‘Apartheid culture’ existed at Met police station, Muslim officer tells tribunal

Vikram Dodd
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 February 2009

Scotland Yard’s claims to have put its racist past behind it suffered a blow yesterday when it was alleged that senior officers allowed a “culture of apartheid” at a police station where white officers threatened black colleagues and refused to ride in the same van. The allegations will be heard at an employment tribunal tomorrow and will embarrass the force, whose head, Sir Paul Stephenson, yesterday said the Metropolitan police was no longer institutionally racist. He was speaking at a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson report into the bungled Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.

The allegations of discrimination and victimisation to be heard at a tribunal this week – which the Met will deny – centre on Belgravia police station in central London. A Muslim police community support officer (PCSO), Asad Saeed, claims white officers framed him by alleging he had abused and threatened to assault a drunk vagrant in a McDonald’s burger restaurant in central London.

The officer was ordered to be dismissed, but later reinstated on appeal. Both of the internal police discipline hearings heard allegations of racism that Scotland Yard thought belonged to the canteen culture of two decades ago. One senior white officer privately believed one of Saeed’s accusers was a racist, according to Saeed’s claims. The officer, a superintendent, wrote that the racism allegations were disturbing and that “it appeared the lessons of Lawrence were in need of relearning”, Saeed’s lawyers will claim at the tribunal.

According to Saeed’s grounds of claim, lodged with the court, white and ethnic minority community support officers at the station lived separate lives. Referring to one alleged incident, the ground of his claim says: “The claimant reported that on 23 February 2007 a [white] PCSO had ordered a black PCSO to get out of his patrol van and into ‘the black van’ where the claimant and another black PCSO were already sat. After the ejection of [the black] PCSO the van comprised only white PCSOs. The claimant reported that there was an ‘apartheid’ culture amongst the PCSOs at Belgravia and that when the [white] PCSO was driving the patrol van he refused to pick up the claimant during his shifts.”

In his claim Saeed says CCTV evidence from the incident that led to his dismissal was withheld from him by police bosses. He says it also shows one of his white colleagues, who claimed to have witnessed the incident, was not in the restaurant. Saeed, a former publican, was accused by the white officers weeks after joining the Met as a PCSO. He had hoped to become a fully fledged police officer. In its defence filed to the employment tribunal the Met says the two white PCSOs had claimed Saeed had threatened them. They say the officer did not make any allegation of racism until after he had been placed under investigation. The Met’s defence says that at the hearing that led to Saeed’s dismissal the panel was concerned about the “demeanour” of one of his accusers.

It accepts other officers, apart from Saeed, made accusations that a white officer was “racist” including one black woman officer who “raised a concern that people were not confident that racism would not be tolerated”. The Met’s document goes on to say: “The board was concerned by this evidence, but considered it was not germane to the allegations against the claimant.” In a statement Scotland Yard said: “This is an isolated case and not representative of day-to-day reality in the Met. Diversity amongst PCSOs is good, 1 in every 3 PCSOs are from a black and minority ethnic background (BME) and last year (07/08) 52% of BME police officer recruits were previously PCSOs. This suggests working in the Met is a positive experience for most.”

Alfred John, chair of the Metropolitan branch of the Black Police Association, said: “It displays all the hallmarks of a very familiar and disturbing picture.” Saeed’s MP, George Galloway, said: “It is quite clear there was a culture of overt racism in the station which was tolerated, if not encouraged, by senior management. “Asad was wrongly dismissed from the police service.”

Yard’s view

Scotland Yard’s commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, declared for the first time yesterday that his force was no longer institutionally racist.

“I have to say that, in all honesty, I no longer believe that label to be either appropriate or useful,” he said. “I have set out the evidence that demonstrates we have moved from collective failure to a collective determination to ensure that our service does not discriminate and that we truly reflect the diversity of London in our ranks … What matters to the people of London is that we continue to change.”

Alfred John, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, said: “Saying there are pockets of institutional racism is like saying there are pockets of cancer. The results are still the same … As a black or minority officer, we are more likely to be disciplined or asked to resign.”

further reading

Stephen Lawrence family subjected to surveillance

West Yorkshire Police accused of racism
One of Britain’s biggest police forces has been dragged into a racism row over allegations that its ethnic minority officers were humiliated and harassed.
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent 9:00PM BST 23 May 2009
West Yorkshire Police has launched an inquiry into its disciplinary procedures after a series of accusations from the leaders of local branches of the Police Federation and the Black Police Association.
Terrorism experts warned last night that the infighting could damage the force’s vital role in combating Islamist extremism.
The claims of racism, set out in a dossier leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, could impact on West Yorkshire’s ability to recruit black and Asian officers, thus affecting its ability to track and infiltrate al-Qaeda-linked terror cells.

Top British Muslim police officer agrees deal over racism row (11-25 21:59)
Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer has reached an out-of-court settlement with London’s Metropolitan Police after accusing it of racial discrimination, the police force said.
Tarique Ghaffur was suspended as assistant commissioner in September after launching legal proceedings against his boss, outgoing Metropolitan Police commissioner Ian Blair, whom he accused of discrimination over a long period.
Under the deal agreed with Blair and his deputy Richard Bryan, Ghaffur will retire, receive compensation and have part of his legal costs paid, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
The domestic Press Association news agency reported that the compensation amounted to £300,000 (HK$3.5 million) – a figure that a police spokesman declined to confirm.

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