On Thursday 16th January, 2020, at the Leeds Employment Tribunal centre, a final hearing into claims of racial and religious discrimination against West Yorkshire Police opened. A serving police sergeant, Umer Saeed, is the claimant. An accomplished individual, with a BSc degree in Business Administration and Management and over 20 years experience as a police officer; a large part of that in specialist roles.
The hearing was listed for twelve court days with some highly-charged evidence likely to be heard from the witness box. Cross-examination was set to be a lively affair as WYP’s ‘go-to’ counsel, Olivia Checa-Dover, yet again takes the stage. She has recently represented the police in two other high profile civil court cases, featuring a Bradford doctor, Abdul Rashid (read more here) and a retired police constable, Kerry Perkins (read more here).
In the event, the hearing was adjourned and the parties agreed to a judicial mediation process. That process has now broken down and, in the interim period, Sgt Saeed has issued two further claims against his employer alleging victimisation and disability discrimination.
Umer Saeed is represented by Rebecca Townsend of Rebian Solicitors and their instructed barrister is Adam Willoughby of Broadway House Chambers.
In an extraordinary development, the full extent of a dispute between those two barristers was revealed at a case management hearing held on 14th December, 2020. Both have now recused themselves from the claim. Full details here.
As many have done before him, Sgt Saeed alleges that the ‘cover-up’ of discrimination, both against him and others in the force area, goes to the very top of the force’s hierarchy. It is anticipated that around twenty witnesses will give testimony to the tribunal, unless their witness statements are admitted into evidence in the meantime. It is customary in these proceedings for the police to turn up with a small army of lawyers, witnesses and observers, regardless of cost to the taxpaying public.
The well-informed might, quite rightly, muse as to why the chief constable did not take steps to compromise the Saeed claim, with its high potential for serious reputational and financial damage to the force. But it may well be that he was overruled by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s highly litigious chief executive, Fraser Sampson. A noted wastrel when public funds are in issue. His wider role also encompasses general counsel to the police, giving him overall control of the force’s legal department. Indeed, from personal experience, I can say that he regards the WYP Head of Legal Services with scarcely concealed disdain.
The PCC signs off all cheques for the police, of course, as part of his statutory remit. His office has not responded to a press enquiry on the subject of diversity and inclusion – and how they come to be facing the class, and scale, of allegations made by Sgt Saeed.
Interest in the case is, undoubtedly, heightened when one takes into account the standing of Umer Saeed as a nationally known figure in Black and Muslim staff associations. He is Chair of the West Yorkshire Black Police Association, and General Secretary and a Cabinet Member of the National Black Police Association.
He is also a trained Police Federation representative and speaks four languages; Arabic, Punjabi, Slovak, Urdu. He joined the police service in June, 1999.
In February 2015, he received national prominence when he broke into the kitchen window of a burning house and saved the lives of a mother and two young children in Ireland Wood, Leeds. It was an outstanding act of bravery and Saeed had this to say of his heroism: “The smoke was acrid and I couldn’t breathe but I was focused on finding them and getting them out in one piece. It was quite a disorientating situation with the smoke alarm going off.”
His District Commander, Temporary Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, quite rightly commended the officer’s work: “PC Saeed clearly displayed the qualities of bravery and professionalism that we so often see from our officers and staff in situations where people are in danger.
“He could see this family needed immediate help and his training gave him the confidence to assess the situation and intervene to bring them to safety from a potentially life-threatening situation.”
Hussain has since moved onto Greater Manchester Police, in controversial circumstances (read more here), and a well placed source on his old patch tells me he has not sustained that support for his fellow BME officer over Saeed’s discrimination claims. This would surprise few close to the seat of the action at both GMP and WYP, as ‘top brass’ closing ranks at the first sign of trouble for them, either individually or as as a police force, is de rigeur. Indeed, Hussain has been reported recently as claiming that well-evidenced and highly publicised criticism of his present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, by some distance the worst in the country (read more here), constitutes ‘a hate campaign‘.
As a footnote, and by way of balance, it should be noted that, back in 2013, Umer Saeed also featured in the high profile Anthony Ramsden case, involving WYP and the thoroughly disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), following an assault at Leeds United football ground in 2011. A widescale, dishonestly grounded ‘cover-up’ by both the police force and watchdog was, eventually, exposed.
A High Court case that followed is now an oft-cited legal authority in police complaints cases. Saeed was one of six Police Support Unit (PSU) officers giving evidence whom the force, and the IPCC, claimed ALL corroborated one another. When disclosure was eventually wrested from WYP, not ONE single statement corroborated ANY other. The judgment (read in full here) did not reflect the full transrcipt of the proceedings which, at very considerable expense, Mr Ramsden took the trouble to obtain. Another demonstration of the seemingly unwritten public policy of at least some of the local judiciary that demands every conceivable accommodation be granted to West Yorkshire Police when determining matters potentially adverse to the public’s confidence in them.
