Alleged police smear victim Mohammed Amran: ‘I want to know what they said about me’
The Monday Interview: Equal rights campaigner Mohammed Amran, the alleged victim of a police smear campaign, tells Ian Herbert of the battle to clear his name
For someone who had such an inauspicious start to life in Britain, Mohammed “Manny” Amran possesses an eye-catching certificate collection. He arrived in Bradford with his parents from Pakistan at the age of four and failed his exams so profoundly at the Drummond Middle School that he still recalls his dismayed father declaring in Punjabi: “Too kyah rehay heh?” (what have you done?).
Yet here he is with the award for being 2009 runner-up in Bradford’s Best Citizen, a Whitbread Volunteer Action Award 2010, a Document of Appreciation from the Lord Mayor of Bradford, a commendation for 10 years’ work on the Minorities’ Police Liaison Committee.
This is the same Amran who was revealed by The Independent earlier this month to have been the victim of a suspected smear campaign by the former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, ahead of testifying to the Macpherson Inquiry into the handling of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.
Amran must await the conclusion of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into alleged police attempts to smear Macpherson witnesses before receiving evidence relating to him which he has been told is “alarming”. But the controversy has left him scrutinising his own relationship with Bettison, which involved substantial work for him as a lay adviser on the National Police Improvement Agency, and its predecessor Centrex, of which Bettison was chief executive.
“I met him 10 or 12 times,” says Amran, detailing the work he undertook for Bettison – ensuring that police training packages dealt with diversity issues strongly enough and speaking to officers about it. The two were hardly intimates but it seems to have been a strong enough relationship for social niceties. At Leeds Metropolitan University’s fund-raising Carnegie Race, Bettison introduced Amran to his wife.
But there had been another side to the relationship in 1995 when Amran was a young race-relations worker willing to challenge the status quo and Bettison the career police officer, who had put the events of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster behind him on the way to becoming West Yorkshire’s Chief Constable by 2007.
The Manningham area of Bradford blazed during two days of riots in June 1995 and Amran appeared on the local television news Look North to say that local police officers were attempting to thwart analysis of the event by encouraging local British Asians not to make any statements to investigators. Look North replayed the footage last week, capturing Bettison’s response to Amran from the television studio. “Some sort of cover up? A conspiracy? It’s a nonsense,” Bettison declared.
Amran argued during that the West Yorkshire force were talking to the wrong representatives of Bradford’s British Asian community and that officers were unwilling to head out into the community. The Macpherson Inquiry re-examined the events when it sat in Bradford, three years later, and in an hour’s testimony representing the Kirklees Racial Equality Council, Amran outlined his beliefs about “police racism”, stop and search in Bradford and the treatment of young people by West Yorkshire police.
In his conclusions, Lord Macpherson blamed insensitive and heavy handed policing for the riots, which started when officers tried to arrest youths who they claimed had sworn at them during a game of street football. When a crowd gathered round a police station calling for the release of the youths they were met by officers wearing riot gear. At the height of the violence more than 300 people were on the streets.
Amran became more involved in policing in the months that followed Macpherson’s chastening conclusions. His work had come to the attention of Herman Ouseley, then chief executive of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), who appointed him its youngest commissioner. He was also appointed to the police liaison committee that issued the commendation certificate. A letter to him in 2000 by Lloyd Clark, then West Yorkshire’s assistant chief constable, recorded how the officer was “so pleased on a personal basis that your work as a commissioner has been recognised and that you are going from strength to strength.”
But many others in West Yorkshire Police did not view him that way. The extent of the force’s desire to get him removed as a commissioner was revealed in August 2001, when a 167-page dossier, seen by The Independent, urged Ouseley’s successor Gurbux Singh to remove him from the post. He was becoming “increasingly antagonistic” and attempting to undermine “efforts in policing areas where racial tensions have been,” the dossier claimed.
It was a deeply flawed document. The force claimed within it that Amran had leaked secret intelligence to a drugs gang, having accessed it during work for the children’s services directorate at Rotherham Council. The head of that directorate, Joyce Hacker, declared this claim to be without foundation. Intelligence had been leaked – but by someone else. The force claimed that Amran had undermined its integrity by telling Channel 4 News’s Jon Snow during an interview amid further Bradford riots, in 2001, that the Chief Constable had ignored a community request to meet the community. There had been no request and this was an attempt to “vilify the Chief Constable,” the dossier stated.
Evidence later proved there had been an approach. A third claim was that Amran had stirred up earlier disturbances in Bradford in Easter 2001. A letter from the then leader of Bradford City Council, Ian Greenwood, contradicted this. “I do not believe that he behaved in any way inappropriately,” Greenwood said of Amran.
West Yorkshire’s Assistant Chief Constable, Greg Wilkinson, pushed hard for the removal – Bettison, who had left the force, did not feature anywhere in the dossier – and the police had their way. Amran was not reappointed as a CRE commissioner in 2002, which is unusual. Most commissioners get two terms.
He successfully sued the force for racial discrimination, with the dossier central to the case pursued by his lawyers. The force settled out of court and Amran received a formal apology from the force’s then Chief Constable, the late Colin Cramphorn. But the removal from the CRE has always stung. “I wanted to challenge the decision,” he says. “But you don’t win if you do that. It just looks as if you’re bitter. If people stand you down, you have to stand down.”
Amran remains active, though he has taken part-time work mentoring at a local school to cope with the demands of caring for his 10-year-old son who was diagnosed with leukaemia last year. His concerns about that have put the IPCC’s investigation into perspective but Amran wants to know how officers may have tried to undermine him in Macpherson’s eyes.
“The police have been around to my house since the IPCC called me, offering me emergency help in case I find myself overwhelmed by media,” he says. “I just want to know what they were saying about me at the time. There was a lot of serious talk from all the authorities about the importance of Macpherson to Bradford. It doesn’t look as if they meant it.”
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