Reporters don't start riots

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The Independent Online
To mark his third anniversary as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Condon let rip in a radio interview and tried to discredit The Voice newspaper by accusing us of being inflammatory and wildly irresponsible, and fuelling discontent.

His condescending tone was because we dare to do what every other newspaper does - report the facts. We printed an anonymous eyewitness account of police arresting a young black man, Wayne Douglas, who later died in police custody.

The witness asked for anonymity. After serious consideration we agreed, because of his powerful six-page sworn affidavit, his emotional turmoil and his promise that he would be willing to give evidence in court.

Unfortunately, a peaceful demonstration then turned into a disturbance for which Sir Paul criticises our "inflammatory" reporting. We condemn violence in any shape or form and we unequivocally stated our displeasure about the disruption, which only diverted attention from the important issue of deaths in custody.

He forgets that over the past two decades there have been disturbances on Britain's streets triggered by strained relations between the police and the black community with no prompting from The Voice.

If Sir Paul has a complaint about any article we print, then he should go through the proper channels. He did not complain to the Press Complaints Commission, nor did he contact us for a right of reply - which he would have been granted.

Calls have been made for his resignation, but that is too simple an answer. Sir Paul started his tenure in good stead, seeming to understand that there were problems between his officers and the black community. Internally he set out to increase the quota of black officers in the Metropolitan force, and externally he listened to what the community was saying. But by pouring scorn on our stories, especially when they highlight the failings of his officers, he is now ignoring the voices of many ordinary, law-abiding black people who contribute to the upkeep of the force.

Each week our newsdesk is inundated with calls from people who claim to have experienced police harassment. We investigate every one and sometimes find that the police were only doing their jobs. But we cannot ignore that many in the community feel aggrieved by the treatment they receive from Sir Paul's officers.

The freedom of the press is an extremely important commodity in every democratic society. It ensures that everybody, especially the poor and maligned, gets a fair hearing and highlights events that many would like to cast asunder. The majority of black people are law-abiding citizens who condemn lawlessness and criminality, but we as a black newspaper cannot stand by and do nothing when heavy-handed and unjust policing becomes an issue in our community.

When Wayne Douglas died, the mainstream media completely ignored the story. An eyewitness came forward and we thought it was our duty to make public his statement. Sir Paul, however, did not like the message and so decided to shoot the messenger.

But the message is valid and we would do the same again.

The writer is editor of 'The Voice'.