Story by Mark Townsend (The Observer, Sunday 10 June 2012)
(Photograph: Mercury Press & Media Ltd)
Anthony Walker was murdered in a racist attack on Merseyside that shocked the nation seven years ago. Now his sister tells why she joined the police and what is changing about race relations in Liverpool
Dominique Walker, the sister of Anthony Walker, who was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack, in July 2005
Dominique Walker holds out her fingers and slowly counts off a list of names.
She stops at eight – the number of black female officers working for Merseyside police. Including her. But those colleagues don’t have quite the same extraordinary backstory. Walker is patrolling the city where her brother was killed in one of the most high-profile race murders in Britain, a crime that still hangs over a city with a tangled multicultural history.
It is seven years since Anthony Walker was stabbed in the head with an ice axe as he walked his white girlfriend across a park in Huyton, Liverpool.
Dominique Walker knew his killers, Paul Taylor and Michael Barton, who remain in prison for the racist murder. “I grew up with Paul,” she says. “I knew him since I was three, a small child. There was a time when they were good. We’re all inherently good in essence, but then they became bad.”
Walker helped put them behind bars. The night after her brother was murdered, she went to the pub where Taylor had launched the racist invective that escalated into brutality. After talking to the youths gathered outside, Walker, 26, found out who had killed her brother. The subsequent police response in tracking down Taylor and Barton inspired her to join the force. Another factor, she admits, was the blame she felt for not being with Anthony when he was attacked in McGoldrick Park on 30 July 2005.
“I felt I should have protected my brother. I’m his older sister, the closest in age. We’ve always protected each other; we were muckers. I wasn’t able to have the chance to save him. It’s probably why I’m in the police because I’m able to protect people, help others.”
Walker has since developed another motive: fighting racism in a city with a chequered history in race relations, not to mention a major role in the slave trade. The mother-of-one sits on the eight-strong committee of the Merseyside Black Police Association and says she scrupulously read every word of the Macpherson report, the findings of the inquiry into the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence that found Scotland Yard “institutionally racist”.
Merseyside Police has been found wanting too: Lord Gifford’s 1988 inquiry into policing and race following the Toxteth riots identified a “unique and horrific” breed of racism in the city.
Things are getting better, according to Walker, but much needs to be done. When her brother was murdered, 2.6% of Merseyside officers were from an ethnic minority. That has since increased to 3.4%, because the number of black and ethnic minority officers in Liverpool has risen from 110 to 151 since Anthony was killed. Merseyside Police currently has 4,520 officers.
Walker, though, is determined that skin colour will prove no barrier to meeting her ambition of becoming Britain’s first black female chief constable. She describes the challenge as tough, yet she believes Liverpool and its police force are becoming increasingly articulate at dealing with race issues. Hate crimes across Merseyside have fallen from 1,852 in the year Anthony was murdered down to 1,448. But the Luis Suárez affair, in which the charity set up on behalf of her brother, the Anthony Walker Foundation, played a prominent role, opened up old sores. The Liverpool striker was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, but the hierarchy at the football club initially appeared unable to accept that Suárez was anything but innocent.
When asked if the affair undermined anti-racism work in the city, Walker rolls her eyes. “Of course, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Don’t repackage it as something different: if it’s racist, it’s racist. End of. We will continue to work with Liverpool football club because there is work to do.” Subsequent incidents, including a fan caught racially abusing an Oldham player, have suggested a wider problem.
Walker has never received such abuse while patrolling south Liverpool, although she is attuned to the evolving nature of racism. “People are a lot more aware, a lot more careful,” she says. “You’ve got a different type of racism from the 80s when it was overt. People are aware that it is a criminal offence.”
When she was growing up in Huyton, Walker was frequently reminded of her skin colour. She and Anthony were regular targets of racism. “At school, name calling, that sort of thing,” she says. She used it to good effect, saying it has helped her as a police officer. “From a very young age you learn to be a psychologist. A lot of black kids raised in a similar environment will learn to read situations from a young age.”
The difference is already starting to manifest itself in her seven-year-old daughter. “She keeps asking why she can’t have blonde hair.” Yet Walker is confident that, once the insecurities of childhood are over, her daughter will also appreciate that being different is not necessarily bad. “I love being black, love it! When you are young, though, you just want to be the same as everyone else.”
A self-proclaimed scouser, she is equally proud of the Jamaican roots of her mother, Gee, who arrived in England during the 1960s. She describes how the lack of a prominent African-Caribbean scene in Liverpool makes her feel “alone” in her native city.
Growing up as one of the few black families in white, working-class Huyton has not softened a longing for the tight-knit African-Caribbean communities of Birmingham or nearby Salford and Manchester. “I do find comfort in going to Birmingham, Moss Side in Manchester, being able to go to a black hair shop – I have to go to Birmingham to get my hair done,” she says.
“Look at the population of Liverpool, the attraction to come here and build something is not really here. For example, you can set up a black food shop but who is your clientele? Or a black teachers’ union, say.”
In the city’s police force, though, race relations are improving. Two years after Anthony’s murder, specialist hate crime teams were set up with an emphasis on victim support.
Dominique’s work in the MBPA is currently focused on improving the opportunities for promotion for ethnic minorities within the force. “That’s why a lot leave. It is an issue, not just on Merseyside. If you’ve done your job well, you should get promoted, no matter what colour you are.”
It is in Liverpool’s other public sectors that the issue appears more acute. Two months ago a report claimed the city’s council workers and teachers were suffering from “institutional and structural racism”. Researchers discovered a “minimum representation of that community in the city’s workforce”. The report, published in the Journal of Educational Policy, said such under-representation was rooted in racism.
Yet problems in the police force remain. Two years ago the head of the MBPA announced that he was quitting his post, citing “race-related bullying and coercion”. The Liverpool Echo mentioned one female police officer who attempted to commit suicide twice after suffering “overt racism”. Other black and ethnic minority staff described a “culture of prejudice and discrimination”.
The year after Anthony’s murder, senior staff at Liverpool police were condemned for allowing officers who circulated racist images, including pictures of a decapitated black man, to keep their jobs. Ten uniformed officers and three civilian workers were disciplined for possessing and circulating the images. Those involved were given written warnings or fines, the highest of which was three days’ pay, or £360. Chief constable at the time was Bernard Hogan-Howe, now head of Scotland Yard, whose tenure on Merseyside drew criticism for an upsurge in stop-and-search, a tactic that disproportionately targets black people.
Walker insists the situation is getting better, but says there will always be the odd bad egg. “My experience has been good but obviously there’s always room for improvement.” She wants to see more anti-racist organisations in Liverpool alongside a more overt multicultural diversity that would help break down barriers.
A continuing source of anger was the perception that Anthony, an aspiring lawyer, must have been up to no good, that he was into drugs and gangs. “You ask anyone. My brother was involved in nothing, ask anyone. He was in college and did youth work for the church.”
Among the public she patrols, however, she encounters only support. “Some ask questions, they want to know what I’m still doing in Liverpool because a lot of families move away when that stuff happens. I’ve got no reason to move; what am I hiding for?”
In her mind she thinks of events as BA and AA – Before and After Anthony – and believes that her brother would be pleased that she is on the frontline, standing up against the criminals.
Ultimately her target is the top. “I’ve got a lot of work to do before I get promoted – nothing is going to be handed down to me. Obviously, I’d love to be the first black female chief constable, but I’m confident and that confidence has come from what happened and how I had to deal with it.”