No criticism of PC Saeed (as he was then) should be inferred: Even though he was the only officer who admitted striking a member of the public, in the subject area outside the Elland Round ground, with his long baton, and, therefore, the one most likely to have hit Mr Ramsden, his witness statement was easily the most frank, and credible, of the six.
I declare a professional interest, having acted as police complaints advocate for Mr Ramsden, and being adjacent to the facts throughout. I also assisted in the placement of widespread local, regional and national media coverage of the case.
Over the past ten years there has been persistent, and often very damaging, publicity over the way West Yorkshire Police treats its black and minority ethnic (BME) officers and, on the evidence of some troubling civil court cases, members of the public of colour, too.
In May 2009, the Sunday Telegraph published an article following the leaking of a dossier that was highly critical of the force’s notorious Professional Standards Department and their discriminatory handling of complaints against BME’s. This followed a series of accusations from the officials at the local branches of the Police Federation and the National Black Police Association. The WYP talking head was Deputy Chief Constable, David Crompton, later to fall into repeated disgrace as chief constable at beleaguered South Yorkshire Police (read more here). He denied there was a problem.
In March 2011, PC Kashif Ahmed had all ten charges against him dismissed by a judge at Bradford Crown Court after revelations about the seriously flawed way officers had investigated the case. HHJ Peter Benson, ruling in his favour to stay the prosecution, found that there was a “very significant irregularity and impropriety at the root of the investigation” and the whole process was “tarnished”.
Judge Benson described two police witnesses, Detective Sergeant Penny Morley and Detective Constable Karen Wade who gave evidence in court during Ahmed’s application to dismiss the case, as “evasive.” He went on to say that Morley, who opened a CD document containing privileged contact between Mr Ahmed and his solicitor, had not told the truth. It is beyond incredible that Morley remained a much-favoured officer in WYP’s Professional Standards Department until ‘retiring’ late last year. Her personal friendship with ACC Angela Williams, who has publicly described Morley as ‘wonderful’, enabled her to re-start at WYP as a civilian officer immediately after her warrant card was handed in. Obviously, on this evidence, being called a liar and rubbish at the job, by a circuit judge, is no handicap in the ranks of West Yorkshire Police.
Angela Williams is the force lead on Diversity and Equality. Her Twitter account has now been deleted.
Kash Ahmed later issued a civil claim against the police alleging a “witch hunt” against him by the PSD officers, led by another disgraced officer, DCI Steve Bennett (read more here). Having to represent himself in court against the force solicitor, experienced counsel and a small army of officers giving evidence against him, his claim, perhaps understandably, only succeeded in part and he had a sizeable costs award ordered against him.
Dr Rashid, whose civil claim is referred to in the second paragraph of this article, is a highly respected professional, of Asian origin, who also claims, with considerable justification, that he was the subject of a “witch hunt” by WYP and that, in the particular circumstances of his case, if he had been a white, middle-class doctor he would not have been subjected to the same degrading, disproportionate, disgraceful treatment. His civil claim was dismissed after a extraordinarily one-sided hearing, but he was recently given permission to appeal the decision of Mr Recorder Nolan QC, by a High Court judge. The hearing of the appeal is presently listed for 13th February, 2020 in the High Court in Leeds.
Olivia Checa-Dover unsuccessfully sought to have me removed from the press seats during the Rashid hearing, questioning my accreditation and claiming (unspecified) inaccuracies in the reporting of the case (read in full here). The other two articles flowing from that ten day court hearing stand unchallenged. One exposes a prima facie case of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by six WYP officers (read the damning details here). Miss Checa-Dover also objected, unsuccessfully, to my presence in the press seats at the hearing of the Kerry Perkins claim, telling opposing counsel that I had a “vendetta” against her. Yet another in an increasingly long line of ludicrous and unsubstantiated submissions. Unsurprisingly, that gained no traction, either. Miss Perkins has also robustly appealed the judgment of HHJ Neil Davey QC, whose decision did not appear to reflect what I heard from the press box. Indeed, one might say that Miss Checa-Dover might well have written it for him.
Dismissing the remaining parts of the Kashif Ahmed claim against the police, which had included negligence, false imprisonment and theft, HHJ Mark Gosnell said: “I fully accept that Mr Ahmed was convinced in his belief that he had been the victim of a witch hunt, but I consider the officers involved merely carried out their jobs to the best of their ability and were not motivated by any ulterior motive in dealing with the claimant.”
