Racism problems persist in troubled police force

Black police officer

It is just over three years since I attended what was listed as the first day of an Employment Tribunal (ET) hearing in Leeds, writes Neil Wilby. In the event, it was a wasted journey as, contrary to the information provided from the tribunal office, it was set aside as a ‘reading day’ for the Panel (read more here).

Separately, a reliable policing source had told me that intense discussions were ongoing to settle the claim between the two parties, Umer Saeed, at that time an acting sergeant in West Yorkshire Police and his own chief constable. Those negotiations, between counsel representing the two parties at that time, were to break down in the most dramatic way imaginable (read more here).

Sgt Saeed also held staff association roles with the Police Federation, the National Black Police Association and the West Yorkshire Muslim Police Association. The case was of particular interest to me as this officer had featured centrally, albeit not adversely, in a long-running and deeply troubling case in which I acted as police complaints advocate for a Wakefield businessman, Anthony Ramsden. It was to end in the High Court, after having four successive sub-optimal WYP investigations overturned, each one worse than its predecessor, with a remarkable judicial review reversal that became a well-use legal authority in matters pertaining to police misconduct and appeals to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (read more here).

Over the past twelve years, I have also been involved with, and assisted, a number of black, minority ethnic officers with their grievances against the force and remain in contact with a number of them to this day.

The ET allegations brought by Umer Saeed concerned racial and religious discrimination. Race is, of course, defined by the claimant’s national origin, having been born in Pakistan, and colour. In respect of the protected characteristic of religion, he is of Muslim faith. The complaints spanned a period of two years from 2018 to 2019 and concern the time when he was seeking promotion to the rank of sergeant and then, subsequently, whilst he was serving in that capacity pending confirmation. Three years later, he has qualified as an inspector and is awaiting a suitable posting.

Two further heads of claim were later added: victimisation and disability discrimination. Sgt Saeed has a condition of partial sight loss in the left eye which is episodic and, although the causes are not fully known, it is a condition which is exacerbated by stress. In addition he has suffered anxiety and depression. These are disabilities.

The Tribunal said that the instigation of formal attendance performance procedures by his line manager, and the subsequent imposition of a written improvement notice, can be unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of those disabilities or a breach of the duty to make adjustments.

Of the four main strands of the ET claim, only the latter – disability discrimination – succeeded. There will be a remedy hearing in May, 2022 to decide what reparation the chief constable must make to Sgt Saeed, provided that there is no appeal lodged by either party and they are unable to reach a compromise agreement, in the meantime.

The period allowed for appeal is 42 days, and the judgment is dated 19th January, 2022, so that would appear to give each side until very early March to take such a step.

Although the racial discrimination claim failed the Employment Tribunal Judge, D N Jones, and the two lay Panel members, Mr D Crowe and Mr K Lannaman, made some troubling observations on an issue that has dogged WYP for years:

“The claimant [Umer Saeed] was not singled out and criticised for his work with the [staff] associations because of his race or religion. He was spoken to [by his line managers] because he alone had taken on more activities than any [other] new sergeant. He had taken on too much. The failure of the claimant to recognise this, but rather to consider this was personal to him, set him on a combative path with his supervisors which ultimately led to his ill health.

“None of that is to detract from the vital work the NBPA, the WYMPA and the Federation contribute to the development of a quality and functioning Force in a pluralistic society; a service which needs to reflect and understand the diverse community for whom it works. This is a point which was well made by the claimant and Sergeant Tola Munro in their evidence. West Yorkshire has not recruited or retained the same proportion of officers from an ethnic minority as in the county, being about 5.6% rather than 18%. In his role as President of the NBPA, Sergeant Munro had learned of a number of officers from an ethnic minority who had left the West Yorkshire force to serve in neighbouring forces or to take up other careers. They had informed him this was because of attitudes about race within the ranks and at supervisory levels. This is doubtless a matter which requires careful and serious consideration in an ongoing dialogue between the NBPA, West Yorkshire Police and the Home Office.

“In addition we have had regard to the report of Sir William McPherson and his comments and conclusions about institutional racism in police forces in the UK and more contemporary reports, including criminal prosecutions and convictions against serving police officers whose behaviour reflect attitudes to race which are offensive and reprehensible. We have not lost sight of this wider context in our evaluation of what happened [to Sgt Saeed] and the reasons for why it happened”.

A separate article, to be published later this week, will cover in more detail the remainder of the Panel’s findings.

The West Yorkshire Police press office and the West Yorkshire Police Federation have both been approached for comment on this section of the judgment.

Page last updated at 1425hrs on Thursday 16th February, 2022

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Photo credit: The Guardian

© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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