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Asian officer wins £840,000 compensation

Cleveland Police forced to make payout for racism that blighted traffic officer's career

Considering his ordeal over the past 17 years, Sultan Alam has surprising advice for a young Asian man or woman considering joining the police: "Do it. But do so with your eyes open because no one should think they cannot break the glass ceiling in any organisation."

Yesterday Mr Alam, a retired traffic officer with Cleveland Police, was awarded more than £840,000 for loss of earnings and damages after staging a one-man battle against his former employer dating back to 1994.

In that time the 49-year-old father of two lost his career, his marriage and reputation. He suffered psychological illness and spent nine months in jail – the victim of a malicious prosecution by Cleveland Police after he complained of racist behaviour within the force.

When he was in prison he was repeatedly moved for his own safety and on one occasion was threatened by a gang with a knife.

In admitting liability and agreeing to pay him the substantial figure yesterday, the force effectively conceded that had his career not been curtailed when he was wrongly jailed for conspiring to handle stolen car parts in 1996, he might have risen to the rank of superintendent, making him one of the most senior Asian officers in Britain.

But speaking to The Independent after his victory yesterday, Mr Alam said racism continued to exist within the ranks of his former colleagues, and that he feared he was still being watched by Cleveland officers. "It has not changed to this day and it won't change until it is taken apart and swallowed up by North Yorkshire and County Durham," he said.

Mr Alam was just one of three Asian officers when he joined in Middlesbrough in the 1980s. He was subjected to offensive name calling culminating with a Klu Klux Klan poster being left at his desk. "This all happened because I wanted to be treated as an equal in the police service," he said.

Following his decision to take the former Chief Constable to an employment tribunal, he found himself under surveillance for alleged car ringing. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After his release he worked as a taxi driver, and uncovered evidence that fellow officers had deliberately suppressed vital evidence that could have led to his acquittal.

The Court of Appeal quashed the verdict against him in 2007. He returned to the force but in 2009 was forced to retire on health grounds. Four officers faced charges including perjury and perverting the course of justice but the case against them collapsed. One of them is still serving with Cleveland Police.

Looking back on his battle, Mr Alam said he never considered giving up. "It was never about the money. It's about the principle. It's about what's right," he said.