The Macpherson Report: Twenty-two years on Contents

8Racism and the police twenty-two years on

We believe that there should be a clarion call to seize the chance to tackle and to deal with the general problems and differing perceptions that plainly exist between the minority ethnic communities and the police. If these opportunities are not appreciated and used the Inquiry will have achieved little or nothing for the future. We do not pretend that our conclusions or recommendations will themselves solve these problems or ease these adverse and negative perceptions. We do believe that the debate about policing and racism has been transformed by this Inquiry, and that the debate thus ignited must be carried forward constructively and with imagination into action.

Source: The report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, paragraph 2.17779

473.The Macpherson report found that racism was an important factor in the “failures, mistakes, misjudgements, and lack of direction and control which bedevilled the Stephen Lawrence investigation”.780

474.Following its detailed analysis of the MPS’s handling of the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the Macpherson report concluded that institutional racism “exists both in the Metropolitan Police Service and in other Police Services and other institutions countrywide”.781 The report defined institutional racism as:782

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

475.While stressing the distinction between “individual racism” and “institutional racism” and noting that “blanket condemnation of the Police Services is both unfair and unproductive”, the report was firm in its finding of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police Service.783

476.Two lawyers who have represented Stephen Lawrence’s family, Imran Khan QC and Matthew Ryder QC, affirmed Sir William Macpherson’s analysis of the ways racism impacted the investigation of Stephen’s murder. Imran Khan told us that Macpherson had brought “racism to the fore”: his work had identified that racism was “about power structures” and was “systemic and institutional” rather than being about prejudice. Matthew Ryder told us that the “genius, and historic significance, of the Lawrence inquiry report was to embed in our national culture an understanding of racism that was more complex than the superficial understanding of racism that preceded it”.784

477.In setting out his recommendations, Sir William Macpherson wrote that the “overall aim” of his report was “the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing”.785

478.This chapter looks at the progress in achieving that aim, at the approaches taken to tackling racism within policing and at the question of racism and race equality in policing today.

Response to Macpherson and action on racism since 1999

479.Policing leaders took a proactive approach to Macpherson’s findings after the publication of his report. John Newing, then Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police and President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), reportedly described Sir William’s conclusions as an “opportunity not a threat”.786 The then Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, Paul Wilson, said that the police could now “begin to dismantle and treat the source of institutional racism”, and called for changes to prevent a disproportionate number of Black people from being stopped and searched by officers.787 However, the Police Federation reportedly stated that its members felt “battered, bruised and bewildered” by being blamed for a problem found across society. It acknowledged the existence of institutional racism but argued that the use of the term “collective failure” had implied that the whole police service was racist.788

480.On 23 March 1999, the then Home Secretary Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, published a comprehensive action plan to implement the 70 recommendations of the Macpherson report.789 In a debate on the report on 29 March 1999, the then Home Secretary told the House of Commons that:

in my judgment, the changes required by the Lawrence inquiry will work only if they are systemic—embraced by the culture of the police force as well as in its practice. That must mean that they are implemented in the mainstream of the service at every level and do not become an add-on extra.790

481.In 2000 the Race Relations (Amendment) Act was passed as a direct consequence of the Macpherson report. It introduced the race equality duty, which placed for the first time “a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality and take proactive steps to tackle discrimination, and not only to avoid discrimination or address it after it occurs”.791 It was followed in 2010 by the Equality Act which established the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which requires public bodies including the police to take steps to address racial inequalities at an institutional level. The PSED came into force on 5 April 2011 and incorporated the race equality duty alongside disability and gender equality duties. Since then police forces have been required to publish information on the action they are taking to meet the duty, including tackling race discrimination and disparities.

482.Witnesses suggested to us that the rate of progress in meeting the recommendations of the Macpherson report diminished over time. Professor Ben Bowling told us that the police service’s “commitment to anti-racist policing was short-lived”, and that “Once the political crisis for British policing around the Lawrence inquiry had been overcome, by the early 2000s, that commitment seemed to disappear from public view”.792

483.In April 2003, while head of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Diversity Directorate, Cressida Dick had said that, despite some notable improvements, the force was unlikely ever to eliminate institutional racism.793

484.Between 2003 and 2007, a number of the structures put in place by the Government to oversee the implementation of the Macpherson report changed form, which we discuss in the next chapter (Chapter nine). By 2009 the national debate on racism and policing had also started to change. Former Chair of the EHRC Trevor Phillips, the then Home Secretary, Rt Hon Jack Straw MP and the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson each distanced themselves from the term “institutional racism”, arguing that it was no longer relevant to the police service.794

485.In 2013, the then Home Secretary Rt Hon Theresa May MP raised concern about continuing race disparities in policing when she announced a review of stop and search. In August 2016, as Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May MP established the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office, with a view to shining a light on how people of different ethnicities are treated across public services by publishing data held by the Government. It first reported in October 2017 and collects data “to help government departments develop and monitor policies to reduce disparities”.795

