Councils gang up to thwart racists

Helen Sage reports

A scheme to help councils take swift and effective legal action against racist attacks and harassment has been launched by the Association of London Government.

The Racial Harassment Information Exchange Network aims to allay the concerns of ethnic minority communities in London that local authorities are not doing enough to tackle racial violence in the capital.

The move follows the collapse of a private prosecution against three people accused of the murder of black London teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Under the scheme, council lawyers will meet on a regular basis to exchange ideas on how to combat racial violence. The first meeting is on 28 June.

It has been welcomed by the London Housing Unit (LHU) which has just published a survey examining how councils deal with the problem.

Spokesman Arman Alan Ali said: "The survey and new network are a response to a general feeling that it is time to do more about racial harassment.

"Although there are pockets of good practice general progress has been slow. Legal departments are now keen to do more and by creating information exchanges councils will be able to learn from each other."

The LHU survey showed that half of London's 33 councils had taken successful legal action against racist tenants.

"The survey shows that legal action can and does work," said councillor George Meehan, LHU chair.

"It also shows that local circumstances have thrown up different approaches to stamping out the problem from which we can all learn."

Among the initiatives the survey highlights is a Greenwich Council scheme which bases a solicitor at Plumstead police station's racial incidents unit. The solicitor, Walati Singh, gives immediate advice to victims and the police.

Simon Angliss, senior housing litigation lawyer at Greenwich, said: "This system means cases are often nipped in the bud before they reach legal action. The main problem in taking cases to court is getting enough evidence."

Camden Council is one of a handful of councils which has installed closed circuit television in victims' houses to gather evidence. It has also started using private detectives.