Tributes paid to Sir William Macpherson, judge in…


Tributes have been paid to Sir William Macpherson, the judge who led the damning report into the Metropolitan Police after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, after his death at the age of 94.

Sir William produced an historic report into the death of the teenager in which the country’s biggest police was described as ‘institutionally racist’. 

The bombshell inquiry in 1999 paved the way for sweeping reform at Scotland Yard and led to the abolition of the double jeopardy law. 

Sir William Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie served as an officer in the Scots Guards and Special Air Service in the Second World War, before pursuing a career in law and going on to become a High Court judge.  

But his career-defining moment came when he was chosen to lead the inquiry into the racially-motivated murder of 18-year-old Stephen, who was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in Eltham, South-East London, in 1993. 

A statement on the Clan Macpherson website said that the clan’s 27th Chief, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie died ‘peacefully at home’ on February 14, surrounded by his family.

Sir William Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie, who served as a High Court judge, passed away at his family home at the age of 94

Sir William Macpherson has died aged 94

Stephen Lawrence

Sir William was a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales (Queen’s Bench Division) where he served as presiding judge of the Northern Circuit until his retirement in April 1996 

Sir William Macpherson led the inquiry, advised by Tom Cook, a retired deputy chief constable, Dr John Sentamu, the Bishop for Stepney, and Dr Richard Stone, the chair of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality

Sir William Macpherson led the inquiry, advised by Tom Cook, a retired deputy chief constable, Dr John Sentamu, the Bishop for Stepney, and Dr Richard Stone, the chair of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality

It said: ‘We were fortunate to have had his guidance, support and leadership for an incredible 50 years and the world will have benefited from his 94 years on this earth.

‘His phrase ‘first amongst equals’ doesn’t even start to mark the presence he had.

‘Through his work in law (what better epitaph could someone wish for than the phrase used by a journalist ‘He made Britain a better place for me to live’) to his leadership at the after-ceilidh-ceilidh he was a man who left his mark on those he met.’ 

Sir William served in the Scots Guards between 1944 and 1947 before pursuing a career in law

Sir William served in the Scots Guards between 1944 and 1947 before pursuing a career in law 

Sir William was a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales (Queen’s Bench Division) where he served as presiding judge of the Northern Circuit until his retirement in April 1996.

Before his appointment as a judge he was a Queen’s Counsel practising in London and abroad.

He served in the Scots Guards between 1944 and 1947, transferring to the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Territorial Army) with whom he served until 1965 and served as the Honorary Colonel of the 21st SAS from 1983 onwards, according to the clan website.

His appointment to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry followed an unprecedented Daily Mail front page which garnered international attention when it labelled five men as Stephen’s killers. 

Neville and Doreen Lawrence had spent several years fighting for justice after charges against their son’s killers were initially dropped. 

It would be four years before an inquest was held into Stephen’s death, when a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing in a completely unprovoked, racist attack.

The gang of five all refused to answer any questions at the inquest, and still the police seemed powerless to prosecute. 

Determined not to let the five escape scot-free, the Mail took an unprecedented step. Their pictures were published on the front page, on 14 February, 1997, under the headline: ‘MURDERERS. The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.’

None of the five took legal action over that headline. In the public eye, their silence no longer protected them: it was as good as an admission.

The effects of that front page were momentous. A far-reaching inquiry into racism within the Met followed, with the Macpherson Report of 1999. 

The report also led to changes to the law that ended the ancient legal tradition of double jeopardy, the rule that a suspect could not stand trial twice for the same murder.

Two of the five accused by the Mail, Gary Dobson and David Norris, stood trial for Stephen’s murder in 2011, following a ‘cold case’ review, and in the light of ‘new and substantial evidence’, they were found guilty and jailed for life.

Front page: The Mail's front page in 1997 accused five men of the killing of Stephen Lawrence

Front page: The Mail’s front page in 1997 accused five men of the killing of Stephen Lawrence

Fight for justice: Doreen and Neville's extraordinary campaign for justice led to a public inquiry which branded Metropolitan Police institutionally racist and brought about sweeping changes in the law and police practices

Fight for justice: Doreen and Neville’s extraordinary campaign for justice led to a public inquiry which branded Metropolitan Police institutionally racist and brought about sweeping changes in the law and police practices

Norris had been convicted and jailed with another of the five for racially aggravated harassment, in another case.

Public figures have taken to social media today to pay tribute to Sir William.

Tottenham MP David Lammy tweeted: ‘Sad to hear Sir William MacPherson has died.

‘His seminal report was a watershed moment that unflinchingly raised the spectre of institutional racism in the Met police and across public services.

‘Twenty years on and in the wake of BLM there is much more to do.’

David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, tweeted: ‘Sir William Macpherson passed away yesterday. He was a great man, and will be missed.’

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP tweeted: ‘Very sorry to hear of the death of my constituent, Sir William Macpherson, distinguished High Court judge, who led the Inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case.

‘The challenge, rigour and humanity of his report was a product of who he was. He did much good locally in Blairgowrie.’

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