White policeman sacked after racist `joke' protest

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The Independent Online
THE COMMISSION for Racial Equality is backing the case of a white policeman who was offended by racist material said to have been shown to him by a senior colleague.

Paul Rice, who worked as a forest-keeper at Epping Forest, north-east London, a policing post with the powers of a constable, was dismissed after a dispute which, he said, began when he objected to the material. His industrial tribunal case for unfair dismissal has been backed by the commission, and Scotland Yard's Black Police Association said it was taking a keen interest in the proceedings.

The dispute began in February last year, when Martin Whitfield, a supervisor, allegedly showed Mr Rice - whose wife is Malaysian Chinese - and a colleague, Leigh Tierney, a fake ethnic monitoring form purporting to be from the London borough of Newham, which contained such terms as "coons", "wogs" and "niggers". Mr Whitfield is said to have found it amusing.

According to Mr Rice, both he and Mr Tierney, who is also white, told Mr Whitfield they objected to him showing the material, which, they warned, was a breach of the Public Order Act. They complained to the Epping Forest management.

The reaction, said Mr Rice, ranged from inaction to attempts to play down the affair. After a three-week delay in obtaining an official response, Mr Rice and Mr Tierney sought the advice of the Metropolitan Police, which described it as a serious matter and logged the incident as a crime. An investigation was started.

But the Epping Forest authorities rejected Mr Rice's view that Mr Whitfield's alleged actions should lead to a criminal investigation and held instead that the case should be treated as an issue of harassment. The Superintendent of Epping Forest, John Besent, subsequently ruled that it did not even amount to harassment, and should be a matter for internal disciplinary procedure.

Soon afterwards Mr Rice was told by the Metropolitan Police that they were discontinuing their inquiries because they had been assured that the Epping Forest management was dealing with the matter internally.

Mr Rice said that while he continued to protest about the attitude of the management, he was unfairly treated and victimised. Mr Whitfield, who was his line manager, sent him on lone foot patrols in what he considered to be the busiest parts of the forest without, he maintained, adequate back-up.

The dispute also personally affected Mr Rice and his wife, Ming. Aissa, their 16-year-old daughter, left home, and Mr Rice was diagnosed as suffering from a stress-related illness. In May he was dismissed, also losing the home that came with his job. Mrs Rice also had to give up her job temporarily, because of stress.

In his tribunal hearing, scheduled for November, Mr Rice, 40, will be seeking compensation for loss of earnings and an apology for the allegedly racially offensive behaviour.

The Corporation of London, which owns Epping Forest, and runs the policing operation, denies Mr Rice's claims. The forest management admits the incident involving racist material occurred but denies there was any attempt to cover it up or that he had been victimised.

Mr Rice said: "I am astonished that in these times, after the Lawrence inquiry, this sort of attitude is still allowed to exist. Apart from finding the material shown to me personally offensive, I was also very saddened that the management did not seem to grasp how serious this kind of racist attitude is. It was not just me, a lot of my colleagues, who are white, are also very aggrieved by what had happened."

A Corporation of London spokeswoman said: "We can confirm Mr Rice has decided to pursue a case of unfair dismissal on grounds of racial discrimination and victimisation, and a hearing has been set ... Under the circumstances we do not wish to say any more than that."