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Top black policeman fights racism in the Met

A RADICAL new approach to crimes of racial hatred will dramatically improve the poor standing of the Metropolitan Police, according to Britain's most senior black police officer.

In his first interview, Chief Superintendent Mike Fuller said the Met was poised to make the "great leap forward" in its relations with minority communities in the capital.

Ch Supt Fuller, 39, is a leading member of the new Racial and Violent Crime Task Force, set up last month by Scotland Yard to try to restore confidence in the police among black Londoners.

It was created following severe criticism of the failure of the police to bring to justice the murderers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in south London in 1993.

The Met was further embarrassed last week at the inquest on pop singer Michael Menson, who died after being found in flames on a north London street in January 1997. He told officers he had been set alight by a gang of white men, but they ignored his claims assuming he was mentally ill. John Townsend, deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, apologised to Mr Menson's family for the failure to take the victim's allegations seriously.

More pressure is mounting to re-open the investigation into the death of 20-year-old Lakhvinnder "Ricky" Reel, who drowned in the Thames last October. Police said he fell in drunk; his family believe racists threw him in the river.

Ch Supt Fuller said the task force was setting up structures to ensure mistakes were not repeated.

"The aim is to create an anti-racist police force and treat the victims of racist crime with the same seriousness as we do women who have been raped," he said. There are 5,000 race-related crimes in London every year.

Improvements in intelligence gathering, identifying crime trends, setting new standards in investigations and training police officers to be more sensitive to the problems of ethnic minorities were being phased in, said Ch Supt Fuller. All ranks at every police station in the capital will be involved and pounds 1m has been committed to the project.

This far-reaching overhaul is intended to purge the Metropolitan Police of unconscious racism which permeates the 28,000-strong force, said Ch Supt Fuller. There are only 860 ethnic-minority officers, so another priority will be recruiting more of them from ethnic minorities, in a city where one in five of the population is non-white.

Ch Supt Fuller, will take command of the inner-city Battersea division next month. He says there is nothing tokenistic about his success, because he is rich in experience - in uniform, as a detective and as a police strategist. "It was not a knee-jerk appointment and I relish the opportunity."

Ch Supt Fuller joined the force 21 years ago. Many of his peers became alienated from the force due to harassment. His impression was more positive. He recalls officers visiting his secondary school in Crawley, Sussex, who were friendly and approachable.

But when he started, the use of racist language in the force was frequent. "It was the norm, inside and outside the police, and some of it was very offensive, but I always challenged it. It would be very unusual to hear racist comments today."

Fear and loathing of the police is at its height among the black community and it has meant black officers frequently have to deal with insults condemning them as race traitors.

Ch Supt Fuller experienced the full fury of this antagonism when Brixton's black youth rioted against alleged police brutality and racism in 1981. He was a young constable in riot gear on the other side of the burning barricades.

"I was singled out. They were shouting, `Kill the black one first'. It was the most frightening experience of my career. As a black police officer you experience extreme reactions from the black community. People are either very positive or very negative. But far more are positive, and that makes it all worthwhile."