Criminology: Remembering Stephen Lawrence

hand across mouth

Today marks an important date for racial equality. Today celebrates the life and legacy of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered, at the age of 18, in an unprovoked racially motivated attack on the 22nd April 1993 by a gang of white youths (Cathcart, 2012). 

Stephen’s murder had a profound effect on public attitudes towards racial discrimination and inequality and helped to expose the reality of institutional racism within the criminal justice system (Cottle, 2004; Savage, 2013). The events of 22nd April 1993, and indeed, the protracted investigation that followed, highlighted a catalogue of failings by the police leading the investigation (McLaughlin and Murji, 1999). These included a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers – each of which were documented extensively in the Macpherson Report (1999). The central conclusion of this extensive report made key recommendations for Police to examine police practice and policies and assess if their actions surrounding the policing of minority ethnic communities could create or sustain patterns of discrimination (Macpherson, 1999; Foster et al, 2005). In assessing the impact of the Stephen Lawrence case, police were reminded that the policing of a diverse society must be appropriate and professional, with each individual drawing upon Police services being treated with dignity and respect (Macpherson, 1999; Lea, 2000).

Bringing further race related thinking to the debate, the Macpherson report (1999) indicated that if racism is to be eliminated, ‘a new atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust must be created’ (Macpherson, 1999, section 45.24). It was proposed that all in society must work together collectively and harmoniously to prevent racism from developing. This requires a root and branch reforms of criminal justice and requires people to work together to stem racial inequality and discrimination. In order to generate trust and confidence amongst minority ethnic communities, who frequently perceive themselves to be discriminated against by the very workings of the criminal justice system, there needs to be fairness and parity across each area of the justice system (Macpherson, 1999).

This calls for a new breed of criminal justice professionals who recognise that the mistakes of the past have no place in the future. In the search for justice, fairness and equality, these future professionals hold the key to creating better relationships between the criminal justice system and diverse communities. Bringing vision, fresh ideas and enlightened thinking, newly qualified criminal justice professionals may embark upon their careers with the knowledge that people from all walks of life will receive a justice system that is procedurally just and fair. A justice system that is built upon integrity, and one which can effectively and impartially investigate and adjudicate criminal offences, while ensuring that the rights of suspects and victims are protected.

Stephen Lawrence day should be seen as platform by which to drive change, and do so, by inspiring a more equal, inclusive society. A society which fosters opportunities for marginalised people in the UK. Let this day, and all days to come, be a time to take a stand against racism.

Get involved through study

Just as Stephen Lawrence did before his life tragically ended, you may be thinking about your hopes, ambitions and profession. Do you want to start or further your career in a sector like the criminal justice system? Do you wish to to challenge racism by studying on a course where these kinds of topics and debates are extensively covered? If so, consider one of our undergraduate degrees in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Law and Criminal Justice, or Professional Policing. We also offer a postgraduate degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice as well as a short course that explores Notorious Crimes and Criminals.

Get involved with Stephen Lawrence day 2022

Today, you can make a stand against racism by supporting the Stephen Lawrence Foundation. Here, the foundation asks that you accept the challenge to do something meaningful for another person today – a simple act of kindness that can brighten someone’s day. You might also want to educate yourself on race and use this important day to reflect on race by updating your knowledge and understanding on race related issues. You can do this by visiting the Stephen Lawrence Day website.

Written by Jo Prescott, lecturer in Policing and Criminal Justice at Wrexham Glyndwr University.


Cathcart, B., (2012). The Case of Stephen Lawrence. London: Penguin Books.
Cottle, S., (2004). The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence: Media performance and public transformation. Praeger.
Foster, J., Newburn, T. and Souhami, A., (2005). Assessing the impact of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
Lea, J., (2000). The Macpherson Report and the question of institutional racism. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(3), pp.219-233.
Macpherson, W., (1999). The Stephen Lawrence inquiry (Vol. 1). London: Stationery Office Limited.
Mclaughlin, E. and Murji, K. (1999). ‘After the Stephen Lawrence Report’, Critical Social Policy, 19(3), pp. 371–385. doi: 10.1177/026101839901900305.
Savage, S.P., Grieve, J. and Poyser, S., (2013). Stephen Lawrence as a miscarriage of justice. In Policing and the Legacy of Lawrence (pp. 42-57). Willan.