486.In July 2020, the Prime Minister established a Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to “review inequality in the UK, focusing on areas including poverty, education, employment, health and the criminal justice system”. The Commission’s report was published on 31 March 2021.796

Race equality in policing today

487.Under the Equality Act 2010, all police forces publish information on the action they are taking to meet their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty to positively promote equality and proactively tackle discrimination. In 2018, the NPCC published a national Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategy including broad objectives on workforce diversity, inclusive culture, tackling hate crimes, community engagement and working in partnership. Forces have also published their own individual Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategies with various commitments covering issues from BME community engagement to workforce recruitment. Previous chapters have outlined evidence of significant improvements in many areas of policing over the last twenty years, including in the recognition and policing of racist crimes and in the overt commitments of individual forces and senior officers to promoting diversity and equality and driving forward positive change.

488.However, the evidence set out in previous chapters of this report shows a significant gap between the broad aims set out by forces and chief constables and the outcomes in practice. In particular, as this report has shown, there has been slow progress and persistent problems in many of the key areas identified by Macpherson. For example:

489.Several senior policing figures have accepted that issues raised by the Macpherson report have proven intractable and that overall progress has not been fast enough.

490.Former Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, the NPCC’s then lead on Race, Religion and Belief, told the Guardian in 2018 that police forces had been too slow to improve their record on race since Stephen’s murder, and that their legitimacy was being damaged by continued shortcomings. He said:

I don’t accept that everything has been done […] There have been the words, but not the actions. We need to make sure we have words and actions.797

491.Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, giving an overall assessment of progress, told the Committee that:

I think policing has moved on enormously since the time of Macpherson and society has moved on, and we have improved in many ways. But are we where we need to be now? No, in terms of those people from Black and ethnic minority groups that work in our organisations, and for our relations and our relationships with the Black community. I am definitely not in a position of saying that.798

492.Bishop Derek Webley, reflecting on the changes made to the culture of the police since the Macpherson report, told the Committee:

I feel that there have been genuine moves towards that—that is my personal view—notwithstanding that, if that is the case, there have to be questions asked about why there is this disproportionate representation in some of the key areas that affects those communities. That has been ongoing for years. To me, that speaks to a structural and systemic problem somewhere in the system.799

The response of UK policing to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement

493.As recorded at the start of our report, on 25 May 2020, while our inquiry was ongoing, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in Minneapolis USA after a White police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.800 The event sparked a wave of protests across the US and globally, and it prompted serious reflection about policing and race in the UK today, as well as renewed commitments from across Government and policing to tackle racial injustice and inequality wherever it is found. In May and June 2020 thousands of people took to the streets across the UK in solidarity with protesters in the USA, reacting to the death of George Floyd and expressing wider concerns about racial justice in our society.

494.On 3 June 2020, a joint statement was issued on behalf of Chief Constables of UK forces, the chair of the NPCC, the Chief Executive of the College of Policing and the President of the Police Superintendents’ Association. The police leaders expressed their horror at the way George Floyd had lost his life and said that “Justice and accountability should follow”. The announcement asserted that the relationship between the police and the public in the UK remained strong but acknowledged that there was “always more to do”.801

495.Since then policing leaders have made new commitments to take action on race equality. In June 2020, the National Police Chiefs’ Council announced its intention to produce an Action Plan on racial inequalities.802 In July 2020, the Independent Office of Police Conduct announced a thematic focus on race discrimination.803 In February 2021, HMICFRS announced it would be pursuing further work on race disproportionality following its work on stop and search.804

496.Individual forces and PCCs have also announced further action. Giving evidence to the Committee on 8 July 2020, MPS Commissioner Cressida Dick told us:

in the last four weeks, clearly, people have had their consciousness raised about a huge variety of issues in relation to our black communities, and I am listening to that. I am listening to my own staff. I am listening to the public. I am prepared to see this as a time when we take another big step forward in the way that we did, I believe, 20 years ago.805

497.As we discussed previously in chapter four, the Mayor of London published an action plan in November 2020 to improve Black Londoners’ trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service.806 Following publication of the Mayor of London’s Action Plan the Commissioner welcomed it, acknowledging that her force was not “free of discrimination, racism or bias”.807 She added that her force has “zero tolerance of racism” and that her “job is to continue to try to eliminate any such racism and discrimination, however it appears”.808

498.Significant changes have been introduced by many forces in the last twelve months, including new policies, and new community oversight panels to address issues like stop and search. In particular some forces such as Nottinghamshire have made notable progress in improving BME recruitment. This is discussed in chapter four.

