Traveller Movement condemns Met Police inquiry into racism as 'a whitewash'

Travellers’ group says force’s inquiry into online comments by serving officers is a 'whitewash'

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The Independent Online

The Metropolitan Police is examining whether its staff need to change the way they engage with members of the two ethnic minority groups, despite its official investigation into the racism claims concluding without any officers being formally disciplined or charged.

Britain’s largest police force has launched a review into how it deals with Gypsies and Travellers in the wake of allegations that officers used a “secret” Facebook group to air racist views about them, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is now examining whether the force’s investigation was inadequate after the Traveller Movement charity, which made the original complaint to the Met in June last year, claimed that its five-month probe had been “shambolic and disrespectful” and amounted to a “whitewash”.

Scotland Yard was first alerted to the Facebook group in April after concerns were raised by one of its members. Named “I’ve Met the Met”, many of its 3,000 participants are understood to be serving or retired officers. Access is on an invitation-only basis and it cannot be viewed by the public. 

Transcripts of the allegedly racist comments, seen by The IoS, show the group’s members discussing their hatred of “fucking pikeys” and “low life gypsies”. Both Gypsies and Travellers are officially recognised as ethnic minorities, making discrimination against them illegal.

“I never knew a pikey could be offended,” read one comment. “I thought they were devoid of all normal feelings and thoughts … just my opinion based on many years of dealing with these despicable people.” 

Another said: “There is not a small minority of criminals from the GT [Gypsy and Traveller] community – to all intents and purposes they all depend on crime.”

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Serving and retired Met officers have been accused of posting racist comments about Gypsies and Travellers

In a statement, the Met said its investigation had identified 48 contributors to the comment thread, of which six were serving officers, but that none of the six had made “any derogatory or discriminatory comments”. 

It is understood that one of the serving officers who posted discriminatory comments shared the same name as three retired officers, so investigators were unable to establish who was who. 

The IoS also understands that the investigation did not probe those who had “liked” the comments or reveal the number of serving officers who had hit the “like” button on the group’s page.

In its appeal to the IPCC, the Traveller Movement said it was “very dissatisfied” with the investigation, claiming that the force had “failed to grasp the gravity” of the complaint and had carried out a “paper exercise” which did not address its concerns.

“Following what can only be described as a shambolic and disrespectful investigation, we received a brief email from the investigating officer informing us after five months: ‘My investigation is now closed and the officers have been spoken to’,” the charity said.

It also revealed that it had been contacted privately by a senior Met officer unconnected to the investigation who said he had been “absolutely horrified” after viewing the Facebook comments. “I can’t understand why any serving officer would want to be part of [the group],” the unnamed officer added. 

It is the second time in the space of a week that the IPCC has had to examine the actions of Britain’s largest police force. The watchdog is already investigating its response to concerns raised about the welfare of former EastEnders actress Sian Blake and her two children, whose bodies were found at the family home in south London on 5 January .

Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement, said: “We are very disappointed with the outcome and the handling of our complaint. It’s been a complete whitewash. 

“We accept that there may not be much that can be done about racist comments from ex-Met officers, but we expect serving officers to be held accountable. We have therefore appealed to the IPCC and are confident that our appeal will be successful.”

An IPCC spokesperson confirmed that it had “received an appeal against the outcome of a complaint made against the Metropolitan Police Service”. 

The watchdog is now reviewing how the complaint was handled.