Black detective settles race bias case

Ian Burrell
Friday 13 November 1998 01:02

ONE OF Britain's most high- profile black police officers has reached an out-of-court settlement with the Metropolitan Police after a four-year race discrimination action that nearly destroyed his health.

Detective Inspector David Michael, founder member and former chairman of the Black Police Association (BPA), will join the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, at New Scotland Yard today to announce that the dispute has been "amicably" resolved.

It is understood the settlement includes a financial payment and a series of measures designed to improve working conditions for black officers.

The settlement, which follows a gruelling legal battle after which Det Insp Michael took a year off work with stress-related illness, comes when the Met is under intense pressure to tackle racism in the force. Evidence submitted to the inquiry into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence has suggested the force is "institutionally racist".

Det Insp Michael, who has served with the force for 26 years and is its most experienced black officer, had claimed that, despite a series of commendations, he had never been allowed to progress to the ranks held by white colleagues.

In an interview with The Independent, he said: "There has been an amicable settlement to the case and it is to my satisfaction. I am now optimistic that the rest of my time in the service will be productive and rewarding."

Det Insp Michael's willingness to speak out about racism within the ranks made him an object of suspicion in some police quarters, which dismissed the BPA as "unnecessary and divisive" when it was founded in 1994. Some colleagues - who even suggested that BPA members were working in league with opponents of the police - made his life extremely difficult.

"As chairman of the BPA, I was very outspoken about racism in the Metropolitan Police and at the same time I had an outstanding industrial tribunal action which was race-related," he said. "As I carried on my normal day-to-day police duties, investigating murders and rapes and managing CID teams, my life became very uncomfortable on a daily basis."

He has claimed he was routinely victimised and made the target of insidious comments designed subtly to undermine his position.

Friction between Det Insp Michael, 44, and some colleagues reached a peak when he agreed to share a platform with prominent black American lawyers at a conference called Race for Justice, held in London in 1995.

Sitting alongside Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer who represented OJSimpson, Det Insp Michael raised the possibility that British police forces had their own versions of Mark Fuhrman, the racist officer who investigated the Simpson case.

The comments were misrepresented in newspapers as a slur on all white officers and provoked a wave of hostility, particularly from the Police Federation. He became even more ostracised. He says he was known as "a civil rights spy in the camp" and "a troublemaker". After nearly three years of tension, the pressure became too much. "In the end, I did have to go off work for a year for stress," he said.

Last June, he returned to work with the Organised Crime Group at New Scotland Yard.

The Met had always promised to defend itself vigorously against Det Insp Michael's claims of discrimination but there was a noticeable softening in attitude as thetribunal date got closer, he said.

Det Insp Michael, who was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica and came to Britain aged 10, credits the Lawrence inquiry for enlightening senior colleagues to problems that he has long railed against.

He said: "I have noticed that it has helped certain senior officers to reach an understanding of some of the issues. We are in a period of change and can look forward with optimism."

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