499.In an interview with the Guardian in March 2021 Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said that racial inequality in policing remained “a wicked and challenging issue” and that “the only conclusion you can draw is that we have to do some things differently”.809

500.The murder of George Floyd and its global impact shone a spotlight on the race inequality and injustice that are still features of our society. It is an important step forward that political and policing leaders have come together in recognition of the fact that racial injustice persists in our society and have expressed determination to eliminate it as well as starting to introduce reforms. However, it should not have required video footage of the murder of a Black man by a police officer and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests to concentrate the minds of the Government and the police on the imperative of race equality.

501.This report recognises the many significant changes that have been made on issues raised in the Macpherson report twenty-two years ago, including the major improvements in the way the police deal with racist crimes, and the public commitments by forces and senior officers to diversity and race equality. We also welcome the increased focus on race equality over the last twelve months. However, our inquiry has also identified very serious and persistent shortcomings across the police service with regard to racial inequalities and racism in important areas that still have not been addressed after more than two decades. The central aim of the 70 recommendations published by Macpherson was to “eliminate racist prejudice and disadvantage and demonstrate fairness in aspects of policing”. More than two decades later this aim still has not been met.

Approaches to tackling racism and promoting race equality

502.In the course of this inquiry we heard evidence of different approaches to race equality. We have considered unconscious bias and prejudice in the attitudes of individuals as well as racism in structures, cultures and policies at an institutional or organisational level.

Individual prejudice and unconscious bias

503.The Macpherson report drew a distinction between “overt individual racism” and what it described as “pernicious and persistent institutional racism”, making clear that neither should have any place in policing. Overt racism is a serious breach of the 2014 Policing Code of Ethics and the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 and should be dealt with in the police complaints system and the police misconduct system which provide for police officers to be disciplined or dismissed for racist behaviour. The Committee is investigating the effectiveness of the police conduct and complaints system in a separate inquiry.

504.Police forces have told us about their work to address racial stereotyping, unwitting prejudice and unconscious bias. As discussed in chapter six, the IOPC has recently raised concerns about racial profiling in stop and searches, and the decision-making of individual officers being influenced by assumptions informed by the race of people being stopped and searched, following its analysis of five complaints made against police officers in London. Inspector Popple of the West Midlands Police told us that “it would be naive to ignore that there is bias in individual officers” and described how his Fairness in Policing Team was working to address problems.810 The NPCC and many individual forces have set out Diversity, Inclusion and Equality strategies which include objectives around establishing an inclusive workplace culture. HMICFRS told us that police forces have almost ubiquitously introduced training for some or all of their officers on unconscious bias.


505.The Macpherson report concluded that “The need for training of police officers in addressing racism and valuing cultural diversity is plain”.811 The report included seven recommendations on training–key among them that “all police officers, including CID and civilian staff, should be trained in racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity” and, further,

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.812

506.John Azah of Kingston Race and Equalities Council told us that there was initially a lot of progressive action on racism training following the publication of the Macpherson report (between 1999–2009), including critical incident training which “used simulation and methodology to recreate live incidents […]”. However, that training had since been “gradually decreased” or “watered down”, with organisations seeming to focus on other priorities.813 He added that the issues which led to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry were now hardly mentioned and that training on institutional racism should be mandatory.814

507.In 2017 HMICFRS recorded that “most forces had embarked on training some or all of their officers and staff on unconscious bias”, describing it in the following terms:

Personal biases are influenced by factors including people’s background, personal experiences and occupational culture, and these can affect our decision making. When people have to make quick decisions these biases can, without them realising, cause them to put particular groups of people at a disadvantage.815

508.The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has reported that most unconscious bias training (UBT) raised awareness of and could reduce implicit bias. However it also noted that this training had less effect on explicit bias or discrimination (i.e. changing the attitudes and beliefs held about a person or group on a conscious level) and stated there was limited evidence that UBT led to subsequent behaviour change. It recommended that organisations implementing UBT should undertake follow-up work to assess its effectiveness and ensure that UBT was part of a wider organisational change programme where structures, policies and procedures were examined as well.816

509.Professor Iris Bohnet, the behavioural economist and Academic Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, has also highlighted research showing there is limited evidence that Unconscious Bias Training influences behaviour. She argued instead that organisations need to ‘design out’ bias through different systems and processes.817

510.These conclusions have been echoed in evidence to our inquiry. Matthew Ryder QC told the Committee that unconscious bias training was “a valuable concept” in explaining elements of human behaviour and interaction but that it did not address the “imbalances of power within organisations in a way that will produce remedy or change”.818

511.Sergeant Munro, former President of the National Black Police Association, said that unconscious bias training did not address racial inequality. He added:

Somebody might come back and say, “Yeah, I understand that my unconscious bias is that I don’t like Gypsies or I don’t like people who wear turbans”. You have to go on to that next stage and ensure that you actually deal with that issue with that particular person.819

