by BARNIE CHOUDHURY
Former BBC journalist
I HAVE been really lucky during my professional career. It is not just the variety of roles I have undertaken, but the people I have been blessed to meet and from whom I have learned.
In 1997, I was reporting about the Black Police Association (BPA) for BBC East Midlands when I met a black sergeant called Robyn Williams. She was impressive: bright, articulate and a straight talker, she was the poster girl for Nottinghamshire Police.
I always found her to be a voice of reason, so it did not surprise me that she climbed the ranks. Last week, though, she was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Williams was convicted for possessing an indecent video of a child. Before you condemn her, just read what happened.
Her estranged sister had sent her the clip via WhatsApp. Williams denied viewing it, which the jury accepted, but it still found her guilty of knowing about its contents. Come again? We are bombarded with messages via email, texts and WhatsApp. We do not always have the time to read them.
The former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, has it right when he says, “If she didn’t look at it and wasn’t aware that it was on her phone then in my view, she shouldn’t attract criminal liability. If she did know what it was and simply failed to report it, that should be an internal police disciplinary matter.” At worst, Wil
liams is guilty of an error of judgement.
One source I spoke to raised a series of questions. Were there any white people among the 17 who received the clip, and were they prosecuted? If not, why not? If there were white recipients, then this double standard cannot go unchallenged.
For decades, I have said that black and Asian minority ethnic (BAME) people have to hold themselves to a higher standard. I am now saying that something is corrupt when a decorated officer is prosecuted while others who do not look like her are not subject to the same law or its application.
According to one newspaper, the Metropolitan Police has fallen foul of its internal guidelines. According to the paper, the policy is that “the offender is the initial distributor and not those that have innocently received the image”. Further, “it would be disproportionate to instigate a criminal prosecution for all those who have received and sent on any such image/link”.
This is not the first time the Met has gone after an ethnic minority officer with no case to answer, and sadly, it probably will not be the last.
A recent example was its investigation of acting chief superintendent, Parm Sandhu, for breaching rules about honours’ nominations. The Met probed the south Asian officer for ‘gross misconduct’. Sandhu was cleared. Even if she had the temerity to start a campaign to get her an honour, where was the crime?
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, highlighted once again the Met’s stretched resources after last Friday’s terrorist attack in the capital. So why did the Met use its resources to prosecute this complete noncorrupt crime? Where was the public interest?
Would the resources not be better spent investigating, erm, I don’t know, terrorism?
Black and Asian officers believe they are unfairly targeted for investigation. In the Met, 13 per cent of its staff are from an ethnic minority, yet they make up 22 per cent of matters relating to misconduct investigations. It smacks of institutional racism, and while the Met is viewed through this prism, it will not recruit the most talented south Asians or ethnic minorities. Why should they put themselves through years of graft only to know they will never reach the top?
We have yet to have a south Asian chief constable who runs his or her own force. Sadly, we are unlikely to see one any time soon. Met assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, is of chief constable rank. If he has a fair wind, he may become the first officer of south Asian descent to become the Met commissioner. But there is not a viable candidate below him, nor a critical mass from which to choose.
The police service has gone backwards. It needs to ask why it never seems to have feasible chief officers, those above chief superintendent, of colour.
Today we have just three south Asians and one black person in that rank. Could it be that the idiotic axing of a brilliant set of programmes to identify and nurture potential BAME chiefs about five years ago is beginning to bite?
What this latest fiasco shows is that every time we take a step forward, we take 10 back. ‘Common sense’ is never common, is it? But that does not mean we should not exercise it.