Police accused of racist witch hunt after £7m inquiry into senior officer collapses

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard was accused of organising a racist witch hunt yesterday after criminal proceedings against one of the country's most senior Asian officers collapsed, leaving the Met with a bill of up to £7m and a badly damaged reputation.

Britain's biggest police force was alleged to have mishandled the inquiry, believed to be the most expensive corruption investigation into a single officer, which ended ignominiously at the Old Bailey when all charges were dropped.

Superintendent Ali Dizaei, who has been suspended on full pay from his £52,000-a-year job since January 2001, is expected to receive up to £2m in compensation from the Metropolitan Police.

Supt Dizaei, who was born in Iran, was originally investigated for a series of false claims, including allegations that he used cocaine and prostitutes, spied for the Iranians, and had corrupt links with organised criminals, but in the end the only remaining charges against him were for fiddling as little as £200 in expenses. These were dropped yesterday after the court was told that he was owed up to £4,000 in unclaimed expenses, and the prosecution conceded there would be no realistic prospect of conviction.

In April a trial did take place at the Old Bailey, but a jury took only two hours to clear the officer of perverting the course of justice and misconduct concerning a report of vandalism to his car.

During the investigation, codenamed Helios, an eight-man surveillance team spent months bugging Supt Dizaei's phone and keeping him under surveillance for 91 days in 2000. They discovered a messy private life, with Supt Dizaei, who is married with three children, having a string of lovers, but failed to produce any evidence of criminal conduct.

The Met still plans to charge the officer with disciplinary offences. But Supt Dizaei is already taking the force to an employment tribunal, claiming racial discrimination.

Police said yesterday that the inquiry cost £2.2m. The court case is thought to have cost a further £1m, and senior police sources have admitted that the Met might have to pay up to £2m in compensation. Supt Dizaei has been supported by the National Black Police Association [NBPA] which estimated that the case cost £7m.

After his acquittal yesterday Supt Dizaei said: "I was accused of very serious offences, being a threat to national security and corruption.

"I would not like this episode to be seen as a poor reflection on the Metropolitan Police Service nor the Crown Prosecution Service. 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. I find it both astonishing and extraordinary that taxpayers' hard-earned funds could be abused in this way."

He had been tipped as a future chief constable, was on a Home Office working party on race and was legal adviser to the Black Police Association.

The Met's anti-corruption squad made Supt Dizaei a target after he reported that his black BMW had been vandalised on 6 September 2000 while parked close to his police station in Kensington and later implied that it may have been damaged by racist colleagues.

Supt Dizaei admitted in court that he had lied and had left his car close to a gym to catch a Tube to a meeting of the Black Police Association. He also told his trial that he spent the evening before his car was damaged with three women - leading to speculation that the vehicle might have been scratched by a jealous lover.

In hearings before the April trial, Michael Mansfield QC, for the defence, said in court that his client had been "hounded" and subjected to a "witch hunt". He also criticised police for a campaign of "Orwellian proportions". Investigators even sent Farsi-speaking officers to Los Angeles to see if they could catch their suspect in a drugs sting. He was seen by some as ambitious, too close to the Iranian community and too critical of the police, Mr Mansfield said. He was also disliked by some colleagues who were irritated by his penchant for designer clothes, sunglasses and cowboy boots.

Richard Horwell, for the prosecution, said the investi-gation was justified because of the range and seriousness of the allegations involved.

These had included allegations of threats to a former girlfriend, that Supt Dizaei bullied a PC to drop an investigation involving one of his friends, and that he accepted money from two sisters for helping them with their application to stay in the UK.

Ravi Chand, president of the NBPA, called for a public inquiry into the case. He said: "An innocent and highly respected man has had his life turned upside down due to the actions of a handful of officers."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen House, from the Met, said: "This was not about scratches on a car and fiddling expenses, but about the integrity and trust of an extremely senior police officer."