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How an 18-year-old murder verdict reflects a racially changed UK

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This month's conviction of two men for the racially motivated murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence in 1993 has prompted an examination of how far Britain has come in eradicating racism since then.

Mr. Lawrence's killing in Eltham, south London, assumed huge significance in London. A long and unflagging campaign by the murdered teenager's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, revealed the existence of a subtler, more systemic form of racism and inspired ground-breaking steps to root it out.

It took 18 years to convict Lawrence's killers. The initial police report was spectacularly bungled: Police received names of five suspects within 24 hours, but no arrests were made for two weeks.

The 1999 report on the case – named after retired judge William Macpherson, who led the inquiry – declared that London's Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist."

The report led to the creation of new criminal offenses, a new law mandating that public authorities promote racial equality, and some other significant legal changes, including the abolition of the double jeopardy law, which allowed one of Lawrence's murderers to be tried a second time.

"In a nutshell, the Macpherson report had a positive effect on equality in Britain," says Uduak Archibong, professor of diversity at the University of Bradford. "The changes forced public organizations to look inward – [to] think 'What can we do to promote racial equality?' And because it also affected the way they dealt with commercial organizations, it had a ripple effect."

For ordinary Britons, perhaps the greatest legacy of the case is that it made overt racism, including racially abusive language, unacceptable.

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