Ali Dizaei: Unfinished business

He's the police chief who created turmoil at the Met and whose own career appeared to be in ruins. But could he rise again?
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Four days after he took on the toughest job in British policing, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has been confronted with a saga that encapsulates all the controversies of his new force’s recent past. It includes allegations of corruption, racism, and phone hacking – all rolled into the controversial 25-year career of one burly, Iranian-born officer.

Ali Dizaei is the one-time senior Met Police officer who in 2010 was jailed, and sacked, after being convicted for corruption offences. On appeal, his conviction was quashed in May this year, and yesterday he won his claim to be reinstated to the force. But his employers are unlikely to be brushing down the mat for his return to Scotland Yard soon. Mr Dizaei still faces a retrial next year, and the Metropolitan Police Authority confirmed in a statement last night that he would be suspended on full pay.

It marks another turbulent moment in the career of the man who has been the subject of investigations that have cost millions of pounds. And for the Met, it is another reminder of the difficult issues that Mr Hogan-Howe will have to tackle as he works towards his stated aim of making the Met “the best police service in the world” and that he would “lead a service that criminals will fear and staff will be proud to work for”.

Ali Dizaei, 49, was born in Iran, where his father and other relatives served in the police. He moved to Britain in 1973 where he was privately educated, trained as a barrister and also studied for a PhD in his spare time. After joining Thames Valley Police, the ambitious and confident young policeman rose swiftly through the ranks until 13 years later he moved to the Met as a superintendent. At one point he was tipped as a possible chief constable.

It was a difficult time at his new force. He joined in the same year, 1999, in which the Met was having to deal with the damning conclusions of the Macpherson report into the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence and about how Scotland Yard had handled the investigation. Mr Dizaei became one of the force’s most outspoken critics about the way race issues were handled within the service.

His upward rise stalled dramatically when he became the target of a wide-ranging corruption investigation over several years, which led to his suspension in 2001. At the time he was legal adviser to the National Black Police Association (for which he was later its leader). During the operation – codenamed Helios – an eight-man surveillance team tapped his phones and kept him under surveillance. He was investigated for a series of false claims including that he used cocaine and prostitutes, had corrupt links with criminals, and even that he spied for the Iranians.

They resulted in two criminal cases – one for perverting the course of justice after he lied about where he put his car when it was vandalised and for which he was cleared by a jury. The prosecution dropped charges in another case of alleged fiddled expenses amounting to a few hundred pounds when it heard he was owed several thousand pounds in unclaimed expenses. He did not stint on his criticism of the investigation after it was over.

“I would not like this episode to be seen as a poor reflection on the Metropolitan Police Service nor the Crown Prosecution Service,” he said at the time. “But rather, as an indictment on a number of individuals in those two organisations who have set out on a personal crusade to try to destroy my life and my career.”

He was reinstated to the police force and received a compensation pay-off, despite censure for making threatening phone calls to a former girlfriend. After the deal, brokered by the conciliation service Acas, the former commissioner Sir John Stevens told an audience that included Mr Dizaei that he admired him for admitting his mistakes, according to The Guardian. “It’s a complete victory for me,” the newspaper reported Mr Dizaei saying at the time. “A year ago, I was an alleged terrorist and now I’m back in uniform with my integrity intact.”

But he admitted that he might suffer a backlash from his colleagues. There were suggestions that he was disliked by some colleagues because of his flashy dress sense and his criticisms of the force.

An indication of that level of estrangement was made clear in a book about his ordeal that he co-wrote and published in 2007 – to the apparent anger of the force. The cover shows him in Dixon of Dock Green pose: arms crossed, uniformed and unsmiling, looking up at a traditional Metropolitan Police blue lamp. But the title – Not One of Us – spoke to his apparent outsider status – along with its racy story “told by the only man who knows the whole truth, of the rise and fall of the out-of-control coppers who tried to destroy him and how Dizaei refused to be beaten”, according to the publisher’s synopsis, which concluded that “he’s now back where he wants to be most: doing his job as a serving police officer”.

Controversy continued to swirl around him. He was now a commander but became a central figure in a further race discrimination saga that engulfed the Met in the summer of 2008. He gave strong backing to the highest-ranking Asian officer, Tarique Ghaffur, who made public accusations of racism against the force’s leadership.

Mr Dizaei also faced other investigations, including by the Independent Police Complaints Commission over the alleged unauthorised use of a corporate credit card. After an investigation lasting more than a year, he was cleared.

Yet it was a clash in 2008 with a man who claimed that Mr Dizaei had not paid him for work on a personal website that led to a conviction and seemed to have permanently damaged his career. He was jailed for four years in 2010 after he was found guilty of trying to frame the designer. Mr Dizaei claimed that his he had been attacked and the designer spent a day inside a cell and six weeks on bail before the Met decided not to press charges.

It seemed that Mr Dizaei’s career was over. He was first taken to a category A prison at Wandsworth before being moved to other prisons. He described prison life as like “putting a hand in a wasps’ nest” because he had to spend time with the type of people he had been trying to put behind bars during his working life.

Little more than a year later, after an appeal he was free. Though the court of appeal ruled that he should face a retrial early next year accused of misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, he vowed that he would clear his name and go back to the Metropolitan Police. Yesterday, as he inched towards his stated goal, he made a similar pledge. “I am delighted to be reinstated. I have always wanted to be a Met Police officer and now vow to clear my name.”

He remains in the public spotlight. He even had a part to play in the hacking scandal that contributed to the departure of Mr Hogan-Howe’s predecessor, Sir Paul Stephenson. Mr Dizaei said that he had been “shocked” after learning that he could have been a victim of phone hacking by the News of the World in 2006, according to his lawyers, and he threatened to sue.

Whether he would ever be welcomed back by his colleagues is highly questionable. “We just want to see the back of him. Nobody wants him back,” said one police source. “I feel sorry for Bernard Hogan-Howe, just a few days into the job and it’s not something he’d want to be dealing with.”

A Life In Brief

Born: Jamshid Ali Dizaei, 1962, Tehran, Iran.

Family: Married Natalie Downing in 1986. Three sons. Divorced in 2005. Married again in 2007.

Education: Attended Slindon School, Arundel, City University and Brunel University.

Career: Joined Thames Valley Police in 1986. In 1999, transferred to Metropolitan Police. In February 2010 jailed for four years for perverting the course of justice. In May 2011 conviction quashed on appeal.

He says: "I am delighted to be reinstated. I have always wanted to be a Met Police officer and now vow to clear my name."

They say: "He was an undoubted champion for racial equality, but his approach was sometimes aggressive." Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police