Christina Patterson: The struggle against police racism has just got a lot harder

It was all the more serious, said the judge, because Ali Dizaei had been a 'role model'


If you're a pop star, it's a good idea to be "flamboyant". It's a good idea to wear clothes that make people look at you, and do things that make people talk about you, and it's good when people think you have an interesting sex life and that you might have taken drugs. But it isn't quite so good to do things that make people say you're "flamboyant", and also "colourful", and also "controversial", if you're a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police.

Ali Dizaei, who's a commander in the Met, but probably not for much longer, doesn't seem to have minded being described as "flamboyant". He seems to have thought that it was a good idea to be in the news an awful lot. He seems to think that having rows is a good way of fighting for truth and justice. He seems to think that the truth and justice he has needed to fight for have been to do with the racism of the police.

When, for example, he was Chief Inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department at Henley-on-Thames, he was asked to advise the Home Secretary on "issues" to do with race. And when he was transferred to the Met in 1999, which was also the year that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry said the Met was "institutionally racist", he said that the tests used to pick officers for senior ranks were "culturally biased" and that this led to a kind of "ethnic cleansing".

A few months later, he got into trouble himself. People who worked with him said he was using drugs, and seeing prostitutes, and fiddling his expenses, and taking bribes. So many people said this that the Met started an investigation, and put more than 50 officers on the case. The investigation, which was called "Operation Helios", which is the Greek name for the Sun god, which someone at the Met might have thought was funny, cost £2.2m, which is more than any other inquiry into a police officer's behaviour that the Met has ever run. In January 2001, Ali Dizaei was suspended from his job, and charged with "misconduct in public office" and "perverting the course of justice".

Two and a half years later, he was cleared. There had, said Dizaei, been a campaign to "destroy" his career. He would, he said, be taking out a claim for "racial discrimination". The National Black Police Association, which had him as its president, said that there should be an inquiry. And there was. The inquiry said that the investigation was "disproportionate" and that Dizaei's "race played a part". And everyone said they were sorry. Dizaei went back to work, he was told, with his "integrity intact".

It's a terrible shame that that wasn't that. It's a terrible shame that after he wrote a book about his police career, which got him even more publicity, and after Ian Blair said he was sorry about "Operation Helios", and after Dizaei was promoted to the rank of Commander, which he had tried and failed at twice, he couldn't make sure that the only crimes that were mentioned next to his name were crimes he was trying to solve. But, unfortunately, they weren't. In September 2008, he was suspended again. In May 2009, he was charged with something that was much more serious than fiddling expenses and taking drugs. He had, said the prosecution, falsely arrested a man, and tried to frame him.

Two years ago, he was found guilty, and jailed. Last May, he won his appeal and was released. But on Monday, in a retrial, he was found guilty again. He had, said a doctor, lied about his injuries. He had, said the judge, committed a very serious "breach of trust". It was, said the CPS, a "wholesale abuse of power". And it was all the more serious, said the judge, because he had been a "role model". What he didn't say, but might have, was that almost everything to do with Ali Dizaei made you feel confused. Just reading about all those court cases made you wonder why a man would get into so much trouble so often and why he would be so cross with other people when he did. It made you wonder if a man who had been found guilty of "perverting the course of justice" in two trials had also been lying in the one where he wasn't. And why a man who seemed to have trouble keeping to the law worked in a job where you had to catch people who break it. And why he had been given so much power.

It made you wonder, for example, whether he had been given all those promotions not because he was good at his job, but because his bosses were scared that he would call them "racist" if he wasn't. It made you want to know if they were scared that he would call them "racist" because they were sick of being called "racist", and didn't think they were, or because they were worried that he might be right.

It made you think that they probably wouldn't think he was right to call them "racist" just because he wasn't being promoted, but that he might be thinking of some TV programmes and reports. It made you think that they might not want to be reminded about the BBC undercover investigation that showed police recruits making very, very racist comments, or about the figures for "stop and search". It made you imagine that they might not want to be reminded of reports to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about "specialist squads" in the police appearing to ethnic minority officers to be "closed shops". Or about the national DNA database, and how black men are four times more likely to be on it than white.

It also made you think of all the efforts they said they were making, and how they were trying to improve "race and diversity training", and introduce "positive action" to get more ethnic minority recruits. And of how it was quite hard to get young black and Asian men to take a job that often made them very unpopular, but that they had still managed to double the percentage in 10 years. And of how they were trying very, very hard to get them up the ranks, so that there would be more "role models". And of how easy it was for one rotten "role model" to mess all this up.

It made you think that no one has to be a role model, but if you're in the police you do. If you're in the police, you have to keep the law, and if you're in the police and you talk a lot about race, you have to be a role model for your "race", too. It made you think that Ali Dizaei had betrayed his profession, but then quite a few police officers betray their profession. What was much, much more serious was that he had betrayed the real victims of racism he claimed to serve.;

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