• Wednesday, February 28, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: Top Asian cop Neil Basu slams race report

Neil Basu (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images).

By: Sarwar Alam

“Unedifying” row over despatch box “puts back equality, diversity and inclusion”

by Barnie Choudhury

Britain top south Asian police officer has told a global audience that institutional racism does exist in Britain – contrary to the government’s latest report on racism.

The Met’s assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, was speaking during the Ramniklal Solanki Pioneers event, organised by the Asian Media Group, owners of Eastern Eye, and the University of Southampton’s India Centre.

Unusually for a senior police officer, Basu was clear that the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) did not reflect the reality faced by people of colour around the country.

“I was slightly disappointed that that a report was needed in the first place,” he said. “I’m in the space that the recommendations in that report could have been written 30 years ago.

“So, if it doesn’t exist, why would you need those recommendations? The tone of the report is wrong.

“As a senior police officer, of course, I have to be apolitical. The point is, it’s landed very badly. So, it’s very difficult to see how that has moved us forward in any way, shape, or form.”

“Unedifying sight”

But he argued that institutional racism exits in the UK because “I see the fact that it’s very, very difficult to get on some professionals”.

Last month (20 April) equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, and her Labour shadow, Marsha de Cordova, clashed in the Commons over criticism of the report by anti-racism campaigners.

A United Nations’ working group described the conclusions as an “attempt to normalise white supremacy”.

“I have to be honest, one of the worst things I’ve seen in recent years was the unedifying sight of two impressive senior black female politicians shouting at each other from across the despatch box,” Basu continued.

“I thought if that doesn’t put back the cause of equality and diversity and inclusion years nothing else well, and it’s all as a result of a bad report with the wrong tone.”

Institutionally racist police

Some in the service say policing remains institutionally racist. They argue that the former chief constable of Kent, Mike Fuller, remains the only black offer to run his own force in the history of British policing.

Others, such as Tarique Ghaffur and Patricia Gallan, have reached that rank when they became assistant commissioners, but neither led his or her own police force.

In 2008, Ghaffur accused the Met of racism. He was paid to settle the case before taking legal action and signed a gagging clause, as well as leaving the force three months after holding a news conference to make public his disquiet.

Tarique Ghaffur publicly accused the Met Police of racism (SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images)

Gallan, who retired in 2018, said she had faced “overt and subtle racism” inside the service.

Basu revealed he had his own way of dealing with racism.

“You have to have very thick skin if you’ve got dark skin,” he often told his colleagues. “I don’t look for those microaggressions and slights and faults that some people think you will get.

“I joined in 1992, and I’ve had very little of that kind of behaviour to my face from white colleagues, many of whom did not know who I was. I’m also very large, so I’m not easy to intimidate, and I’ve got quite a smart mouth on me and I’m quite bright. So, if you want to take me on, have a go.”

Lack of progress

But he agreed the police service is not progressing fast enough.

“The idea that a single individual reaching the top of their profession is going to make a phenomenal difference to society is a bit too simplistic. Quite often it creates a backlash.

“Obama’s presidency created a backlash in the United States. And I think it was part of the reason for Trump, and he was part of the reason for the very, very obvious rising national, xenophobic, far right activity in that country.”

Basu is also a champion of diversity and told the audience that he was mentoring and coaching officers who were “white, of colour, gay and straight”.

Nel Basu has spoken at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Conference

“I have my own diversity, inclusion and equality strategy,” he said. “I’ve promoted the use of equal merit as a way of selecting people.

“I’ve asked Cress [Cressida Dick, Met commissioner], and she’s done this and she’s getting some traction on it, to go to government and try and get the equal merit law changed so that we can have a policy where we can use that for groups.

“The Met is currently using that policy in its recruitment process.”

Number 10 appointed the CRED panel to investigate racism in the UK after the killing of American black man, George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter protest campaigns.

The Black Lives Matter movement aimed to put pressure on the UK Government into changing the “UK’s institutional and systemic racism”.  (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Basu said the killing and subsequent protests “had awoken a lot of chief constables’ eyes to the incredible confidence gap in the black community”.

