The crisis engulfing the Metropolitan police following fresh revelations about the Stephen Lawrence case intensified on Friday night as the leader of its black officers’ association called on the commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to admit that the force was still institutionally racist.
Janet Hills, chair of the Met’s black police association, told the Guardian that the report by Mark Ellison QC into alleged police wrongdoing in the Lawrence case was the latest example of the force failing the communities it serves.
Her comments came as the repercussions from Ellison’s report, commissioned by the home secretary, led the Met to move its head of counter-terrorism, Commander Richard Walton, out of his post after he was caught up in allegations that a police “spy” was placed close to the Lawrence family.
The first public inquiry into the Lawrence case by Sir William Macpherson in 1999 resulted in the force being branded “institutionally racist” for its failings that led the teenager’s killers to escape justice.
Years later the Met said the label no longer applied because it had improved so much, but the leader of the Met’s own ethnic minority officers disagreed.
Hills said: “We believe the Met is still institutionally racist.” She said this was shown by issues such as higher rates of stop and search against black people, and “the representation of ethnic minorities within the organisation, where ethnic minorities are still stuck in the junior ranks”. She added: “For me, it lies in the fact there has been no change, no progression.”
In his first public comments, Hogan-Howe accepted that the Ellison report was “devastating” and the London mayor Boris Johnson, who has responsibility for policing in the capital, described as “sickening” Ellison’s conclusion that a detective in the Lawrence murder investigation may have been corrupt.
Hills said: “The Ellison report’s revelations came because of continuing pressure from the Lawrence family. It’s only because the Lawrence family are fighting for justice that all this is coming out, and there will be more to come.”
Hills said Hogan-Howe should publicly accept that, 15 years on from Macpherson, Britain’s biggest police force – serving a city where 40% and rising are from ethnic minorities – was still “institutionally racist”. She said: “It would be good to hear him acknowledge that … For community trust and confidence he needs to take ownership.”
Johnson defended the Met’s record on race and said confidence was rising in the force Hogan-Howe leads: “He is right to continue and accelerate the work of recruiting a police force that resembles the community it serves.
There has been good progress in recent years in recruiting from ethnic minorities, but there is still some way to go. I know Sir Bernard is determined to get there, and I am sure that we can.”
Ellison’s revelations that the Met had a “spy in the Lawrence camp” during the Macpherson inquiry led the force to announce it would “temporarily” move Walton from his post as head of counter-terrorism, one of the most sensitive jobs in British policing. He has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
In August 1998, Walton, then an acting detective inspector, was helping to prepare the Met’s submission to the Macpherson inquiry. He secretly met an undercover officer – described by Ellison as being “positioned close to the Lawrence family campaign” to exchange “fascinating and valuable” information about the grieving family. Some of that information passed from the undercover officer included details on Doreen and Neville Lawrence’s marriage.
Neville Lawrence last night called the revelations “disgusting”, telling the Daily Mail: “It’s unbelievable. They have mocked everything we have done, telling us to our faces that they are listening and things will change, and all the time laughing behind our backs.
“I think they are actually worse than criminals because these officers get paid with taxpayers’ money for what they do.”
Ellison found Walton’s conflicting accounts of the meeting “unconvincing, and somewhat troubling”.
He offered a different version of the purpose of this meeting last month after Ellison told him that he was facing criticism in the report.
Walton was moved to a non-operational role. It comes as the Met faces withering criticism from the home secretary down over the new revelations about its behaviour during the Lawrence case.
Hogan-Howe said the publication of the Ellison report marked one of the worst days of his police career.
He vowed to reform the force, and told London’s Evening Standard: “I cannot rewrite history and the events of the past but I do have a responsibility to ensure the trust and the confidence of the people of London in the Met now and in the future.”
Theresa May branded the Lawrence revelations, some 21 years after the murder, as “profoundly shocking and disturbing”, adding that “policing stands damaged today”. She said the full truth had yet to emerge.
Lord Condon, Met commissioner at the time of the “spy” in the Lawrence camp, denied any knowledge of the deployment, telling the House of Lords: “At no stage did I ever authorise, or encourage, or know about any action by any undercover officer in relation to Mr and Mrs Lawrence or their friends or supporters or the Macpherson inquiry hearings. Had I known I would have stopped this action immediately as inappropriate.”The fallout after the Ellison report is also reaching the courts. Two campaigners are to appeal against their convictions, alleging that an undercover police officer took part in their protest and set fire to a branch of Debenhams, causing damage totalling more than £300,000.The officer, a leading member of the covert unit at the heart of the undercover controversy, was revealed this week to have also been a key figure in thesecret operation to spy on the family of Stephen Lawrence.
The announcement of the appeal comes as scores of convictions involving undercover officers over the past decades are to be re-examined to see if campaigners in a range of political groups have been wrongly convicted.
Ellison, the QC who produced Thursday’s report into the undercover infiltration of the Lawrence campaign, also found that the unit, the special demonstration squad (SDS), had concealed crucial evidence from courts.
Now he has been asked by the home secretary, Theresa May, to identify specific cases in which unjust convictions have been caused by the SDS, which infiltrated political groups between 1968 and 2008.