The Lawrence Report: The Inquiry Team - Judge Whose Sympathy Surprised All

Article excerpt

A 72-YEAR-OLD Highland chieftain was perhaps not the obvious choice to lead the journey through Britain's inner cities at the head of the most important inquiry in our race relations history. Certainly, Michael Mansfield QC and Imran Khan, the lawyers for the family of Stephen Lawrence, did not think so.

When Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, the 27th chief of Clan Macpherson, was appointed to head the inquiry into Stephen's murder, they objected. The retired judge, they believed, was a deeply conservative, Establishment man, with little sympathy for black people.

Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, were so scared by newspaper reports citing Sir William's high rates of refusal of leave for judicial review in immigration cases that the whole inquiry was almost undermined. But Sir William, who was once described by his colleague Lord Justice Leggatt as "the most complete man I know", has adapted to the requirements of his task in a manner that has won widespread admiration from those who have closely followed the 18-month inquiry. Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said that Sir William's own views about race relations had been turned on their head by the inquiry. "I think he has undergone a sea-change," Mr Herbert said. "He started the inquiry as someone who was fairly ignorant about race issues. He has now become someone who has developed an appreciation of the depth of racism in our society." Sir William was described by one lawyer last week as "a solid man, without brilliancy, profundity or humour, yet has a perfect honesty, rare lucidity of thought and utterance, and a perspicacity worth an army of spies". With a studied inscrutability, Sir William gave few indications of what he thought of the extraordinary testimony he sat through. But on one rare occasion when he did lose patience, he clearly demonstrated that the police officers under scrutiny could expect no special favour. That moment came during the evidence of Detective Chief Superintendent Roderick Barker, a former head of the Flying Squad, who was called in several months after Stephen's death in April 1993 to carry out an internal police review of the unsuccessful investigation. Det Ch Supt Barker's review contained no strong criticism of the murder squad and was used as the central pillar of the Metropolitan Police's contention that the force had done everything it could to catch Stephen's killers. …