'If you complain about racism, your career is finished,' says Met detective Gurpal Singh Virdi

New Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has promised to drive racism out of the force. But one officer, sacked after being smeared by his colleagues, believes his words are hollow

An Asian police officer whose career was thwarted 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 30 years with Britain's largest police force.

Last month the Met's Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, vowed to become an "implacable enemy" of racists within Scotland Yard, promising to "drive them out of the Met". But DS Virdi, whose career has been defined by a racially motivated character assassination and a subsequent smear campaign by his own colleagues, says he doesn't believe the Met has changed. He will leave today without even an exit interview.

Speaking to The Independent, the retiring officer said: "The Met never wants to learn lessons from people like me. It's more likely they will be getting out the champagne."

The 53-year-old 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.

DS Virdi says the raid, authorised by then Deputy Commissioner John Stevens, came weeks after he had threatened to go over the head of his superiors regarding what he felt was a sloppy investigation of a racist, near-fatal stabbing of an Iraqi and an Indian boy by five white males. DS Virdi had pointed out the parallels between the investigation and that into 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... Most people keep silent because they know that, even if you complain, the investigation won't be done properly... That hasn't changed."

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

Nevertheless, Scotland Yard seemed determined to make an example of him, perfectly timed to coincide with the bashing they were getting in the Lawrence public inquiry, and he was sacked in 2000. Later that year an employment tribunal found that the Met's investigation had racially discriminated against DS Virdi.

Unlike his white colleagues, it ruled, he had been subjected to an entrapment operation, been formally interviewed, had his house searched, been arrested and suspended "without sufficient evidence to support the allegations". He was awarded a six-figure settlement, mainly for the "high-handed" way the Yard had behaved and the way it had manipulated media coverage.

The Independent Advisory Group, which monitors the Met's performance on race crime, described the investigation as "disgraceful" and "a high-profile character assassination". In 2001, DS Virdi and his wife, Sathat, were assured by the then Commissioner, John Stevens, that lessons had been learnt, and he was sent an apology. An independent inquiry by the newly formed Metropolitan Police Authority concluded that there had been a smear campaign against him.

The Yard denied the MPA access to its media strategy file on Virdi, but claims that it was clear that the Daily Mail's Crime Correspondent had been the chief recipient of the Yard's drip-feed, including leaked private legal correspondence. In 2007, he received an apology and legal costs from the Daily Mail for a libellous article about him in 2006.

DS Virdi went back to the Met in 2002 against the wishes of his wife. In 2004 DS Virdi was assured by Lord Stevens and Mr Hogan-Howe, then assistant commissioner for human resources, that his career would not suffer as a result of a negative internal report claiming there was still "strong evidence" of his guilt.

For the past five years, he says he has "pushed pen around paper" for the Met's Sikh Association, in the redeployment pool awaiting a suitable post. "I had to go back and face them; I am not the type of person to run away," he said. "I wanted to do 30 years, and I'm glad that I've done it. I've enjoyed what I've done, but feel sad as I could have done so much more. I have been stopped from reaching my potential."

Over the past five years, DS Virdi says he has supported a number of ethnic minority officers, from trainees to high-ranking officials, who have made allegations of racism but do not believe their complaints were properly investigated.

"The majority of allegations of racism and corruption have not been properly investigated – in fact they usually protect the racists rather than the victims," he said. "That has not changed.

"There have only been a dozen people, including mixed-race officers, who have survived 30 years. Most of them realise that their careers will never go anywhere and so they just go."

Born in India, Virdi grew up in Southall, west London. His father served in Delhi police, but when Virdi joined the Met in 1982, it was against his parents' wishes. He had an unblemished career in uniformed, CID and specialist squads until he was arrested in 1998.

Despite all that has happened, he says he has no regrets about returning to the police. "I can leave today with my head held high, as I can honestly say I didn't tolerate corruption or bad practice. There will be no leaving do. It wouldn't feel right after all that has happened and I wouldn't want my friends who have supported me to come to Scotland Yard as they might then be targeted."

The family will celebrate quietly in July on the day he carries the Olympic torch, and he is looking forward to writing, travelling and leaving his police career behind.

Virdi does not doubt the sincerity of Hogan-Howe's words, but he doesn't believe real change is possible because he maintains the current processes that deal with complaints of discrimination, and the people dealing with them, are set up to fail.

The officer, or officers, who were responsible for sending the racist hate mail in 1998 have never been found; the criminal case remains unsolved. "There is nothing stopping the Commissioner [Hogan-Howe] from reopening the case should he want to, but I don't think he will, because they won't like the answers."

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

Lawrence corruption review 'imminent'

The Metropolitan Police is expected to make an announcement this week about its review into allegations of corruption within the original Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry.

The review was set up after Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the teenager killed in 1993 by a white racist gang, called for the reopening of the public inquiry into the circumstances of his death.

Mrs Lawrence's request to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, followed publication in The Independent of previously unseen intelligence reports about Detective Sergeant John Davidson, who played a leading role in the hunt for the killers, which said he was involved in "all aspects of criminality".

A former Scotland Yard commander, Ray Adams, was also the subject of an inquiry, but the findings were not passed to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry panel.

Paul Peachey

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