512.Returning to this issue in its 2021 report on Disproportionate use of police powers HMICFRS found that focusing on personal biases through training and diversity policies was “not enough to create a diverse and inclusive organisation”. It concluded that:

Training can be effective in promoting knowledge and skills in the short term, but only if it is part of a continuing programme rather than a one-off session, and in the context of wider activities. […] Without an inclusive and supportive organisational climate and culture, diversity training or a diversity policy is unlikely to have an impact. Force leaders and managers need to understand that training will not work, and policies will not be complied with, unless the organisational culture supports it. This means that leaders need to take action to actively promote and encourage an inclusive culture to ensure it becomes established in everyday activity.820

513.The Metropolitan Police Service told us that it has begun to supplement unconscious bias training with further training that addresses race inequalities and disparities. During oral evidence in July 2020 Helen Ball, who is Assistant Commissioner for Professionalism in the Metropolitan Police Service, told us that the force was reviewing the training given to officers:

to make sure that they really are thinking about the needs of the particular community and the individual, making sure that they have addressed any bias that they might hold, talking to them about London’s histories and our particular communities and the ways that they might respond to us.821

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner added that she believed these changes would lead to training being “very much better and more in tune with communities”. She described the training as going beyond “diversity and inclusion” and including “anti-racist training, certainly, and much better coaching for the individuals and much more supervision and support for them when they are first going out on the streets”.822

514.In follow-up written evidence, the Commissioner told us that the priority within this new training was to support “how the organisation builds trust and confidence with the communities that our new officers serve, recognising community specific experiences of inequalities and disproportionality in a policing context”.823

515.There remains a concern about leadership and force culture across the 43 forces, as well as for new recruits. HMICFRS, in its February 2021 report, stated that more needed to be done on training to “prevent unfair behaviour”. It noted the variability in provision of “regular and effective training on how to prevent unfair behaviour” and urged forces to “ensure that leaders do this training and have extra coaching on how to create a force culture that doesn’t tolerate this behaviour”.824

516.Individual bias and prejudice have no place in policing. Where they persist they must be strongly challenged, including through robust disciplinary action and dismissals for unacceptable racist behaviour. Individual forces must be vigilant and proactive in shaping their organisational culture, with training and management systems in place to address the conscious and unconscious biases and prejudices of individual officers.

517.Training for officers in addressing racism and valuing cultural diversity remains as important now as it was when the Macpherson report recommended it twenty-two years ago. But we are concerned by the disproportionate reliance on unconscious bias training that was apparent in the evidence we received. We recommend that training involves an explicit focus on anti-racism which should include examining racial disparities and seeking to reduce differences in experience and outcomes by racial and ethnic group.

518.We would like to see consistency in the quality and content of training delivered at a local and service wide level. To this end we recommend a comprehensive review and overhaul of training on racism, diversity and equality, led by the College of Policing and assisted by the Home Office. Its purpose should be to draw up clear national standards on anti-racist training for all police officers and staff. It should consider specifically how to involve local communities in drawing up training programmes and ways to draw on the experience of those who face the consequences of racism in the communities the police serve. It should include training to identify and question racial disparities within structures, policy and institutional culture, in addition to unconscious bias.

519.It is essential also for leaders to set an example by undertaking this anti-racism training, shaping the organisational culture of their forces, confronting unfair behaviour among officers and addressing structures that disadvantage and discriminate.

Racism in structures, culture and policies

520.Throughout the inquiry. We heard concerns that there had been a wider shift in race equality policies to focus on considering race at the level of the individual and their potential for unconscious bias, without also looking at questions of race and racism in structures and organisations. Witnesses told us that reflected a change of approach since the period immediately following the Macpherson report and raised with us the importance of addressing not just individual conscious and unconscious bias but also race disparities in outcomes, and of challenging racism within policies, structures, organisational culture and institutions.

521.The Metropolitan Black Police Association told us in written evidence that the police service had “restructured the narrative on race into an acceptable form via the introduction of ‘unconscious bias’”.825 The National Black Police Association similarly identified a “narrative shift from ‘racism to unconscious bias’”.826

522.Imran Khan QC told the Committee that the shift of focus to unconscious bias had undermined progress:

It is used as an excuse, I’m afraid […] I do not think it [unconscious bias] is a helpful term, because it allows people to say, “I’m not deliberately doing this, and therefore you can forgive me”. Structures are being put in place, resulting in discriminatory outcome. That is what it is. I do not know how you would discover unconscious bias. What would you point to in order to say that somebody is unconsciously biased?827

523.Jane Deighton, a founding partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn who represents Stephen Lawrence’s friend Duwayne Brooks OBE, argued that:

There has been a real backsliding in concepts around racism. Macpherson talked about racism and racial prejudices, attitudes and disadvantages. We hear more about unconscious bias and disproportionality now. They are all symptoms of the core wrong that is racism [… but that ] gives rise to a more practical problem: because racism is not confronted overtly, the police service tend to be extremely defensive where it is confronted.828

524.Matthew Ryder QC also expressed concern that twenty years on, “we are now slipping backwards” and “having to re-argue and fight again over the concepts established by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report”.

