Brian Paddick: A bad day for race relations in the police

Tuesday 09 February 2010 01:00 GMT

I first met Ali Dizaei in 1999 during three days of tests and interviews to get on a course that would be our ticket to the highest ranks in the police service. Even then his reputation preceded him. As the outspoken head of the Black Police Association he had been justifiably critical of the police service's, at times, half-hearted attempts to tackle racism within its ranks and institutions.

The "leaderless discussion" exercised the question – ironically, bearing in mind the case that has just concluded – whether it was ever justified not to tell the truth.

One of the other candidates challenged Ali's assertion that telling lies was never justified "... surely you've told your children to believe in Father Christmas?" to which the Muslim Dizaei replied pointedly: "Actually, I don't believe in Christmas."

He subsequently complained in a conference speech that some of the tests we had been put through were culturally biased. For example, in the general knowledge test, one of the questions was "Who is Bart Simpson's mother?" something many Muslims would apparently not know.

If ever there was a "Marmite" senior officer, it was Ali Dizaei. Many hated him, believing he had "got away with it" because "he was black". But for the Black Police Association, he was their flag-bearer.

He was an undoubted champion for racial equality, but his approach was sometimes aggressive and confrontational when dealing with "the establishment". Ali Dizaei's MO was getting things done by upsetting people in authority who did not address his own race agenda.

He was clearly knowledgeable on race issues and when it came to my interview for promotion to Commander, I went to see him in his office at Kensington Police Station.

I did not realise our conversation was being bugged as part of an extraordinary operation by the Met to prove that he was corrupt: at one stage they planned a sting operation while Dizaei was in Canada, which attempted to involve him in drug dealing.

But despite their best efforts and being put on trial (twice), he was acquitted (twice). When the remaining disciplinary issues against him were dropped, he was paid compensation and given permission to write a book about his mistreatment as part of the deal that allowed him to resume his career in the Met. It was partly a political settlement to keep the Black Police Association on side, driven by the Home Office. He was eventually promoted to Commander.

Dizaei was also at the heart of the campaign to support Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who openly accused the former Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair of racism. That issue became entwined with the recent investigation which led to Dizaei's conviction. It resulted in the Black Police Association withdrawing support for the Met's efforts to recruit more black and minority ethnic police officers.

Ali Dizaei was clearly a thorn in the side of the Met. It was widely believed that Tarique Ghaffur's evidence at one of Dizaei's trials, in which he said the Met had a vendetta against Ali, played a crucial role in his acquittal, putting both men on a collision course with the Met. Both men had some justification for believing minority officers were getting a raw deal but both men adopted high-risk strategies to bring about change.

I do not believe those at the top of the Met were bright enough or brave enough to ensnare Dizaei and bring him down. It appears that it was Dizaei's own forcefulness, and his sometimes over-developed belief in his status and authority, that did for him.

Many at Scotland Yard, and those who have since retired like Andy Hayman and Sir Ian Blair who oversaw the original Dizaei investigation, will be celebrating his demise. For me its an ill-wind that blows no one any good, with both the Met and the Black Police Association having been damaged in the process.

The actions of Dizaei and his imprisonment will do little to improve race relations in the police service or improve public confidence in the police.

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