Police racism fails to oust London chief

Official refuses to quit despite scathing report

February 23, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Despite a scathing report that accuses his force of "pernicious and institutionalized racism," London's embattled police chief said yesterday that he won't resign.

Sir Paul Condon's struggle to remain commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police is emerging as a key issue as Britain prepares for tomorrow's formal release of a report into the 1993 racial killing of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black student.

London's police botched the Lawrence murder investigation. Five men were arrested. Charges against two were dropped, and three others were acquitted. The case and the police flaws it exposed generated a national examination of law enforcement attitudes toward minorities.

"If I thought going could somehow draw a line under it, I wouldn't hesitate," Condon told the Evening Standard. He vowed to serve until his scheduled retirement in January. The interview was conducted before the report leaked, but Condon said yesterday he stood by the comments.

Before its formal release, the report has aroused great controversy. Britain's Home Secretary Jack Straw obtained a court injunction to block the Sunday Telegraph from publishing leaked extracts from the report, although the first edition had rolled off the presses. Facing fierce criticism, Straw backed down, enabling other media outlets to publish the extracts.

Last night, Condon saw the full contents of the report, as did Lawrence's parents, whose struggle for justice turned into a national campaign.

Leaked extracts of the report compiled by Sir William Macpherson, a retired judge, describe a police force where racism in the ranks is a "corrosive disease."

"There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutionalized racism and its nature before it can be addressed," the report states.

Condon has consistently denied the force was "institutionally racist." But according to the Evening Standard, he is prepared to accept the report's definition of the term that was believed to be first used in the 1960s by black activist Stokely Carmichael.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the report makes 70 recommendations to reform race relations in the police and British society. It calls for race-relations training for all 127,000 police officers in England and Wales and teaching cultural diversity in schools. It also recommends making it a crime to use racist language.

In a radical move, the report calls for the Court of Appeal to be empowered to permit prosecutions after an earlier acquittal if new and important evidence is available.

Such a move might pave the way for the retrial of the suspects in the Lawrence case. But it would also weaken a defendant's right against "double jeopardy."

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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