525.As we have set out in previous chapters we have seen problems in areas ranging from misconduct referrals which appear to disadvantage BME officers, to stop and search policies on drug possession which increased disproportionality, and force failures to investigate or monitor unexplained race disparities despite clear instructions to do so from national policing bodies. Each of these reflect wider problems with policies or organisational approaches that go beyond individual bias.

526.Witnesses set out a range of different approaches to analysing and tackling problems with race inequalities within structures and organisations.

The concept of institutional racism and the Macpherson report

527.Sir William Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism focused on “[t]he collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.829

528.The report cited the following factors as relevant to its finding of institutional racism:

The Macpherson report emphasised that the definition of institutional racism was not “cast in stone”.830

529.We heard different views from witnesses about whether institutional racism continued to exist within the police service, and whether it was a useful concept to apply to policing today.

530.Inspector Mustafa Mohammed QPM, President of the National Association of Muslim Police, told us that institutional racism still existed within the police service but argued that it had a “different face” in the guise of “procedural injustices for performance, selection, discipline, inequality of opportunity”. He added that institutional racism was no longer blatant but instead operated “below the surface” manifesting itself in “processes/procedures and inequality of opportunity”.831 The Metropolitan Black Police Association wrote that the lived experience of BME people was still one of racism and discrimination.832 The National Black Police Association spoke of continued “discrimination and resistance to race equality in policing”833 and Matthew Ryder QC told us that:

We have the spectacle of senior people in public authorities saying, “There’s no institutional racism in my organisation,” despite huge disproportionalities in how they are treating Black people versus White people”.834

531.The Metropolitan Police Commissioner questioned the value of the concept of institutional racism in oral evidence in 2019. She told the Committee that “I do not think the label is a useful label in any sense at all for the Metropolitan Police of 2019 or indeed a police service at the moment”. She said that it did “more harm than good” as it alienated people from the police service.835 She argued that:

They hear it not as institutional, they hear it as racist, […]. It stops people wanting to give us intelligence, give us evidence, come and join us, work with us. It is such a toxic thing to say that it affects the public and public safety, I believe, in a negative way and it suggests, also, that the Met of today is just like the one of 20 years ago, which is also patently untrue and unfair in so many respects.836

532.During the course of the last year, we have seen new reflections by senior police officers on the nature and depth of the problems around policing and race equality. Neil Basu, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner and the UK’s highest-ranking officer from an ethnic minority, reflected in June 2020 on racism in policing and in wider society following the Black Lives Matter movement, telling Channel 4 News that

If institutional racism means that your policies and processes within your institution are racist, it [the Metropolitan Police Service] is not institutionally racist. If institutionally racist means there aren’t equal outcomes for everyone regardless of their faith or colour, then we haven’t reached that point yet ... the point is, the battle against racism in society isn’t won.837

In an article for the Guardian published on the same day he wrote that the “huge disparity in young Black men in the criminal justice system” was evidence of “the racial bias built into the very fabric of institutions and society”.838

533.While Dame Cressida Dick told us in July 2020 that her force was “not collectively failing in all the ways described in Sir William’s definition” and that [racism] was “not a massive systemic problem. It is not institutionalised”,839 she added that she had “never suggested that the Met is completely free of bias or discrimination, or that there is no racism”.840

534.Towards the end of 2020 MOPAC reported from the consultation on its Action Plan that the question of “whether institutional racism continues to exist in the MPS… remains a deeply contentious point, with passionate arguments on both sides”. The MOPAC report did not come to a conclusion on the point but said that

“the fact that this question is still being asked demonstrates how much more work needs to be done to ensure that the MPS has the trust and confidence of all Black Londoners.841

535.In March 2021 the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt said that:

The whole point of that question about are you or aren’t you [institutionally racist] is actually saying: do you accept that there are issues in policing in relation to race equality? And I am saying absolutely there are issues in policing in relation to race equality as there are with every other part of society, and every other organisation.