“If I talk to Afro Caribbean young men, their confidence gap in policing is very large and not closing, it’s widening,” he said. “We need to do something much better, more effective and take some action to close that gap.”

He revealed that on Tuesday (27 April) the National Police Chief Council met for its first get-together to discuss ways to create greater levels of confidence among black and Asian communities.

Counter terrorism

But his role on the police chiefs’ council is to lead the counter terrorism strategy for the whole of the country.

It is a role which preys heavy on his mind.

“Your mental and physical resilience, for a job where you are 24-7-365 days a year, on call, wherever you are in the world for a terrorist attack, it’s a brutal life,” he admitted.

“It’s a team effort, because the thing that gives me a few hours of sleep every night is the incredible calibre of the people I work with.

“My deputies, the team, they are the people who lead our operational frontline. The people on the frontline are extraordinary people doing an extraordinary job, and if I didn’t have faith in them, I’d never sleep. But I do. I think they’re incredible.”

Although MI5 leads on the safety of Britain in terms of national security inside the UK, the police are partners who, along with government, sit at the top table.

Basu took over as the national police lead in 2018. He revealed that there have been 12 terror attacks in the UK in the past six years, while police and security services have foiled 28 attempts since March 2017.

Eight of the plots which were disrupted were by right-wing groups, something which has changed over the past five years, he said.

“The [Brexit] referendum will about something to do, because of course, it generated a spirit of nationalism,” and Basu is fiercely loyal, supporting England rather than Wales of India.

“There’s nothing wrong with national pride. But when it becomes jingoism and xenophobia, it has created a permissive environment for the kind of people, the small minority, and they are a minority, of extremists to become much, much more violent.”

White extremism

That is why the police have taken action against white extremist and terror groups, such as National Action.

“We’ve imprisoned 17 of their top 20 people,” said Basu. “So, we smashed that organisation because we saw it, and we realised it was gaining traction, and we took action.”

He maintained that right wing terrorism in the UK was “a relatively small part” of his case work at 10 per cent, but it accounted for a fifth of terror related arrests.

It makes up 40 per cent of the government’s Prevent agenda.

“I can’t tell you whether it’s actually growing or whether it’s because we’ve joined together with the UK intelligence community retargeting it, we just see more of it,” Basu conceded.

“In other words, have we created more racists, or are we just uncovering the ones that were already there? But we are definitely doing something about it.”

Much of the increase in radicalisation and hate speech is online and social media. Britain’s most senior police officer for counter terrorism now wants social media companies to do more to stop radicalisation from spreading.

“Where they can do more, and where in the last two years they’ve started to step up, is to use their great might and resources to automatically take stuff out before it gets up there,” he said.

“The utopia for me is, you’re trying to post something extremely explicit or violent, or criminal online, and their systems pick it up before you can post it and immediately takes it down.

“It’s too late if they’ve posted it, because it then gets replicated, and if it goes viral, gets replicated millions of times.”

Social media inaction

The problem, he believed, was that most social media companies were registered in America, which has first amendment rights to free speech and lawful protests.

“The decision about what should be on those sites is probably not a matter for six people in six major companies,” he said.

“I will enforce the laws I’m given to enforce, but it is for society and politicians to debate whether they’ve got that balance right, and to put pressure on social media if they think they haven’t.

“And by the way, over the last three years, the government has seen fit to do precisely that joining with governments around the world to do that.”

But controversially, Basu also wanted to lower the bar between freedom of expression comment and criminality.

“I don’t think freedom of expression, or free speech, is an unalienable, unassailable, absolute right,” he said.

“There is a responsibility that comes from having the freedom to speak, and that responsibility is you shouldn’t be allowed to do harm.

“Now, we set a bar that says harm is a legal concept. That bar may be too high, and I think we should start talking about what hateful extremism looks like whether or not the gap between hate crime that we can prosecute, and terrorism, there is a space that we have not yet accounted for.”

His views have changed over because of what he has experienced over the past six years in his roles in counter terrorism.