West Yorkshire Police then sought to bankrupt the promising young officer, who holds two law degrees and a diploma in policing. Ahmed now works in Bradford as a legal consultant. The genesis of the entire dispute between force and BME officer was over the use of a car parking space behind Millgarth Police Station, in central Leeds, to which DCI Bennett took exception. The same Bennett whom three years earlier had called a junior Asian officer into his office to verbally abuse him, including calling him a c**t, in an attempt to bully the constable into pulling back on an investigation.
That action was later to unravel in the conjoined Operations, Lamp and Redhill, into the ex PC Danny Major miscarriage of justice (read more here). An allegation has been made that Bennett perverted the course of justice in an attempt to protect PC Kevin Liston, arguably one of the worst officers to ever wear a police uniform (read more here) and the key witness against Major.
After the Ahmed and Danny Major ‘investigations’ (the term is used loosely), in which he was senior investigating officer, Bennett was rewarded with promotion to superintendent. I declare a further interest, insofar as I was the on-record complaints advocate for the Major family betwen 2012 and 2015.
A close working colleague of Bennett’s was Chief Superintendent Sarah Brown. In fact, from 2010 to 2011 she was head of WYP’s Professional Standards Department. I had significant dealings with her and found her unreliable and lacking in integrity. Like Bennett, she had also been city commander of Leeds, with its dreadful history of racism, in the earlier part of her career (read more here). Whilst in that role, and under her previous name and rank of Chief Inspector Sarah Sidney, she was at the forefront of a racial discrimination case involving Detective Sergeant Raham Khan that ultimately reached the House of Lords (the senior appellate court in those days) where a damages award to Sgt Khan, upheld in the Court of Appeal, was set aside by three Law Lords. The full judgment can be read here. Put plainly, Khan alleged that Sidney did not promote him on account of his skin colour. A matter she, of course, denied.
In March, 2011 a Bradford minority ethnic, Anwar Gillespie (whom I have met in his home), received substantial damages and an apology from WYP after the intervention of specialist police complaints lawyer, Iain Gould (read more here). Whilst racism was not alleged, Mr Gillespie told me at the time that he felt the colour of his skin was a factor in him being singled out for an unprovoked, unwarranted and brutal attack upon him, outside of his home and in front of his neighbours.
In June 2012, BBC Radio’s File on 4 reported on alleged widespread and serious racism within WYP. The least impressive of the six serving and former police officers interviewed on the programme was Temporary Chief Constable, John Parkinson. He did little, or nothing, to allay concerns. Of the six officers, past and present, interviewed by the BBC, Parkinson came across as the least impressive. Listen to the full broadcast here.
Karma was to visit Ajaz Hussain, who was the force solicitor (later promoted to Legal Services Director) who drove the Raham Khan case all the way to the Lords. In early 2012, there was a reshuffle of the top management in West Yorkshire Police and he lost his job. The roles of Legal Services Director and Force Solicitor (at that time carried out by Mike Percival) both disappeared. A new role was created and Percival was selected to fill it. Hussain then alleged racial discrimination against David Crompton and issued a claim form in the employment tribunal (read more here). The outcome of that claim has never been made public, but it did not pass without controversy and resulted in the suspension of Hussain’s ‘ACPO police friend’, Neil Rhodes, whom at the time was the chief constable of Lincolnshire Police (read more here) and had fallen foul of the duplicity of Fraser Sampson.
In 2013, two police whistleblowers opened up a can of worms into how certain aspects of vital police operations were badly run and lives put at risk by their superior officers within West Yorkshire Police. One of those was a minority ethnic. They were both then subjected to a series of detriments in what appeared to be a concerted campaign to humiliate and smear them. Because of the roles that the officers undertook, for at least parts of their careers, it is unwise to do any more than make reference to the tribunal appeal finding, available in the public domain, which forensically sets out the matters in issue (read more here). It does not make pretty reading for WYP.
In April, 2014 a Bradford woman of African descent, Oluwatoyin Azeez, was viciously assaulted by a police officer who had unlawfully entered her home on the pretext of checking on her lodger. The force went to the most extraordinary, and sustained, lengths to cover up for the perpetrator, who falsely alleged that he had been asaulted by Ms Azeez. That miscreant officer, instead of being drummed out of the force, didn’t even face a misconduct meeting, let alone a criminal court. But, once more, the intervention of solicitor, Iain Gould, was pivotal. At the end of a bitterly fought three year legal battle – again irregardless of the cost to the public purse – Ms Azeez finally received a substantial damages payment and, much more crucially to her, an apology (read the full harrowing story here).
In April 2016, the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, appointed an Asian police constable as the force’s Positive Action Co-Ordinator. The following month Amjad Ditta, a trained firearms officer, was alongside her giving evidence at the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee.
