Police defend 'blacked-up' identity parade

Jason Bennetto Crime Correspondent
Friday 25 July 1997 23:02 BST

The police force which "black-ed-up" eight white men in an identity parade with a black suspect yesterday defended their action and argued that it was difficult to find ethnic minority volunteers in the north of England.

South Yorkshire police were widely criticised after it emerged that the faces of the white men were painted by a make-up artist in an attempt to make them look like the defendant. Their hands, however, were left white.

The blackmail case involving the black man at Sheffield Crown Court was dismissed on Thursday after judge Michael Astill described the identification procedures as "a farce".

South Yorkshire police said yesterday that they had successfully used a make up artist on a number of occasions to alter skin tones.

They said they could not find any volunteers in Sheffield to appear in an ID parade that looked like the suspect, Martin Kamara, who is 6ft 3, weighs 16 stone and is black and bald.

They contacted the police in Bradford, Leeds and Newcastle for alternative volunteers, but failed to find any.

Rosie Winterton, Labour MP for Doncaster central, said yesterday that the system "undermined"confidence in the police and described it as a "completely ludicrous procedure".

Tim Hollis, Assistant Chief Constables of South Yorkshire Police, said: "We take great pride in our ID parades.

"We acted in good faith, albeit the officer in the case was misguided in trying too hard and naturally, we will be reviewing our procedures accordingly."

He added: "Checks were made with banks of volunteers force wide and a search was made as far north as Newcastle without success.

"Knowing that the [make-up] artist had been successful in altering skin tones previously, 15 white volunteers of similar height and build were brought in to help.

"The solicitor and his client examined the line-up at some length but conceded that it was not a fair likeness. We acted in good faith and tried something which did not work. But we got it wrong trying to be as fair as we could to provide the right level of evidence."

Martin Kamara, 43, an engineer, of Wheatley, Doncaster, was to plead not guilty to blackmailing a financial adviser. His solicitor had objected to the white volunteers provided by the police and Mr Kamara was eventually postively identified in a "one man" line up, which are not considered very reliable.

After hearing details of the identity parade in pre-trial submissions, the judge ruled that Mr Kamara should be discharged. The judge said: "It's a farce when the faces of white men are painted black for an identity parade.

"Ethnic origin is not only to do with colour, it is to do with other features.

Mr Kamara said yesterday: "The [police] were racist in an ignorant sort of way, not a bigoted sort of way."

"There was no way that the identity parade could have been fair -I would have stood out like a sore thumb.

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