Where bigotry is part of the job: A policewoman tells of victory over racial and sexual abuse

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The Independent Online
UNDER the terms of a pounds 32,500 settlement, Sarah Locker cannot discuss her allegations of sexual and racial discrimination against fellow police officers. Much of their substance, however, is already known.

During industrial tribunal hearings, Mrs Locker said that she was repeatedly and unreasonably turned down for jobs in the CID, and a fellow officer had handed her a spoof application he had written as if from her: 'A few of them courses is right up the street of a Third World effnic girl like me . . . I could really go for that rape and serious sexual offences bit - if they got some nice greasy Mediterrean (sic) boys there wiv all the right bits cut off their fings - the practice might come in handy. Me being a Turk and all that (well, I was born in Stepney but everybody in my family is from one of those sweaty little places) I fink I'd teach them a fing or two . . .'

Mrs Locker does not speak like that. Nor does she conform to the television stereotype of a woman police officer - Helen Mirren's DCI Tennison, or a lesbian from Between The Lines. She has masses of curled and tinted hair, a house in Chigwell, Essex, a husband and a toddler.

But she describes herself as 'very ambitious', and she instigated, first, an internal grievance procedure, and then, backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Campaign for Racial Equality, an industrial tribunal. The police fought her all the way, and she expected the case to last six months. But an out-of-court settlement was reached last week after just two days of pre- trial negotiations.

Ironically, Mrs Locker decided to pursue her case after attending a Scotland Yard briefing on equal opportunities. She alleged that she was repeatedly passed over for jobs in the CID while men with less service and experience were given them. (She has four commendations: for work on two murder cases, an armed robbery conspiracy, and the death of four men from fumes in an east London sewer).

Hard-core pornography - 'homosexual and with animals' would be left in her tray. Someone put up a sign saying 'Mad Turk's Telephone Room'. She was once sitting at her desk and realised a man was underneath it, looking up her skirt. Other men would twang her bra strap as they passed. For a long time she assumed much of this was 'run-of-the-mill, part of the job'. But not getting the job she wanted was different.

'I went into the police because I felt it was a career that offered a range of different types of job. I knew I was qualified, although there is a tendency to give women jobs thought of as 'women's work' and then complain that they aren't qualified for promotion.'

In her case the women's work was translation, which she did willingly because speaking Turkish was a rare skill which she felt was valuable.

Once she had set in train the grievance procedure, colleagues stopped speaking to her. When she walked into a lift, it would clear. She had three interviews as part of the grievance procedure, and said that one lasted many hours and another finished late at night. She was asked such questions as whether she kept the Koran beside her bed and ate in expensive restaurants.

A woman colleague rang to warn her that threats had been made against her, and suggested that someone might tamper with her car. That was two years ago, and she has not been back to work since.

Mrs Locker was born in Stepney, east London. Her mother was a Turkish Cypriot; her father, from Istanbul, left when she was very young. She went to a girls' comprehensive in Tower Hamlets and joined the police straight from school. She has a younger sister, who lives in northern Cyprus with her husband and children, and is herself married to an English police sergeant.

Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, apologised to her last week for the abuse she had suffered, although he denied that racial and sexual discrimination had prevented her promotion to detective work. But as part of the settlement she will return to the police as a detective constable in the CID, working in financial investigation. Scotland Yard pledged to set up a support network for women, and to begin racial-awareness training for all ranks. Mrs Locker will also receive a letter and face-to-face apology from DC Michael Barr, an officer about whose conduct she complained specifically. All of this represents a considerable victory: she was offered pounds 250 to settle in 1991.

Before she goes back to work she will take rehabilitation courses, often provided for officers who have lost confidence because they have been shot at or undergone some other trauma. Then she will need to update her knowledge of financial investigation. At the moment she has no idea whether the past two years will prejudice her future. 'I'm willing to start afresh. I can't forget, but I'm willing to put it all behind me. I hope there isn't bitterness, but I won't know until I go back.' Just now, though, she is feeling disoriented. 'After so long worrying about the case, I feel I've got nothing to hang on to. I feel at a loss, but I don't know what it is that I've lost.'

(Photograph omitted)