Law and Order in Roy Williams' Fallout

The Depiction of the Metropolitan Police Service as a Consequence of the Macpherson Report

Seminar Paper, 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background Information
2.1. Two Cases of Murder: Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor
2.2. The Macpherson Report

3. Fallout as a Reaction on Current Debates on Law and Order
3.1. Reality versus Fiction
3.2. Matt versus Joe

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited 14

1. Introduction

Roy Williams’ play Fallout was written in 2003 and adapted for screen in 2008, contextualising knife crime amongst black youngsters in Great Britain. This play is especially based on the Damilola Taylor Case of 2000. Williams himself states that homicides amongst teenagers are “about greed - wanting a mobile phone or a pair of trainers and just taking them. Everything is done so quickly, without thought for the consequences." (qtd. in Mason, Therefore, this “incendiary play” (Osborne 499) shows the fallout of a murder, its motives as well as the fight between two separate worlds, namely “a street society and a polite society” and the clash they provoke (Sierz 186). Further, it depicts the confrontation between the “predominantly white authority structure, as represented in the play by the Met and a predominantly black subculture of young people whose exclusion from mainstream society they experience as part hardship and part badge of pride” (Derbyshire 420). Thus, the play focuses on two worlds which co-exist, showing failures in society and the police system by revealing the “tension between those in power and those condemned to subordinate positions and second-class lives” (qtd. in Derbyshire 432).

This paper will mainly focus on the dominance of the Metropolitan Police Service (henceforth Met) in the play Fallout. Based on real events, such as the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and the Damilola Taylor Case, the play is a “state of the nation play that explores some of the key issues that concern [everyone] living in twenty-first century Britain” (Royal Court Theatre 5). The paper will, therefore, provide a brief overview on both the murder cases and the role of the Met therein. In addition, the problematic issues concerning race within the system revealed by the Macpherson report in 1999 will also be discussed. The second part of the paper will deal with the depiction thereof in Roy Williams’ play Fallout through the analysis of the similarities between reality and the fictive plot as well as through answering the question in how far the depiction is influenced by current controversies in the Met. Furthermore, it will analyse the similarities and diversities of the characters Joe and Matt, two police officers, as personifications of political correctness within the Law and Order system.

2. Background Information

In order to fully grasp Roy Williams’ play Fallout, it is essential to give an overview on the two famous and wicked crimes the play is based on, namely the murdering of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor. Roy Williams himself states:

I remember following the Damilola Taylor Case, and the feelings that I had. Anger with the killers, anger with whoever had let those kids down. I felt it was important as well as necessary to write a piece that allowed all my feelings, and the feelings of those kids and police to be expressed. (qtd. in Channel4 Programmes)

Further, it is important to obtain an overview of the aftermath of those two murders due to the fact that the Met and their ways of inquisition were said to be ‘institutionally racist’ (Derbyshire 418) in the Macpherson report of 1999.

2.1. Two Cases of Murder: Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor

The murder case of Stephen Lawrence was not the first murder motivated by racism, but it was the first crime which stirred up a country. Since 22 April 1993, when the murder took place, it was discussed in ample newspapers and television programs until today (Macpherson). Reasons for this popularity are the mistakes made by the Met: ”the police were making a dreadful mess of the investigation, but nobody in authority wanted to address the problem, and when Neville and Doreen [Stephen’s parents΁ raised the alarm, Britain's white establishment told them to talk to the hand” (Cathcart,

Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old student, and his friend Duwayne Brooks tried to catch a bus in the late afternoon in a south-east London suburb when they met a gang of white teenagers (BBCNews, 03 Jan. 2012). Duwayne tried to call Stephen when he saw the bus approaching, but the gang of white youths felt addressed, since one of them shouted: “what, what nigger?” (Macpherson). fter this incident, the group approached and stabbed Stephen twice while Duwayne ran off, encouraging Stephen to follow. Three eye witnesses, who were interrogated afterwards, confirmed that the attack was short and impulsive. Even though Stephen had fatal wounds, he managed to follow his friend before he collapsed and died (Macpherson). According to the pathologist, Dr. Shepherd, "it is surprising that he managed to get 130 yards with all the injuries he had, but also the fact that the deep penetrating wound of the right side caused the upper lobe to partially collapse his lung” (qtd. in Macpherson). The following public inquiry “put the police and British justice as a whole on public trial” (BBCNews 22 Feb. 1999). Police officers casted a shadow on their own work as well as on British law enforcement. Even though a Senior Scotland Yard officer reported that the “inquiry had been correctly pursued” (qtd. in BBCNews 22 Feb. 1999), the investigation became a dilatory procedure, especially because the five main suspects refused any testimony. Further, the police’s attitude towards Stephen’s parents as well as how they denied the racist background of the murder case was strongly criticised (BBCNews 22 Feb. 1999). “‘I believe that the motive for Stephen's death had nothing to do with colour,’ said one detective [and΁ another declared: ‘Had he been black, white, green, blue or yellow, he would still have been attacked and killed’Η (Cathcart, Finally, in 2006, a BBC documentary raised new questions about the murder case as well as the behaviour of the police during the investigation and requested revision of the case. This lead to a police investigation of forensic evidence with the help of new technology for crime scene investigation in 2007. Only just, in 2012, two of the main suspects, namely Dobson and Norris, were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and received life sentences (BBCNews, 03 Jan. 2012).

Thanks to the family's incredible persistence, the world eventually saw, not only the failure of the police, but also the greater wrong that had been done to the Lawrences and to black people in general. It was the first time that black people with a grievance had been vindicated in such a way. (Cathcart,

Even though, the Met improved investigation skills after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, they still made major mistakes in the investigation of the Damilola Taylor Case which lead to a reformation in the prosecution of criminals involved in homicides (Ahmed, To call upon the Damilola Taylor case, he was murdered at the age of ten, after having lived in Britain for a short period of three months. He was stabbed in the leg with a broken glass bottle, which cut through his artery, by two black brothers in Peckham, London. Damilola was a young boy with big dreams, aiming to be a doctor. The boys who killed him were well- known criminals to the police; the motives were believed to be envy and robbery and one can also imply that his refusal to join a gang also led to his assassination (BBCNews, 27 Nov. 2010). The main points which were especially criticised in the investigation were the lack of policemen and the treatment of teenage witnesses: especially that of a 14-year-old girl, named ‘Bromley”, who testified of having seen the boys arguing and attacking Damilola, was refused by the judge in the trial and ruled unreliable. Damilola’s death became “one of the biggest murder hunts by the Met and was seen as the force's first big test on the murder of a young black person since the debacle of the Stephen Lawrence case” ( hmed, In April 2006, the two brothers who stabbed Damilola to death were imprisoned for manslaughter (BBCNews, 27 Nov. 2010).

2.2. The Macpherson Report

After the Lawrence Case, newspapers and media requested to re-think the structure of the Met which involved Sir William Macpherson, who was then appointed to the case, to examine the failures of the police throughout the investigation in July 1997 (BBCNews 22 Feb. 1999). His report “marked a crossroads for the police service in terms of how they dealt with racism within their own ranks, as well as their treatment of the public” (Bennetto i). The outcome of the report concluded that the Met was “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers” (House of Commons 2), but Macpherson also stated that there was insufficient evidence for corruption in the police (House of Commons 2). Under the term ‘institutional racism’ one understands the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. (House of Commons 6)

