by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press
The largest committee room at the House of Commons was packed and the diversity of the UK was evident in the room. Alongside the MPs and peers, there were activists, police, media, academics and many working across the public and voluntary sectors. The speakers’ contributions were passionate and heartfelt – Lord Bill Morris chaired with presentations from across the political spectrum: Sadiq Khan MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Tom Brake MP, as well as Doreen Lawrence, Dr Richard Stone and myself as publisher. Below is an adapted version of my brief comments:
The issues raised in Hidden Stories are crucial if we are ever to see equality on our streets and in our lives. At Policy Press we publish work we believe will make a difference to society – in particular work that challenges discrimination and inequality in whatever guise it is found. Hidden Stories does just this. The book provides a unique insight into the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry from Dr Richard Stone’s position as one of three advisers to the judge Sir William MacPherson. It uncovers things that Dr Stone believes undermined the Inquiry, diluting the long-term impact. The 20th anniversary of Stephen’s murder is coming up in April, yet racism is still evident in our police and wider society and many of the lessons have not been learnt.
I live and work in Bristol, a large, vibrant multi-cultural city, and as a mother of teenage boys I worry about them as they became more independent venturing out across the city. But I do not worry that they will be attacked solely because of the colour of their skin. That is because we are white. How wrong is it that parents of children from other communities cannot take that for granted! My sons walk the streets and the police never stop and search them. Why is that so different if you come from a black or minority ethnic community? As the book highlights, the inequality between stop and search can be up to 28 times greater if you are black rather than white. Stephen’s own brother, Stuart, a teacher, has made a charge against the police as he has been stopped 25 times for no reason, it appears, other than his colour.
I cannot imagine the horror of losing a son, let alone losing one so cruelly, and yet Stephen Lawrence’s parents Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and many others around them, including Dr Stone, have turned that terrible murder into a positive legacy and a fight for change. Doreen spoke movingly at the book launch of how her family have never found time to grieve as the fight to get answers and justice continues; she said: ‘no family should have to struggle for justice as we did’. Yet she does fight on and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, established by Doreen and Neville, works hard to provide opportunities for disadvantaged young people, fostering positive community relationships and enabling people to realise their potential.
Dr Stone’s book questions how far we have come in tackling racial discrimination, particularly in the police service, since that appalling crime nearly 20 years ago, and his conclusion is that, unfortunately, it is not far enough. His chapter Final Reflections directs us to some key changes that have to be addressed, although after the many Inquiries and reports on race discrimination Dr Stone feels enough recommendations have been written on the subject, it is the action that is needed!
For me, a key point from the book is about leadership. Those of us in leadership roles or positions of influence across public and private sectors and civil society, however big or small, have a particular responsibility to ensure that policies, practices and cultures which truly make a difference are embedded throughout our organisations. We need to hold to account those who fail to do so. No-one should just pay lip service to equality. We all need to continue to challenge racism and discrimination of all kinds wherever we find it, just like Dr Stone does, so that one day we will live in a society where everyone is equally free to walk down the street and to follow their dreams.