We absolutely recognise that where we are now is not where we want to be, whether that’s internally for our own staff, or whether externally for the relationship that we have with Black communities and the service we provide to Black communities.842

Race equality in public sector institutions and the Public Sector Equality Duty

536.Following the Macpherson report, successive Governments have sought to embed in the law the responsibility to address racism and discrimination within public policies, institutions and structures, although “institutional racism” itself has never been established as a legal concept. The Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) are in part a legacy of the Macpherson report’s conclusions on institutional racism as they build upon the original race equality duty introduced after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, although neither the Equality Act 2010 nor the previous Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 used “institutional racism” as a legal concept. They establish an active approach to tackling institutionalised discrimination, including racism, within policies, procedures and organisations. Public institutions including police forces are required as part of that Equality Duty to have due regard in the exercise of their functions to the need to eliminate discrimination, whether direct or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated less favourably due to a protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination exists where there is a policy, practice or rule that applies to everyone in the same way, but places people with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage. The duty is designed to address hidden or inadvertent discrimination, where there is a discriminatory outcome without direct discrimination.843

537.The EHRC is responsible for assessing whether institutions have breached the Equality Act 2010 including breaches on grounds of race, which is one of the protected characteristics. It told us that “the purpose of the PSED is to integrate the consideration of equality across the protected characteristics in public authorities’ day-to-day decision-making” and it was intended “to prompt public bodies to identify the main inequalities in their area of responsibility, set objectives to improve outcomes in relation to those inequalities, and put in place targeted plans to deliver change”.844 As public bodies policing organisations and forces are, as a consequence of the duty, under an obligation to have due regard to the need to identify and eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between groups.

538.‘Institutional racism’ is not a legal concept, nor does the EHRC apply it as a test against which to investigate or judge individual institutions. In oral evidence Bevan Powell, former Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, suggested “bringing institutional racism under the Equality Act”, and in written evidence he suggested that the Act should put the concept on a “legislative footing” with “clearly defined primary indicators and risk factors, which can be monitored and measured”, which could trigger enforcement action.845

539.Melanie Field of the EHRC told us that “the race equality duty was a really important legislative change that … ha[d] not fulfilled its potential”; the ambition for the PSED as its successor was for it to “harness the power of the public sector to tackle these big issues” but she noted that “clear ownership and leadership … and clarity about what the key issues are” were needed to have a real effect on the “entrenched disadvantage” experienced by BME communities.846

Contemporary analysis of racial inequality within public institutions, policies and structures

540.In recent years there have been other significant investigations of racial inequality in parts of Government and the criminal justice system that have considered structural inequalities. While these investigations were outside the scope of our inquiry we note here the aspects of three reports which have informed our thinking on this complex issue.

The Lammy Review

541.The 2017 Lammy Review proposed a new practical approach for institutions and organisations within the criminal justice system to address racial disparities and inequality within their organisations or linked to their policies and programmes. The Review, which examined the treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system, proposed an ‘explain or reform’ rule for the Criminal Justice System:

If there are apparent disparities by ethnic group, then the emphasis should be on institutions in the system to provide an evidence-based explanation for them. If such an explanation cannot be provided, action should be taken to close the disparity. This principle would change the default. The expectation should be placed on institutions to either provide answers which explain disparities or take action to eradicate them.847

The Government accepted this recommendation and announced that it would “embrace Lammy’s underpinning principles, including that of ‘explain or change’”.848

542.Matthew Ryder QC told the Committee that “explain or change” was a “fundamental practice that needs to be embedded in the way we look at race in public institutions”.849

The Wendy Williams Review

543.In the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, Wendy Williams made use of “institutional racism as a concept” to shed light on “institutional factors, race and equalities” as part of her examination of the organisational failings in the Home Office in the context of the Windrush scandal.

544.As part of her approach, while recognising that institutional racism was “not a concept defined in legislation”, Wendy Williams developed an approach to assessing whether the term “institutional racism” should be applied to the Home Office today. Drawing on the Macpherson report conclusions she identified six tests against which institutional racism might be measured and used these to assess the Home Office:

a)the lack of urgency in investigating the incident and failing to see its relationship with race

b)evidence of negative stereotyping of racial groups by staff fostered through workplace culture

c)underreporting to the organisation by BAME individuals due to a perception that their cases would not be taken seriously

d)the lack of training within the organisation of racism awareness and race relations

e)the failure of the organisation to unequivocally recognise, acknowledge and accept the problem

f)the use of racially insensitive language and terms by officers/staff without understanding as to how such language could be offensive.850

545.After assessing the Home Office against those same elements, the Wendy Williams Review found evidence of (a), (c), (d) and (e) but not (b) and (f) in the Home Office’s treatment of the Windrush generation, and concluded that the Department had demonstrated “an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.851

Sewell report

546.On 31 March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, established by the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP and chaired by Dr Tony Sewell published its report which included analysis and discussions on race disparities, institutional racism, structural and systemic racism.

547.The Commission’s report and conclusions provoked strong reactions on all sides and we have not considered or taken evidence on either the Commission’s analysis or its conclusions. We note that whilst the report included discussions and recommendations on hate crime, violent crime, stop and search, community confidence, and ethnic minority recruitment in policing and considered progress against Government commissioned reviews relating to racial disparity since 2010, it did not look in detail at the outcomes and implementation of the Macpherson report.

