Dr Richard Stone, panel member of the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and lifelong campaigner for social justice, from his foreword to Behind the Blue Line by Gurpal Virdi.
In my working life, I have seen too many stories of the injustices suffered by brave people who stick their head above the parapet and challenge racial inequality and injustice. This book by Gurpal Virdi is a first-class example of such a story. In it he describes, in a way that I have never before seen in print, a catalogue of victimisation and of totally unprofessional actions by the Metropolitan Police, putting their ‘adversary’ into positions of danger and of humiliation. It is essential that such stories are told. In the twenty years since 1999 there have been too many Virdi-type cases.
One day in 2011, in my morning newspaper I saw that Gurpal Virdi had at last been vindicated by an appeal from an employment tribunal. He had told me that he had felt that he had no option but to test his case against the Metropolitan Police Service in a legal action.
After a lengthy conversation on the rights and wrongs of the Met, I asked what his future plans were. I was staggered when he said: ‘Now that I’m cleared of any wrongdoing, I can get back to work again!’
‘With the Met?’
‘But’, I spluttered in surprise, ‘they don’t like you there. They don’t want you around at all!’
‘But that’s why I’m going back. By confronting them with the judgment, I hope they will learn the lessons.’
Virdi was so happy in his newly proved integrity, I couldn’t bear to puncture his positive mood. I have, sadly, seen too often what happens to police officers from BAME (Black, Asian and other ethnic minority) backgrounds who ‘win’ in a tribunal, or in some other legal action. Senior white officers seem to feel they have been humiliated.
With Virdi’s book now in circulation, there is a written account of institutional racism that I can quote from. Any police officer who claims not to understand the meaning of institutional racism can be directed to Behind the Blue Line.
Police services tend to try hard to avoid these cases going to court hearings, preferring to settle out of court, usually with a gagging clause in place and no admission of liability by the Met. Settlements are often double the amount that complainants’ lawyers had told them they could expect if they continued with the case until a judgment by the court. What a waste of scarce money!
Little surprise then, that many black British citizens go on, year after year, crying out, ‘When will they ever learn?’ Such a shame that ‘they’ – the Association of Chief Police Officers, for example – have never, to my knowledge, done anything to ensure that its members lead on this issue ‘from the top’.
Twenty years ago, during the Lawrence Inquiry, we anti-racists noted similarities with the feminist cause. It is unprofessional to discriminate against any group of people on the grounds of their sex or colour. It seems, post-Weinstein, that a major change in culture may finally be on the horizon for women. The same is long overdue for BAME people. We are losing many people who could be valuable contributors to the police service.
It is a testament to Virdi’s strength of character and the support of his family that he lives not just to tell this important tale but that in conjunction with his excellent legal team of Matt Foot (Birnberg Peirce and Partners) and Henry Blaxland QC (Garden Court Chambers) he put into practice his detective training and gathered evidence that ensured his acquittal.
Thanks to the careful use of official transcripts from his ‘retirement case’, the reader comes away with the view that Gurpal Virdi’s journey in the Metropolitan Police Service was overshadowed by a sinister and potentially orchestrated campaign of terror aimed at destroying the man, his reputation and his career. We are presented with a litany of contentious issues in the UK criminal justice system: the handling of historical sexual assault cases; use of force; racism; police leaking information to the press; inaccurate charging decisions. The overall aim of the campaign was to ensure maximum damage, and the destruction of his new life in local politics, which Virdi had established.
In going forward, we need to understand why this sad state of affairs was allowed to happen. As a panel member of the Macpherson Inquiry, I am concerned that a man who provided cogent and important evidence to the inquiry twenty years ago has been subjected to a catalogue of slurs for which there is no explanation. This has continued throughout his working career and, sadly, even on his retirement.
It is because of this that I am minded to call for the government to commit itself to holding yet another public inquiry to establish what happened and why, so that this does not happen again.
I have to acknowledge that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry failed to get to the roots of police racism. Of course, there have been huge positive changes in attitudes towards racism. Who would have thought, twenty-five years ago, that Operation Black Vote would be able to boast of achieving fifty-two BAME MPs?
Nonetheless, Gurpal Virdi cannot see enough progress in the police services to warrant moderating the views in his book. What is needed is a radical change in the culture from top to bottom.
CLICK HERE: Behind the Blue Line