“We don’t have a compelling counter narrative to some of the hate speech that’s out there,” he argued.

“Who is out there talking to give the counter point, the argument for liberal western democracy? If you did, you could always guarantee that every time something went viral, went into the public domain or went on mass media there would be two sides of the argument.

“I would agree with you that that would be a much better place to be, and that’s free speech. But you can’t guarantee that, and all you get is a continual reinforcement of one part of the part of the issue. So that’s what worries me most.”

Analysis

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu warned the Ramniklal Solanki Pioneers audience to be careful about labelling religious groups as terrorists.

“I didn’t see Al Qaeda and Islamic State as Muslim, although academics would say, obviously, they’re using the banner of the Muslim faith for what they do. But I didn’t see them as representative of that faith.

“They’re not like any Muslims that I know. Their behaviour is so extreme, it doesn’t represent that faith, any more than people who are killing in the name of Christianity, who are white supremacists, represent Christianity.”

He also stressed that a relatively small number of people in Britain were extremists and carried out terror related offences.

“I don’t think it is huge radicalisation of the white communities,” he said. “It will depend on what geography you’re in, and my chief constable colleagues who police small, de-industrialised poverty-stricken towns in the northeast, for instance, would say it’s absolutely a problem, radicalising communities there.

“And those people trying to do community cohesion work in places like Bradford and some of the smaller towns will know that that is a definite problem. I still don’t think it’s the majority of the public.”

The government’s figures bear him out.

Since 11 September 2001, 4,869, people have been arrested for terror related offences in the UK.

Of these 1,928 were Asian, 1,553 white and 588 black.

In the past two years more white people have been arrested than any other ethnic group.

The number of arrests has dropped during 2020. For Asian communities, it has decreased by 43 per cent, while it is down 24 per cent for white suspects.

The number of arrests has dropped during 2020. For Asian communities, it has decreased by 43 per cent, while it is down 24 per cent for white suspects.

How his role affects him

“There have been 12 attacks successful in the six years I’ve been in counter terrorism, and every single one of those lives with me every minute of every day. Anyone who saw we give evidence at the Manchester public inquiry, and I’ve given many speeches since 2017, when I was Mark’s [Rowley] deputy, and my sole responsibility was preventing attacks in the UK, to work with MI5 to prevent attacks in the UK.

“My four-page job description comes down to that one line, and there were five attacks and 36 people died. There was a time, and I’m getting old, I could tell you their names, and I do think about them every day.

“My lawyer, before I went to the Manchester public inquiry [into the Arena bombing], said “You can’t say that, that’s just not true. Nobody feels like that.” I do. I took this job to stop there being more victims., and in the time that I’ve been in counterterrorism, we have stopped 28 plots to kill people in the UK. So, we are quite effective at stopping.

“When you consider there are 10s and 10s of 1000s of people who are potentially dangerous, but they may just be keyboard warriors. We have to make judgments every single day about whether that is the person we’re putting our resources against, or whether it’s that person, or whether it’s that why there is that cell. There are people, making those fine judgments every day on behalf of 65 million people, who are castigated when they get it wrong, and very, very, very rarely do you hear about when they get it right.”

Brexit and policing

“It’s taken up so much emotional time and energy over the past few years. It’s been extraordinary. The United Kingdom government negotiated quite a good security treaty. There was a point before the very final moment on the final day, where we thought if we don’t get the security treaty, it will be a disaster, more of a disaster for wider police and counterterrorism.

“There will be mitigations from losing some of the tools that were available to us. We didn’t get access to the European database, in which all countries share intelligence on criminals. So, we’ve found other ways of doing that. We work more closely with Interpol. Now, we put our most wanted on Interpol notices.

“But actually, nothing can replicate the speed and agility of that [European] system. So, we are going to have to do something to close that gap. And until we’ve closed that gap, there is a delay between what might be going on in another country, where that individual might be, and as actually being able to see it. There’s a gap for European Union partners, and what we put on the system, and how quickly they can see who may be travelling from the UK into their area. So, by no means fixed, but it is much better than it could have been.”

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