The Macpherson inquiry was held at the Elephant and Castle in South London. Even its setting, in one of the most mixed inner city communities of London, demonstrated its desire to reflect the reality of modern Britain.
In February 1999, the Macpherson report was published. It famously labelled the Metropolitan Police ‘institutionally racist.’ There were 70 recommendations; many aimed at improving police attitudes to racism. And everything, from recruitment, to training, through to accountability, changes. So total is the overhaul, that now, The Metropolitan Police advises the police of other countries on the best methods of ‘colour blind’ policing practice. And along with these dramatic changes there were detailed ones too. For example, the reason that every police officer can now administer First Aid is because of the Macpherson recommendations. Officers failed to do so when they found Stephen.
There are legislative recommendations as well, including strengthening the Race Relations Act to dissuade against discrimination, the criminalisation of racist remarks made in private, and the ending of ‘Double Jeopardy’ so that the same person could be tried again for a crime of which they’d been acquitted.
The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 placed a new duty on public bodies to eliminate discrimination and promote racial equality.
In 2005, the double jeopardy rule was abolished. Originally intended to protect the individual from repeated investigation by the superior power of the state, breakthroughs in science and forensics meant new evidence was constantly becoming available. And now, if such evidence is found later, an application for retrial can be made.
The conviction of Dobson and Norris seems to confirm the Lawrence murder as a watershed moment in British history. Before Lawrence, overt racism was not always criticised. Now, in both professional and social circles, it is simply unacceptable, and often illegal.
“For the first time the British public saw parents, a family, whose grief was so patent and whose dignity was so clear, that everybody could identify with them. White Britain realised that, actually, black Britain and black Britons aren’t really that different. "
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality & Human Rights Council
And Stephen probably wouldn’t recognise the area in which he grew up. His local council drew up an action plan after his death and the number of ethnic minorities has gone up five-fold. There are even black and Asian families now living on the Brook estate.
But many, including the Lawrence family, believe much more still has to be done.
Big brother Stephen is still greatly missed by his younger siblings, Stuart, and Georgina.
Stephen’s mother wouldn’t let her son be buried in Britain. Instead, he was laid to rest in Jamaica. Doreen believes that if Stephen’s grave was in his home country, it would become a target for racist desecration.
“I don’t think the country deserves to have his body there anyway because they took his life.”