Police are to scrap controversial race ‘diversity’ targets that made it harder for white men to win jobs.
The decision could end the positive discrimination which has seen ethnic minority applicants selected where white rivals were at least as well qualified.
The targets were imposed after police were labelled institutionally racist in the 1999 Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Forces were told to recruit ethnic minority officers in direct proportion to the make-up of their local community.
The targets, dictated by Whitehall, left many forces under severe pressure to employ thousands of black and other minority groups as soon as possible.
Some overstepped the mark into positive discrimination.
Gloucestershire Police even went to the extent of ‘deselecting’ more than 100 potential recruits purely because they were white.
The force later admitted it had acted unlawfully.
Now police minister Vernon Coaker has decided central targets can be dropped, even though few areas have met them. Individual forces will be able to decide their own recruitment pattern.
The news came as the Association of Chief Police Officers insisted the service was no longer guilty of institutional racism.
ACPO said repeating the charge now was ‘unfair and unhelpful’.
Since the blistering Macpherson Report, ten years ago on Tuesday, the number of ethnic minority officers nationwide has doubled.
But it is still only around 4.1 per cent, compared to seven per cent in the population as a whole.
Steve Otter, ACPO’s lead officer on race and diversity, welcomed the decision to axe the Whitehall targets.
He said: ‘There is no doubt that the targets set in 1999 were very ambitious and the scale of the challenge they posed has acted as a catalyst for change across the police service.
‘As with all targets, crude measures can drive output but come to the end of their usefulness eventually.’
Asked if it was still fair or accurate to describe the police service as institutionally racist, ACPO said: ‘The short answer is no.
‘That is not to say that racist incidents within the police service never take place. Regrettably, they do.
‘But in the years since Stephen Lawrence, the police service has shown it is willing to listen and learn from past events.
‘When prejudice does occur there is a firm desire throughout the service and especially among its leadership to tackle it robustly.
‘As a term, “institutionally racist” attempts to sum up in two words the entire experience of thousands of men and women across the police service who daily do their best on the public’s behalf.
‘That is both unfair and unhelpful, and it fails to take any account of the very real progress which has been made.’
The Macpherson report found that the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence, above, was ‘marred by institutional racism’
Mr Otter said he agreed with recent remarks by equalities watchdog Trevor Phillips that it was time to move on from focusing on the single issue of race and from a ‘box-ticking culture’ around racism law.
The tenth anniversary of Macpherson will be marked by a special conference on Tuesday.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who commissioned the Macpherson inquiry when he was Home Secretary in 1999, will say he is ‘proud’ of the progress that has been made over the past ten years.
Stephen Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death in Eltham, South-East London, in a racist attack by five white youths in April 1993. No one has ever been convicted of the murder.
The Macpherson Report said the Metropolitan Police investigation had been ‘marred by institutional racism’.
It was accepted at the time that the charge of institutional racism applied to the police nationwide.
Today Mr Straw said Macpherson had been ‘a watershed’.
He added that, while recruitment had dramatically improved, there was still much work to be done on the retention and promotion of ethnic officers.
Mr Coaker said: ‘We are determined to work with the police service to offer fair and equal opportunities to all its members, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background.’
Gloucestershire Police pursued its discriminatory recruitment policy in 2006.
Chief Constable Dr Timothy Brain’s force confessed it had acted unlawfully by dashing the men’s hopes because of their sex and skin colour.
White women who applied were not discriminated against because of a separate policy, unrelated to Macpherson, aimed at encouraging the recruitment of women.
Earlier this week, however, the Runnymede Trust said problems in the police service meant the criticism of institutional racism still applied.
The report said: ‘Ten years after the publication of the inquiry report, there is still significant progress to be made–notably in relation to the career experiences of black and minority ethnic officers and the disproportionate use of stop and search procedures against black groups.
‘It is difficult, in light of these continued challenges, to argue that the charge of institutional racism no longer applies.’