A RETIRED Asian police officer who was recently cleared of a sex charge has cautioned ethnic minorities in the Metropolitan Police to “be careful” when they are up for promotion.
Last week, home secretary Theresa May was urged to review the case of former Met Police sergeant Gurpal Virdi, who was cleared last month of sexually abusing a boy in a police van in 1986.
It took a jury less than an hour to clear Virdi last month at Southwark crown court. He retired from the Met in 2012 after 30 years of service.
The 56 year-old, who believes he was the victim of a vendetta by the Met, said he would not advise Asians to stay away from joining Britain’s biggest police force.
However, he added that he would advise policemen from minority backgrounds to tread carefully when asking for a higher position.
“If somebody has that urge to join, which I had, you can’t stop that, because people want to help the community,” he told Eastern Eye.
“What I would say is just be very careful, because once you go for a promotion or specialisation, you’re going to be a target.
“I’m not trying to put people off, but that is the reality. You will become a target because ethnic minorities are still short in number. We don’t have enough ethnic officers at the top.”
Currently, around 12 per cent of police officers at the Met come from ethnic minority backgrounds, but the London Assembly found that less than six per cent of the force’s BAME officers are ranked as inspector or above.
Virdi’s case first came to light when he was accused of sending racist hate mail to himself and other ethnic minority officers in 1998. His claims of racism were dismissed by a police discipline panel in March 2000.
But in August that same year, an employment tribunal found the Met had racially discriminated against Virdi.
In February 2002 he received an apology and £240,000 in compensation, and returned to work. In 2007, an employment tribunal found that the Met had victimised Virdi again by refusing him promotion in 2005, because he had previously won a race discrimination case against the force.
Diversity and equality in the Met has improved since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, Virdi said, but added that there was more to be done.
“It’s still very white dominated, male middle class. If you raise your head above the parapet, you are shot down immediately. Ethnic officers who have reached high ranks or even survived 30 years, most of them had employment tribunals against the Met. That’s not a healthy situation to be in, especially for our community.
“A lot of our youngsters are educated, but are not progressing quickly. They [Met] come out with these gimmicks such as, ‘we can only recruit from London’, or ‘officers with two languages’, but when it comes to promotion or specialisations, they are blocked. So why should someone stay on the frontline all their career and be wasted when a white officer without any qualifications gets pushed up the ladder?”
Virdi believes there was malicious intent in the “horrendous” sex charge brought against him, as he was running for local council elections in Hounslow, west London.
“They were horrendous allegations to have faced, considering for 30 years I did everything by the book.
“At the the time I was suspicious, because I was going for my local council elections in Hounslow last year.”
Virdi was dropped by the Labour party as a candidate, which meant he had to stand as a independent.
He said: “Luckily, the local people supported me and got me through. They (police) did some very horrible publicity towards me. Because it’s a sexual allegation, the media is unable to report it. Because of guidelines, the complainant remains anonymous, whereas I was plastered everywhere.
“My family were shocked. My niece was supposed to get married last year; we had to postpone that. You can’t have these allegations hanging around you, especially in our culture.”
Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, who wrote to the home secretary to review Virdi’s case, told Eastern Eye last week that “malice” and “incompetence” may have played a part in the investigation by the Met. “We are hoping Theresa May will do a review,” said Virdi.
“Police officers were telling lies in court last time and the same thing is happening this time. Nobody’s held to account, nobody’s arrested and nobody’s sacked.”
Deputy assistant commissioner Fiona Taylor, of the directorate of professional standards at the Met, said when allegations were raised by the victim “it was only right that we investigated them thoroughly and impartially”.
A Met police spokesperson told Eastern Eye that they have long recognised that more progress needs to be made in recruiting, retaining and promoting officers from minority backgrounds.
She said: “While we have the largest proportion of BME officers of any force in the UK, at nearly 12 per cent, we are not in the least bit complacent and are doing all we can to improve representation. This year, on average, 26 per cent of our recruits are from minority backgrounds, this is an increase from approximately 16 per cent on last year.
“We have also taken a leading role in the national Direct Entry Superintendent programme, which has seen five people joining the service at the rank of superintendent. Of these, two are from minority backgrounds.
“Despite doing all we can within the current legislative framework, we will not be able to achieve a workforce that properly represents London’s diversity for many, many years.
“It will take more time still for the officers we can recruit to gain promotion so that the necessary change is seen at all levels of the service.”