Racism is rife inside the Met, says cleared officer

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The Independent Online

An Asian sergeant wrongly accused of sending racist hate mail to colleagues was a victim of institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police, the findings of an inquiry suggested yesterday.

Ethnic-minority officers are being discriminated against when involved in complaints, against the recommendations made in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the report indicates.

Sgt Gurpal Virdi, 43, who has been suspended for four years, is expected to receive the second half of a compensation package worth more than £250,000 in the next few months before returning to work.

The Sikh officer said, after the 14-month inquiry by the Metropolitan Police Authority: "This is another damning report into the Metropolitan Police Service. It shows racism is still rife in the force."

Sgt Virdi was suspended after he was alleged to have sent 132 items of racist material through the internal mail system to himself and other ethnic officers and civilian staff.

The hate mail – which included the message "Not wanted. Keep the police force white, leave or else" – was received at Ealing police station in west London in December 1997 and January 1998.

Sgt Virdi was arrested in April 1998 but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring criminal charges. In March 2000, he was found guilty at a disciplinary tribunal and sacked but he took the force to an employment tribunal and, in August that year, it ruled he had been discriminated against.

He then appealed against the decision of the Police Disciplinary Tribunal and, in November 2000, was reinstated.

Yesterday's interim report into the disciplinary procedures concluded: "At worst, institutional racism can be detected in its processes and procedures in disadvantaging ethnic-minority groups."

The Met has already paid £150,000 compensation to Sgt Virdi for his arrest and racial discrimination. They are in negotiation over a further sum for his unfair dismissal. Sgt Virdi has turned down an offer of £75,000 compensation for the loss of his career because he wants to return to work, and is expected to receive about £125,000 for injuries to his feelings.

Both Sgt Virdi's parents died while he was suspended and before he was exonerated. The officer says he has suffered from the adverse publicity the case received and his wife and two children, aged 13 and 11, have been deeply affected. The inquiries have cost the Met well in excess of £1m so far.

Sgt Virdi said yesterday the Metropolitan Police Authority had lost the opportunity to "name and shame" officers who had contributed to the debacle. He has drawn up a list of 15 officers who he believed should have been named – five were possible suspects for the original hate mail campaign and 10 were alleged to have been involved in a cover-up.

The Metropolitan Police has apologised to Sgt Virdi and his family, and accepted most of the report's findings. The interim report said it was concerned the force's disciplinary process needed to be "more flexible" in the light of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

A constable told the inquiry: "If an ethnic officer complains he is more likely to be ostracised by his colleagues. The supervising officers will try any method to discipline the ethnic officer. Bad reports are written and cases withdrawn."

A spokesman for the Black Police Association said: "Three years after the publication of the Stephen Lawrence report this inquiry is another slamming indictment against the attempts being made by the Met to improve the morale of black staff and to increase trust and confidence in black communities."