Yesterday many organisations celebrated St Georges Day, a day which for some small extremist groups has become a token for racism and extreme nationalism, but many more such as uniformed youth groups mark the day to celebrate the good things which our nation can be proud of. I recall when Brighton was being impacted over several years by visits by the English Defence League causing a major challenge to our city and costing us all a great deal of money, my thoughts were that the celebrations in Crawley were something much closer to what our nation should aim for. Yesterday was also the 25th Anniversary of the death of a young man who would today have been 44 had his life not ended as a result of the actions of people whose own racist attitudes may well link them to some of the groups referred to above. The Lawrence family are understandably keen to see his case brought to some form of closure. It seems deeply tragic that the significant gains which society now benefits from which came as a result of his death, needed something as appalling as his murder and a disastrous first investigation to bring them into reality. The contribution to society by Doreen Lawrence would no doubt have been significant had Stephen not been attacked, however the prospect of her becoming known as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon would never have happened had Stephen remained alive. As society reflects on the failings by various Governments of different political parties over matters such as the Windrush scandal, perhaps now is the time to remove from the House of Lords every man and woman who has previously served as an elected politician and is therefore potentially linked to such failings.
Another benefit to society as a consequence of the murder, was the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry that began in 1997 and was completed in 1999 by Sir William Macpherson. The inquiry specifically focused on the failings by the Metropolitan Police, although many of the 70 recommendations relate to the way in which every police service operates. However Macphersons judgement was not limited to the work of the Police and outside of the formal inquiry he proposed that recommendation 5 should apply to the whole public sector. This recommendation is that the public sector should undergo “regular inspection, public reporting and informed independent advice.” Here in Sussex it took around 4 years for this recommendation to become fully implemented by our Police service with the introduction of the Independent Advisory Group. Some other services such as GP practices have also adopted the same sort of approach; however there are many parts of the public sector including Central Government that have ignored this recommendation. As we mark 25 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence and nearly 20 years since the Macpherson report, perhaps now would be a good time to ask all public sector bodies how they ensure their service provision does not operate in isolation from the people they are supposed to be serving?
The impact of Stephens’s murder and subsequent inquiry on policing has certainly been significant. As Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable stated, the murder case “defined my generation of policing”. However the policing recommendations include at least one element that has been overtaken by subsequent government policies and perhaps now needs to be reviewed. Recommendation 7 stated “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”. In introducing the role of Police and Crime Commissioner, the coalition Government removed Police Authorities altogether. I agree with many people who argued that there were weaknesses in the Police Authority structure. However the Police and Crime Panels which were created to hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account clearly lack teeth apart from in a very narrow area of the PCCs work. This is a significant failing in the design of the PCC role. Their make up in settings where the public chooses to elect a party political PCC, reflects the PCC (or people from their opposing parties) rather than anyone in the wider population. Even where the PCC is Independent of political parties such as in Dorset and Gloucester, the PCP is still made up of the political parties in the County, not of people who reflect the community. Every PCP has 2 independent members, but they are in a small minority, whereas in the Police Authorities thanks to Macpherson they were the largest group. As we note the death of Stephen, now would be a good time to challenge the make up of our PCP in the light of recommendation 7 of the inquiry into his death!