Officer sacked as Met gets tough on racism

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The Independent Online
A METROPOLITAN police officer has been sacked and five others face disciplinary proceedings for racist abuse and behaviour, the first such charges to be made since the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence castigated the force for "institutional racism".

The sacking was accompanied by a warning from John Grieve, head of the Met's Racial and Violent Crimes Taskforce, that racism would not die off "naturally" either within the police or the wider community, with the Met receiving reports of racist behaviour among children as young as four.

The officer was asked to resign last week after he made racist comments to the occupants of a car he had stopped. One of the five Met officers facing disciplinary action is to be charged with abuse of authority and discreditable conduct after allegedly "assaulting and insulting" a black man while searching him for drugs in 1996.

The move is seen as evidence that the Met is hardening its stance against racism. At a meeting last week, Denis O'Connor, the Met's assistant commissioner, said the force was "no longer waiting for complaints" but was actively seeking out racists.

A detective inspector with the Met confirmed that the force had noticeably stepped up its anti-racist crusade and was employing covert monitoring of officers suspected of racism. "Black police officers from other forces are visiting these men and posing as members of the public," he said. "They're looking to cut out the `canteen culture' before they have to do so legally."

But in a separate case which threatens to undermine the Met's efforts, the force will this week receive a High Court writ for damages following a case of alleged racism in which no police officer has faced charges. Susanne Okoya, a student allegedly strip-searched after she was mistaken for a drug dealer in 1997, is seeking damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault. She is also suing for malicious prosecution after she was later charged with obstruction - a case thrown out after a police video of the incident was shown in court.

The Met's move against the officers follows a government announcement that prejudiced words or acts will automatically lead to disciplinary proceedings and the sack for police officers, a decision welcomed by many forces frustrated at the higher level of proof they currently need to convict officers successfully. The six officers were, however, charged under the present system, which makes it harder for the police to find officers guilty of racist behaviour.

The proposal to lower the level of evidence required has been welcomed by many forces, including West Midlands. The force has charged two officers with racist conduct in the past two years but both were cleared, according to Chief Inspector Paul Diehl, "under the existing standard of proof required". He added: "Under the new rules we will only need the civil standard of proof which will greatly assist in the prosecution of officers accused of racism."

But the Met is leading the way among Britain's police forces: apart from West Midlands, only one other force contacted by The Independent on Sunday has sacked any officers for racist behaviour in the past two years.