548.The Commission did include consideration of the concept of institutional racism and other approaches to analysing racial disparities and inequality within structures and organisations. The report stated that Sir William Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism had “stood the test of time”852 but also argued that the term has come to be used too casually, without being sufficiently evidenced,853 “as a general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting”.854 The Commission proposed definitions for the terms ‘Explained racial disparities’, ‘Unexplained racial disparities’, ‘Institutional racism’, ‘Systemic racism’ and ‘Structural racism.’ It proposed that institutional racism be defined as “applicable to an institution that is racist or [to] discriminatory processes, attitudes or behaviour in a single institution.”855

549.The report sets out only two examples of the kinds of evidence that it believes would demonstrate institutional racism: attitudinal surveys of individual prejudice or expectations and “tests of aggregate prejudices such as CV studies”.856 We note that this is a much narrower approach to evidence than either the Macpherson or the Wendy Williams approach. Our inquiry has also not considered the Commission’s conclusions on the evidence for the existence of institutional racism today, nor the alternative and opposing views that were put forward by other groups and organisations at the time of its publication.

550.The Public Sector Equality Duty and the Equality Act 2010 are a part of the legacy of the Macpherson Report’s important work on institutional racism, as they build on the race equality duty that was introduced in response to the report’s findings. Under the Act the police, as public bodies, must have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and advance race equality. They have a responsibility as institutions to tackle indirect as well as direct discrimination including taking steps to prevent inequality not just to respond once it arises. But whilst police forces have set out broad public strategies to do this, progress has been too weak in practice and we do not believe that policing has taken seriously enough its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 in recent years.

551.Since the Macpherson report was published there have been important and welcome improvements in policing, and we have found that policing today is very different from twenty-two years ago. Our inquiry has seen evidence of significant improvements in the policing of racist crimes and hate crimes: in the commitment of forces and senior officers to promoting diversity and equality, in good examples of local community policing, in new policies and recent progress among some forces in recruitment. That is of course the very least we would expect in the several decades since Stephen Lawrence’s murder.

552.But our inquiry has also found that despite many years of commitments being made to race equality by the police service and the Home Office, there are still persistent, deep rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas. The failure to make sufficient progress on BME recruitment, retention and progression, troubling race disparities in the police misconduct system, unjustified inequalities in the use of key police powers such as stop and search and a worrying decline in confidence and trust in the police among some BME communities point to structural problems which disadvantage BME groups. Examination of individual bias without also directly focusing on the processes that enable disparities in outcomes will not improve the experiences of BME groups. We are most concerned about those areas where police forces are not taking even the most basic action to implement existing recommendations aimed at tackling racism or, where they have failed to collate rigorous and consistent data that would allow them to investigate, understand and address racial disparities or injustices that arise.

553.Our objective has been to consider progress, twenty-two years on, against the key Macpherson themes and recommendations which we set out in chapter one. We have not sought to carry out the kind of in-depth exercise in respect of individual policing institutions that either Macpherson conducted into the Metropolitan Police or that Wendy Williams conducted into the Home Office. As a result, we have not been in a position to apply the tests of institutional racism that, for example, Wendy Williams used (see paragraph 545) but nor was that our intention in this inquiry. However, the breadth of our inquiry and our analysis of the evidence we have gathered in relation to the different recommendations specified by Sir William Macpherson has led us to the following conclusions.

554.Firstly, we take extremely seriously the views of Black and minority ethnic police organisations who repeatedly told us that they continue to experience and bear witness to institutional racism in our police forces today, and believe that this testimony alone should be grounds enough for policing leaders, the Home Office and Government to take seriously the imperative for change across policing institutions and practice. Like MOPAC, we consider the fact that the question as to whether police forces and policing practice are institutionally racist is still being asked and debated demonstrates how much more work needs to be done to ensure the police service has the trust and confidence of BME communities.

555.Secondly, the evidence we have gathered shows that the impetus for change from the “clarion call” of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry has not been sustained. In 1999 the House of Commons was told by the then Home Secretary that the changes required by the Macpherson report would “work only if they are systemic–embraced by the culture of the police force as well as in its practice, implemented in the mainstream of the service at every level”. Our findings have shown that whilst the mainstream of the service has changed substantially in some areas - for example on the response to racist crimes - in others such as recruitment, misconduct or community confidence, essential changes have yet to be embraced.

556.We recognise that the devolved nature of policing means that there are variations in policies, cultures and outcomes between individual forces and institutions. However, based on the evidence we have received, we believe that whilst there have been improvements in important areas, there are continued shortcomings that go beyond individual bias and that amount to a systematic failure on the part of the police service and governments, over many years, to take race inequality in policing seriously enough and as a result to eliminate it from policing in line with the objective set by Macpherson over two decades ago.