Moreover, Macpherson criticises the failure in building a relationship to the victim’s parents, the missing arrests of suspects, the passiveness of inspectors and the missing sense of responsibility in documentation and investigation as well as the racist stereotypical behaviour and language on the part of the policemen (BBCNews 24 Mar. 1999). Also the treatment of the witnesses and suspects as such was deeply criticized, especially regarding Duwayne Brooks, who was treated like a suspect instead of being treated like a victim of a tragedy (Gabbidon 44). In the second part of the report, Macpherson made 70 recommendations to guarantee “the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing” (qtd. in House of Commons 2). The 70 recommendations included suggestions such as “diversity training, improved handling of complaints, rooting out institutional racism, and the general improvement of police services” (Gabbidon 44). Further, it was recommended to recruit more “ethnic-minority officers” (Marsh 177). In the 1960s there were only three such officers in the entire British police system: this should be changed after the Macpherson report, because it can also be interpreted as a sign of institutional racism (Marsh 177). However, after BBC broadcasted a television exposé, The Secret Policeman, serious allegations were made against the police system. A reporter spent a few months undercover at a police training centre and unveiled “devastating comments and images of extreme racism to have been uncovered within the police in recent years” (Bennetto 2) and forced new investigations of the system. Regarding the various accusations, it is interesting to analyse whether the British system has improved in the last years after the publication of the report. In this respect, the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigated the Met according to improvement in employment, training, retention, promotion, DNA database and race hate crimes (Bennetto i). They identified that the police service made a visible progress regarding race equality, even though there still exist slight race disproportionalities regarding ‘stop and search’-processes and the registering of DNA-profiles (Bennetto 2).

3. Fallout as a Reaction on Current Debates on Law and Order

After the publication of the Macpherson Report, also theatre was revealed to be “very white dominated through hundreds of years of traditions dominated by white men excluding women and black people” (Lane 111). Seeing this as a form of invisible racism, it is necessary for the theatres to raise questions concerning the divided society structures in Britain (Lane 115). With Fallout, Williams provides the audience with a “provocative intervention in society’s debates about race and gender” (Sierz 187) as well as gives an insight into the system of Law and Order in Britain. To analyse the depiction of Law and Order, one has to compare the real happenings of this time with the fictional representation in the play. Further, it is essential to compare the two inspectors of the play who can be seen as personifications of the conflict inside the system of the Met.

3.1. Reality versus Fiction

The play itself opens with the killing of the hardworking 16 year-old black boy, Kwame, committed by four black youngsters, who are members of a local gang. It is clear from the beginning who the convicts are: after this event in the first scene, the audience is given an insight into the lives of the convicts in order to understand them, their rivalries and their problems (Derbyshire 419). Williams himself argues that one should not “take them at face value - just listen to them a bit more. nd you’ll see how scared and vulnerable they are despite their front. [͙΁” (qtd. in Sierz, 186). The play should not be seen as a ‘whodunit’ but rather as a “waiting game” (Bassett 756) and a realistic representation of society (Derbyshire 417). The motivating force behind the play is the above mentioned case of Damilola Taylor. Like Damilola, Kwame is killed by four youngsters who envy him for his perspectives and see him as a rival because of his different attitude towards life. Police officer Matt states that “he was a straight-A student [well] [o]n his way to university. He wasn’t into gangs at all. We asked everyone, they all said the same thing, his nose was in the books” (Williams 11). The assassins accuse him in an argument of having “sexed up” (Williams 45) the girlfriend of their gang leader, Dwayne, this being the reason behind the murder. But they do not leave it at that, they leave him to die and humiliate him by stealing his trainers for a trophy (Williams 5). In the first place, Williams depicts such a murder case to show the audience the failures in society which provoke wrongheaded acts of violence, such as peer pressure and sexual jealousy which are constant companions of teenager-gangs (De Jongh 756). Fallout does what contemporary drama should be doing: “holding a mirror up to society to portray the forces which propel gang violence” (Rees, Williams does not only show the clash between black and white British people but also within the subculture, the “Black community” by addressing topics such as loyalty, belonging and rivalry therein; in other words, Williams depicts the moral codes of such subcultures and the way they meet challenges and offenses mainly through violence (O’Donovan, With irony and exact imitation of street slang, he is able to explore and convey contradictions of a multicultural society such as the British (Billington 759).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Law and Order in Roy Williams' Fallout
The Depiction of the Metropolitan Police Service as a Consequence of the Macpherson Report
University of Innsbruck  (Department of English)
English Literature and Culture: Contemporary Black and South Asian British Drama
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1419 KB
order, williams, fallout, depiction, metropolitan, police, service, consequence, macpherson, report
Quote paper
Anna Rauch (Author), 2012, Law and Order in Roy Williams' Fallout, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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