Spat at, threatened, and abused. The everyday experiences for the family of an Asian doctor

Police surgeon accuses West Midlands force of 'inertia' after she complained her family was being targeted
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The Independent Online

A young police surgeon has described 20 years of racism she claims has been inflicted on her family and accused the force she works for of failing to tackle the abuse.

Dr Rita Pal, who is of Bangladeshi descent, accused the West Midlands Police force of "inertia" in its investigations of crimes her family has reported in the predominantly white north Birmingham dormitory town of Sutton Coldfield. "The police are informed and our complaints neatly filed away," she said.

Dr Pal, 28, is more equipped than most to verbalise the ethnic experience in suburban middle England. She was prompted to write to The Independent and disclose the experiences of her intensely private family because of this paper's coverage of the mysterious deaths by hanging of two young black men in Telford, 40 miles from her home.

Sutton Coldfield has few distinguishing features bar its preponderance of £500,000 detached period houses - only 10 British conurbations command a higher proportion of owner-occupiers, and the Tory MP, Sir Norman Fowler, commands a 15,000 majority. But it has a curious racial composition.

Although the town falls within the ambit of multi-cultural Birmingham City Council and lies in the West Midlands, 94 per cent of Sutton Coldfield's inhabitants are white.

Telford and Sutton Coldfield share characteristics, said Dr Pal. A weekend of shifts on medical wards at the district general hospital in Telford, last October, left her feeling "very brown", she said.

"Telford is a very white place, too. It's also on the outskirts of a conurbation, with a number of reasonably wealthy English [people].

"I felt just the same there as I did in Cheltenham, where I spent time at a surgery, as a medical student, several years ago. There wasn't a single Asian in the waiting-room. They say, 'Oh, you're Asian - we don't see many around here'."

Dr Pal said her family's worst racist experiences in Sutton Coldfield have happened over the past eight years.

In 1992 a brick was hurled through their home's double bay windows into the room where she and her mother watched television. A note was attached by elastic band. In red ink on A4 lined paper and in block capitals, it read: "Leave this neighbourhood or else."

In December 1993 an air-gun pellet was fired through the display windows of an Asian shop set up by Dr Pal's brother-in-law, Surajit Das. Food was thrown at the windows and Mr Das was approached by a group of local men and told that he should not be employing white women at his shop, First Selection, which has subsequently closed.

Some incidents have seemed too inconsequential to tell to the police, Dr Pal said. The murmurings of well-heeled white neighbours included complaints about the family's Indian cooking.

"We had curries, obviously," Dr Pal said. "They said there was a smell. One of the neighbours, terribly house-proud and fanatical about her garden, asked: 'Do you really have your gardens like that in India'."

Police were informed five times after eggs and tomatoes were repeatedly thrown at the family's garage door, Dr Pal's blue Ford Escort was doused with white spray paint and her mother was spat upon as she waited for a bus in the town after shopping. The Pals were unable to describe or name the perpetrators to officers who, Dr Pal said, took statements but held out little hope of apprehending anyone.

"There was an inertia. The police seemed resigned to it," she said. "They took the details and told us it was probably racially motivated. We still get [abusive] telephone calls. We are beyond involving the police any more."

Her brother-in-law's experience is recorded in documentation, seen by The Independent, which was sent to the now-disbanded Birmingham council race-relations department and to the office of Sir Norman Fowler.

Sir Norman's office confirmed corresponding with the Pal family, although the council said that old race-relations documentation had not been preserved.

West Midlands police were informed of Dr Pal's comments 11 days ago, but by last night were yet to confirm whether details of her family's complaints, the last of which was made seven years ago, were still logged.

A spokeswoman said: "If perpetrators of racist attacks have left the scene and there is no description, all [we] can do is take details, try to investigate and log the incident." An official complaint could have been lodged if the family was dissatisfied, she added.

Dr Pal began work for West Midlands Police's privatised surgeon's service (contracted through the Healthcall agency)last August and is registered in the Association of Police Surgeons list of members.

Her father, now 70 and in failing health, is recovering from a heart attack in Sutton Coldfield.

"Last week he was approached by the cardiologist and asked: 'Do you speak English'? Yet the board at the bottom of his bed said 'consultant surgeon - retired'. That sums up the experience," Dr Pal said.

"It just drips away. I'm sorry to use the word, but we live in a whitewash area."

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