Following publication of the Committee’s Inquiry Report, which called for “urgent and radical” action, Collins acknowledged more needed be done to increase diversity and inclusion among the workforce and said she was determined that the organisation should be more representative of its communities.
“We are currently recruiting police officers for the first time in five years and this gives us an excellent opportunity to increase our workforce not just by people from black and minority ethnic communities, but from all diverse groups, such as people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.
“The police service has been in the media headlines a lot recently, often for negative reasons. My challenge to people who may be put off by that is, come and find out what West Yorkshire Police is about in 2016. A career with West Yorkshire Police offers genuinely exciting opportunities, but we can only properly serve all our communities by building a truly representative Force and I am determined to do that.”
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson added: “I have worked with the Temporary Chief Constable (Ms Collins) to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure communities are aware of my commitment to equality and diversity within the organisation and in the police service”.
Whilst Collins and Burns-Williamson were shamelessly uttering these shallow words, before MP’s and the television cameras, they were jointly, ludicrously and very cynically, frustrating the civil claim of Oluwatoyin Azeez. In reality, and grounded in hard evidence, what West Yorkshire Police is about is lying and covering-up – and the commitment to equality and diversity is an expensive box-ticking sham.
Eighteen months after his televised appearance in Parliament, PC Ditta disappeared without trace. With both the force press office and the chief constable refusing to answer my questions regarding his whereabouts or his reason for the removal both from his diversity role and other front line duties. He dramatically re-appeared, over two years later, at Bradford Magistrates Court charged with sexual touching. Supported by his staff association, he is expected to plead not guilty at a plea and trial preparation hearing at the city’s Crown Court on 20th January, 2020. He now answers to the name of Amjad Hussain.
In December, 2017 another race and religious discrimination claim against West Yorkshire Police was compromised on the second day of the final hearing. It is assumed that a confidentiality clause was part of the settlement. No others details are available at present, but enquiries are ongoing. Again, this is on the watch of Dionne Collins: On the one hand preaching diversity and inclusion, on the other officers having to go to court as the force continues to discriminate against them.
At least two other WYP BME officers appeared Tribunal with racial discrimination claims during this period. Both were, regrettably, unrepresented and had their claims dismissed. One was yet another Collins favourite, PC Tayyaba Afzal, having designed the force’s specialist niqab headwear for Muslim female officers. The other was an applicant for a role as a Driver Trainer.
Dionne Collins was approached for comment. She did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge the communication.
In September, 2018, another case involving a BME officer surfaced as an exclusive on this website, later picked up from here by the national press. The officer concerned, C/Supt Tyron Joyce, was also another favourite of the now retired Collins. Joyce was peremptorily removed from his post as Chief Operating Officer at the National Police Air Service, which shares headquarters in Wakefield with West Yorkshire Police, amidst bullying claims. The complaints investigation into the allegations against Joyce was, unsurprisingly given the incompetents that populate the force’s Professional Standards Department, described as ‘a cack-handed debacle’. He also told a junior colleague at the time: “I’ve been in trouble before with PSD. They tried to do my legs, so I have to be careful what I say to staff” (read more here).
Joyce does, however, always have a trump card to play: In 2013, after the present chief constable, John Robins, (at the time an assistant chief constable) had recommended him for the Police National Accreditation Course (PNAC) it was said by Robins to Tyron Joyce; “You are now my tick in the diversity box“. That may explain why, at the end of the disciplinary process, Joyce was handed the plum chief supers role within WYP: Commander – Operational Support based at, and in charge of, the entire Carr Gate Complex on the outskirts of Wakefield.
I will be reporting from the opening of the Umer Saeed hearing. It promises to be an interesting case: A retired and highly decorated WYP officer told me recently that, whatever the outcome of the tribunal proceedings, the force may well be set back at least a decade in terms of BME recruitment as a result of the adverse publicity the case will attract. As a well-connected person of Asian origin, and one who has defeated WYP in court several times, it is taken as read that he knows exactly what he is talking about.
Finally, it should be remembered that the ‘mother’ of all tribunal claims is a West Yorkshire Police case. Angela Vento, a probationer BME officer, took her force to tribunal following serious discrimination against her in the late 1990’s. Her claim form pleaded racial and sexual discrimination, but the former allegation was dismissed at an early stage by the tribunal.
Eventually the Court of Appeal ruled on the matter and the framework for tribunal awards – and the scales of damages accounting for different levels of detriment – is still in use today. Albeit, the figures have been adjusted upwards to reflect inflation. For the legal nerds amongst my readers they may wish to check out the full CoA judgment (read here).
Page last updated at 09250hrs on Friday 18th December, 2020.
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Photo credit: Asian Express
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