Drive against racism is just lip service, says detective


Click to follow
The Independent Online

An Asian police officer whose career was ruined by institutional discrimination has dismissed promises by Britain's highest-ranking officer to drive out racism within the Scotland Yard as mere "lip service".

Detective Sergeant Gurpal Singh Virdi will today hand in his warrant card and become what he describes as one of only a dozen or so ethnic minority police officers to survive a full 30 years with Britain's largest police force.

Last month Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe vowed to become an "implacable enemy" of racists within Scotland Yard, promising to "drive them out of the Met". But Mr Virdi, whose career has been defined by a racially motivated character assassination and a subsequent smear campaign by his colleagues, says he does not believe the Met has changed.

Speaking exclusively to i, the retiring officer said: "There has been no mention of an exit interview. The Met never wants to learn lessons from people like me. It's more likely they'll be getting the champagne out."

The 53-year-old – whose work in his local community has earned him a slot as an Olympic torchbearer – was sacked in 1998 after being erroneously charged with sending racist, National Front hate mail to black colleagues at Ealing police station. His house was searched for seven hours in the presence of his children, in a manner more typical of anti-terrorism operations.

Mr Virdi says the raid, which was authorised by then deputy commissioner John Stevens, came just weeks after he had threatened to go over the head of his superiors regarding what he felt was a sloppy investigation of a racist stabbing attack.

Mr Virdi had pointed out the parallels between the investigation and that of Stephen Lawrence's murder five years earlier; weeks later he was arrested and suspended.

"My career finished in 1998," he said. "As soon as you raise your head above the parapet, your career is finished, and everyone in the police service knows that...that hasn't changed."

It took almost a year for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him – not least because the internal racist mailings continued while Mr Virdi sat at home.

Nevertheless, Scotland Yard seemed determined to make an example of him and he was sacked in March 2000. Later that year an employment tribunal found that the Met's investigation had racially discriminated against Mr Virdi.

The Independent Advisory Group, set up after the Lawrence inquiry to monitor the Met's performance on race crime, described the investigation as "disgraceful" and "a high-profile character assassination". In February 2001, Mr Virdi and his librarian wife, Sathat, were assured by Commissioner Stevens that lessons had been learned, and he was sent a written apology.

An independent inquiry by the Metropolitan Police Authority concluded that there had been a smear campaign against him. Mr Virdi went back to the Met in 2002 against the wishes of his wife, who had witnessed her husband's health and career collapse. Despite all that has happened, he says he has no regrets about returning.

The officers responsible for sending the racist hate mail in 1998 have never been found.

The Met said it did not comment on individual cases, but pointed to the Commissioner's public statements on driving out racism.