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Monday, 24 June 2013

Stephen Lawrence and the shame of a police service.


I joined the Police in 1997. I wasn't one of those people who wanted to be a policeman all their life, I joined because I needed to pay my mortgage and it had a good pension. Plus, I'm a little ashamed to admit, I fancied being able to have car chases every so often followed by the odd punch up.

My first day “in the job” I shuffled around a classroom, balancing a terrible cup of coffee, wearing a tie that was worse than the coffee and a suit that I'd bought for my sister's wedding about five years earlier. It was a bit tight and the trousers were shiny from when I'd ironed them on the wrong heat setting.

I effectively looked like I was cut out to work in CID for the rest of my life.

In my intake of thirty odd Bobbies all were male and white, except for, I seem to recall, five women, and out of those five one was black. Not that I paid much attention to that sort of thing, to me it didn't really matter, I was too worried about the button bursting on my pants.

In 1999 I completed my training and became a "proper" Bobby. My probation was over, I'm a little proud to say I did pretty well, I'd felt like a copper long before I was told I could go out on my own and be one.

I'd got over the thought of car chases and punch ups, I worked with good people who behaved like a copper should. They took care of people, they were honest, they worked hard and were proud of the community they protected.

I once walked through the local town centre with an older bobby called Colin, we were on foot patrol and an old lady stopped us for a chat, nothing more, she just wanted to give us a sweet each and have a chat.

After she went on her way and we carried on walking Colin said to me,

"Do you see how important this is? How we made her feel safe? How she was happy to see us?"

I looked around at the odd one or two people who were smiling and nodding "hello" to me and I realised, I realised that the uniform I was wearing was important, I had a responsibility to behave in a manner that set an example.

I wasn't working in Dock Green, but I wanted to try to be George Dixon.

I realised this around about the time I was branded a racist, or rather, the organisation that I was in was branded institutionally racist.

At the time I was angry, I felt angry because I wasn't a racist (I wasn't even institutionally racist), I felt angry because I believed the people I worked with weren't racist either. I was angry with the Met for casting a shadow on me, and the force I worked for, with a taint that I didn't believe to be true.

I felt that I was being led by good people, I felt that I personally was led by honest people, I felt that the organisation I was part of was essentially a righteous one.

I'm not daft enough to think that there weren't bad apples, I had my suspicions about some people who I knew vaguely. There was one guy who I reckoned might be a bully, but I never saw him do anything untoward. I just heard rumours, and I believed, wrongly, that I couldn't act on rumours.

People don't believe me when I say that I only ever heard one racist comment in the Police, and it was during a riot, literally during a riot when a bobby from another shift called someone a "black bastard." The bobby who said it never apologised, but I do believe he was ashamed by what he'd said.

Whether he was ashamed for saying it, or ashamed that he had been exposed as being racist I don't know, but I do know it was the one and only time I heard something like that.

We were assailed on all sides by courses and literature training us about anti-racism and the equal rights of all. I'll be honest, I was a little fed up by it all. I didn't think I needed it, but I didn't complain, I just went along with it, it was part of the job, after all, we were institutionally racists.

I had good bosses and I had bad bosses, but I always believed them to be honest. I never had cause to doubt them until one day I was slung in a cell for eight hours as a result of a baseless allegation.

While I sat in that cell I honestly believed that right would prevail, I was scared, but I had faith in the system, I was part of the system and I'd done nothing wrong.

The right thing would be done, and the right thing would eventually happen.

I honestly believed that right up until I was taken out of the cell and interviewed.

It was during that interview I realised that the people who were in front of me weren't interested in the truth, they were more interested in what looked good for the organisation. They tried to make falsehoods into facts, they tried to twist me into a situation that had never happened. I knew they were lying, I told them they were lying, but it didn't matter.

They didn't care, they were doing their job, trying to close a matter in a manner that made the job look good.   If it wasn't for the honesty of one other person, someone who wasn't a police officer, coming forward I reckon I would have ended up in court, or maybe worse.

That incident changed me.

I left the police a couple of months later. I resigned with a clear record, proven to be an honest man I walked away with my head held high. 

I was holding my head high, but I was also shaking it sadly. I'd seen the other side, I'd seen what lengths the organisation would go too to get its own ends, I'd seen the rules bend, I'd seen the lying in statements, I'd seen the covering up, I'd seen the closing of ranks and the closing of cell doors and I'd seen I didn't want to be part of it ever again.

What has happened over Hillsborough has depressed me, what has happened recently regarding the Stephen Lawrence family has depressed me, what has happened over undercover officers in various organisations has depressed me.

But what has depressed me the most is that none of it has surprised me.

Every week that goes by it seems that we are discovering that organisations and individuals are essentially operating for the own nefarious ends, organisations and individuals whose sole intent is the protection of their own power to the cost of truth, fairness and most importantly justice.

People have no confidence anymore, like a chalk cliff face we are being eroded by constant waves of revelation, and like an eroded cliff everything at the top will eventually have to come tumbling down.

They can't keep shoring it up for ever.


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