UK

Tony Blair called plans to sack racist police officers in wake of Stephen Lawrence murder ‘OTT’

Tony Blair dismissed plans to sack racist police officers in the wake of Stephen Lawrence murder as ‘OTT’, newly-released archive papers reveal

  • Then-PM also blocked proposals for race equality strategy following landmark report into the murder of the black teenager by white thugs
  • 1999 Macpherson Report set out wide-ranging proposals for reform after it found Met probe into 1993 murder failed in part due to ‘institutional racism’
  • In response, home secretary Jack Straw, who commissioned the inquiry, wanted to publish a white paper with a ten-year strategy for tackling racial inequality
  • But Mr Blair was sceptical about the idea, expressing concern that it could result in a ‘regulation nightmare’ 


A policy of sacking racist police after the Stephen Lawrence murder was described as ‘over the top’ by Tony Blair, who worried about the press reaction, declassified files released today by the National Archives in Kew reveal.

The then prime minister also blocked proposals for a race equality strategy following the landmark report into the murder of the black teenager by white thugs.

The 1999 Macpherson Report set out wide-ranging proposals for reform after it found that the Metropolitan Police investigation into the 1993 murder of the black teenager had failed in part due to ‘institutional racism’.

In response, home secretary Jack Straw, who commissioned the inquiry, wanted to publish a white paper with a ten-year strategy for tackling racial inequality.

A policy of sacking racist police after the Stephen Lawrence (above) murder was described as ‘over the top’ by Tony Blair, who worried about the press reaction, declassified files released today by the National Archives in Kew reveal. The then prime minister also blocked proposals for a race equality strategy following the landmark report into the murder of the black teenager by white thugs

But Mr Blair was sceptical about the idea, expressing concern that it could result in a ‘regulation nightmare’.

Mr Straw set out his proposals in a letter to Mr Blair in December 1998 ahead of the inquiry’s expected report into the killing in south-east London.

In it, he said he wanted to be able to announce a white paper including a commitment by all government departments to put race equality at the heart of policy making. 

‘At the extreme, black and Asian youngsters have observed their grandparents and parents suffer discrimination, harassment and racial violence and are developing very hardened attitudes against the white community,’ he warned. 

‘We have to win back their confidence in the institutions of British society.’

In No 10, however, there were deep misgivings about the home secretary’s approach. 

The 1999 Macpherson Report set out wide-ranging proposals for reform after it found that the Metropolitan Police investigation into the 1993 murder of the black teenager had failed in part due to 'institutional racism'. In response, home secretary Jack Straw (above, with Mr Blair in 1996), who commissioned the inquiry, wanted to publish a white paper with a ten-year strategy for tackling racial inequality

The 1999 Macpherson Report set out wide-ranging proposals for reform after it found that the Metropolitan Police investigation into the 1993 murder of the black teenager had failed in part due to ‘institutional racism’. In response, home secretary Jack Straw (above, with Mr Blair in 1996), who commissioned the inquiry, wanted to publish a white paper with a ten-year strategy for tackling racial inequality

Angus Lapsley, an official in Mr Blair’s private office, noted they were ‘cool’ towards a suggestion that officers who used racist language or committed racist acts should usually be dismissed, pointing to the possible press reaction.

‘This could easily become a “Telegraph” cause celebre if taken too far,’ he noted.

In a handwritten note in the margin, Mr Blair commented ‘I agree’.

He then added: ‘We do not want to go OTT on this. You’re right.’ Elsewhere in the files he scrawled: ‘I really don’t want a regulation nightmare out of this.’

The proposal for a white paper was finally killed off at a meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Straw in March 1999. 

‘The Prime Minister said he shared the Home Secretary’s political objectives and it was clear the Government needed to have a clear and positive agenda for change,’ the official note of the meeting stated.

‘However a white paper would offer too many hostages to fortune and the Government would find itself under pressure to include all sorts of measures that it would prefer to avoid.’

Instead, Mr Blair agreed that Mr Straw could publish a series of separate consultation papers responding to the main recommendations in the inquiry report.

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