenty years later, on 3 January 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of murder for their participation in the attack.

On 31 July 1997 the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, ordered Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge, to carry out an “inquiry into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence”.  The Macpherson Report was published on 24 February 1999 and concluded that the Metropolitan Police’s murder investigation had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”.  The inquiry found that this institutional racism extended beyond the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS):

institutional racism affects the MPS, and Police Services elsewhere. Furthermore our conclusions as to Police Services should not lead to complacency in other institutions and organisations. Collective failure is apparent in many of them, including the Criminal Justice system. It is incumbent upon every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities.

The report made 70 recommendations, set out in Chapter 47. The 70 recommendations ranged across the following themes:

  • Openness and accountability
  • A new definition of “racist incident”
  • Reporting and recording of racist incidents and crimes
  • Police practice and the investigation of racist crime
  • Family liaison officer practice and training
  • The treatment of victims and witnesses
  • Prosecution of racist crimes
  • First aid training
  • Racism awareness and diversity training
  • Employment, discipline and complaints
  • Stop and search powers
  • Recruitment and retention of minority ethic staff
  • The role of education in the prevention of racism

The Macpherson Report—Ten Years On

On 14 July 2009 the Home Affairs Select Committee published a reporting examining the progress towards implementing Macpherson’s recommendations. The Committee concluded (page 9):

The police have made tremendous strides in the service they provide to ethnic minority communities and in countering racism amongst its workforce. 67 of Macpherson’s 70 recommendations have been implemented fully or in part in the ten years since his report was published. We were impressed by the evidence we heard about improvements in the investigation of race crimes and of critical incidents involving members of ethnic minority communities. Police leaders have shown a clear commitment to increasing awareness of race as an issue throughout the service.

A number of concerns remain outstanding. Black communities in particular are disproportionately represented in stop and search statistics and on the National DNA Database; in fact, the gap has increased since 1999. Black people are over-represented in the criminal justice system for a number of complex factors; but this does not justify this level of disproportionality. In addition, being subject to higher levels of stop and search and inclusion on the DNA Database perpetuates black people’s overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. We repeat our warning that any gains made by the use of stop and search may be offset by its potentially negative impact on community relations.

We are disappointed that the police service will not meet its target to employ 7% of its officers from ethnic minority communities nationally by 2009 and that BME officers continue to experience difficulties in achieving promotion, as well as being more likely to be subject to disciplinary procedures. The police service must now focus its efforts on tackling issues of discrimination within the workforce.

The Macpherson Report: Twenty Years On

The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into progress in twenty years since the Macpherson Report, focussing in particular on performance against the following recommendations:

“That the Home Secretary and Police Authorities should seek to ensure that the membership of police authorities reflects so far as possible the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities which those authorities serve” [this would now apply more appropriately to PCCs and their offices];

“That all possible steps should be taken by Police Services at local level in consultation with local Government and other agencies and local communities to encourage the reporting of racist incidents and crimes”;

“That Police Services and Victim Support Services ensure that their systems provide for the pro-active use of local contacts within minority ethnic communities to assist with family liaison where appropriate”;

“That police training and practical experience in the field of racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity should regularly be conducted at local level”; and “that it should be recognised that local minority ethnic communities should be involved in such training and experience”; and

“That the Home Office and Police Services should facilitate the development of initiatives to increase the number of qualified minority ethnic recruits”.

Parliamentary material 

A collection of Parliamentary material related to the Macpherson Report can be found here.

Related Library publications

Knives and offensive weapons 23 Jan 2019 | Commons Briefing papers | SN00330

Public Health Model to reduce youth violence 12 Dec 2018 | Commons Debate packs | CDP-2018-0274

Knife crime statistics 09 Nov 2018 | Commons Briefing papers | SN04304

Effect of police stop and search powers on BAME communities 22 May 2018 | Commons Debate packs | CDP-2018-0125

Serious Violence Strategy 21 May 2018 | Commons Debate packs | CDP-2018-0124

Gangs: a select bibliography 19 Feb 2016 | Commons Briefing papers | SN05264

Police stop and search powers 23 Jan 2014 | Commons Briefing papers | SN03878

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