557.Thirdly, we note the different approaches to assessing “institutional racism”–the description in the Macpherson report, the six tests developed by Wendy Williams, the criteria proposed by the Sewell Commission, and the approach to assessing and tackling discrimination and racism within public institutions set out in the Equality Act 2010. We believe that the concept of institutional racism set out by the Macpherson report remains extremely important today and that institutions must be able to challenge themselves and to be held publicly to account over inequalities in outcomes, and racism manifested through policies and procedures, as well as within individual attitudes.

558.We believe that it would therefore be helpful to build consensus around a framework for measuring and assessing institutional racism within individual organisations, using the approach Wendy Williams applied in her consideration of the operations of the Home Office as a starting point. We recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission undertakes work to determine a framework against which individual institutions including police forces should be rigorously assessed.

559.Fourthly, police forces must strengthen their approach to tackling the systemic problems of race inequality that we have identified. Forces should adopt the approach set out in the David Lammy review of the Criminal Justice System: explain or change. That must mean monitoring, assessing and robustly investigating race disparities so that only robust and evidence-based explanations are accepted; and where forces cannot explain disparities, they must set out changes to eliminate them. At a national level, policing organisations and the Home Office should be holding forces accountable for doing so. Recent comments by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Dame Cressida Dick and Martin Hewitt, as well as new initiatives from the NPCC, HMICFRS, the IOPC and from individual PCCs and Chief Constables suggest that police leaders recognise the importance now of taking a ‘big step forward’ - but they must now make good on their intent by rigorously examining their institutions, explaining the disparities we have highlighted, or changing their organisations and practices to eradicate them.

560.The Macpherson report led to major changes in attitudes towards racism and to progress on race equality both in policing and across society. However that early momentum was not sustained and persistent problems were not addressed. Now that there is a new focus on challenging racism and on the very same objectives set out by the Macpherson report, it is vital that this time progress is sustained and made permanent. It will take a focused, sustained and determined effort on the part of all policing institutions and Government to address those structural problems that stand in the way of eliminating racist prejudice and disadvantage, and demonstrating fairness in all aspects of policing—the ambition of the Macpherson report twenty-two years ago.

779 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 2.17 February 1999.

780 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.44, p51, February 1999.

781 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.39, p50, February 1999.

782 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.34 ,p49, February 1999.

783 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.6, pp 41–42, February 1999.

785 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, rec. 2, p375, February 1999.

786 BBC News, Painful reading for police, 24 February 1999.

787 BBC News, Painful reading for police, 24 February 1999.

788 BBC News, Painful reading for police, 24 February 1999.

789 The National Archives, Stephen Lawrence Inquiry documents, Home Secretary’s Action Plan, archived on 6 August 2009.

791 MPR0025 Equality and Human Rights Commission; Summary of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 .

792 Q23.

794 Phillips clears police of racism, 19 January 2009; Met is ‘no longer racist’ – Straw 22 February 2009; Met no longer institutionally racist, says commissioner, the Guardian 24 February 2009

795 Gov .UK, Race Disparity Unit, About us, [accessed 22 April 2021].

797 The Guardian, Police ‘too slow to change’ after Stephen Lawrence murder, 18 April 2018; Note that Jon Boutcher stepped down as Bedfordshire Chief Constable on 5 July 2019.

798 Q86.

800 See chapter one.

805 Q13.

811 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 46.34, p372, February 1999.

812 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, rec. 50, p380, February 1999.

813 MPR0026 Kingston Race and Equalities Council.

814 MPR0026 Kingston Race and Equalities Council.

815 HMICFRS, PEEL: Police legitimacy 2017, p13, December 2017.

816 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Doyin Atewologun, Tinu Cornish and Fatima Tresh Unconscious Bias Training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness, March 2018.

817 Iris Bohnet, What Works: Gender Equality By Design, Harvard University Press (2016).

823 MAC0051, Dame Cressida Dick DBE QPM (Commissioner at Metropolitan Police Service)

825 MPR0032 Metropolitan Black Police Association.

826 MPR0004 National Black Police Association.

829 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.34, p49, February 1999.

830 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, para. 6.6, pp 41–42, February 1999.

831 MPR0039 National Association of Muslim Police.

832 MPR0032 Metropolitan Black Police Association.

833 MPR0004 National Black Police Association.

841 Mayor of London, Action Plan: Transparency, Accountability and Trust in Policing, 13 November 2020, p12.

843 Judiciary.UK, Equality Act 2010.

844 MPR0025, Equality and Human Rights Commission.

845 MPR0057 Bevan Powell MBE, former Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association (MetBPA); Q62.

850 Home Office, Windrush Lessons Learned Review, March 2020, p116.

851 Home Office, Windrush Lessons Learned Review, March 2020, p116, p7.

Published: 30 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement