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.

  • April 24, 2018 10:44
  • Richard Stone

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.

Cover behind the blue lineOne 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?’

‘Yes!’

‘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

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Knife crime in London

  • April 16, 2018 17:39
  • Charles Mildenhall

Recent events in London shone a light on a truly desperate situation facing communities in our capital and UK society more widely. The knife crime statistics alone reflect a deep concern about how we help young people to reach their potential and avoid the traps that lead to a more negative, and potentially dangerous, life. It is a sad fact that gangs are recruiting some children as young as 10. 

Cover 9781849548038We cannot allow our young people to think that gangs and crime are the best, or only, choices available to them. And we cannot afford for them to become disenfranchised and lost to society.

To me, the starting point is obvious. These young people need a safe place to go where there are plenty of things to do and be excited by, to try things out and learn new skills, and get mentoring and guidance. 

But providing those places has been a challenge. A rapid decline in provision of youth facilities in the capital, with over £39 million of funding withdrawn and 81 youth clubs and projects closed since 2011, is removing safe and inspiring places for young people.

Our organisation, OnSide Youth Zones, is trying to reverse this. Over the past decade we have built a network of 10 youth centres across the country by using an innovative funding model that harnesses private-sector support to remove over-reliance on cash-strapped local authorities.

OnSide Youth Zones have more than 20 activities per night, ranging from sports, music, arts and drama to employability opportunities — which all help to raise aspirations, confidence and self-esteem. They are also platforms around which other youth organisations can coalesce and deliver their services — since last year 30 other young people’s organisations have started to operate from our Wirral facility.

Our ability to grow youth service provision is possible only because local authorities, businesses, donors and community leaders have chosen to work together. With three Youth Zones set to open in 2019 in Barking and Dagenham, Barnet and Croydon, and two more being planned for White City and Haringey, these communities in London believe them to be essential, not a “nice to have”. 

Independent research into our impact has shown that 89 per cent of members feel more self-confident and 86 per cent are happier. Ninety per cent say they get on better with others while 72 per cent are getting better school grades. Anti-social behaviour drops significantly, with an average reduction of 50 per cent in the surrounding areas of our Youth Zones.

 Our young people deserve the best we can give them, and we all have a responsibility to ensure they have the opportunity to make the right choices. What they do with those opportunities is up to them.

CLICK HERE: https://bit.ly/2iIcjOM

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The false accusation was damning: Acquitted ex-officer speaks out

  • April 06, 2018 11:48
  • Police Oracle

The false accusation was damning: Acquitted ex-officer speaks out

After retiring from police after 30 years of service, Gurpal Virdi thought he could move into politics, and was trained for office by the Labour Party.

But in the run up to his first election campaign he was arrested over accusations dating back 28 years – and which were amended months later before falling apart completely at his trial.

There are calls for a public inquiry into his treatment.Cover behind the blue line

The former detective sergeant had earlier won a racial discrimination case against the Metropolitan Police after being dismissed in 2000 over accusations he sent racist hate mail to himself and others. He was completely exonerated.

Mr Virdi received a public apology and returned to the force in 2002 because he didn’t want to let himself be driven out of the job he loved by “a few bad apples”.

In 2014, some two years after he retired, another nightmare began out of the blue.

He was accused of indecent assault of a boy under 16 in custody and misconduct in a public office. The offences were alleged to have taken place in 1986.

And they were put into the public domain by the Met in a press release on the day he received a court summons.

Yet months later it emerged that the accuser was not even under 16 on the date of the claimed incident.

The charge was changed before trial, but much damage had been done.

“To be accused of indecent assault on a child under the age of 16 is very damning. I was going for local election then I’ve been called a rapist, I’ve been called a paedophile, it’s a horrible label to have, it’s not something you can counter.

“Because of the negative press I can’t even get a job now,” Mr Virdi told Police Oracle.

He was disowned by the Labour Party, in spite of which he was elected to Hounslow Council. But he is soon standing down after one term, his former political ambitions in tatters.

“As a councillor there’s a lot of work and I’ve found it very difficult as an independent to fight for my residents,” he said, and the taint of the accusations against him haven’t gone away.

His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Mr Virdi through his trousers with a retractable ASP in the back of a police van.

This was around a decade before the devices were introduced to English policing.

He also claimed to have been driven around at other times in a police car by the officer. But Gurpal Virdi did not have the requisite training to drive a vehicle.

There were a number of other inconsistencies in the accuser’s evidence and the jury returned a not guilty verdict in less than an hour.

He and supporters, including MP Sir Peter Bottomley, are calling for a public inquiry into what happened. 

Sir Peter raised the issue in parliament last week with Prime Minister Theresa May, who said she will meet him over the case.

Mr Virdi said: “There should be an inquiry. I’m not too confident it will happen but the findings would be damning for the whole of the criminal justice system.

“It was 28 years [after the alleged incident took place], 29 years by the time it came to trial, no other policeman has ever been put through what I was put through. And the paperwork showed that I wasn’t even the arresting officer,” he said.

“I feared being found guilty quite a lot,” he recalled. “It’s a scary thing with an accuser and witness against you. Thank God the jury saw through it. 

“I wasn’t confident till I heard the verdict. I had supporters waiting for me outside and we rushed over to the pub - but it was still difficult because I shouldn’t have ever been there.

“I’d been through the mill, you do suffer mentally, physically, though the adrenaline keeps you going to that point.”

The former officer has written a book about his ordeal called Behind the Blue Line. He said it is his way of putting his side of the story into the public domain.

Sir Peter Bottomley says in its foreword that the book “details the obstacles, the prejudice and the official carelessness that can get in the way of a dedicated officer’s career”.

“We can learn from it. We must learn from it. These events should never be able to happen again.

“The best way forward would be for the government and the Met to conduct an official inquiry now.”

The Met insists it was important the case was investigated. 

A force spokesman said: “Once allegations such as these were raised by the victim it was only right that we investigated them thoroughly and impartially. 

“That investigation was entirely focused on securing what evidence was available, with respect to what were undeniably very serious allegations. It would not have been proper to proceed in any other way. 

“We presented the evidence to the CPS who decided the allegations and evidence should be heard by a jury. During the progression of the case through the courts, the judge rejected an application for dismissal."

CLICK HERE: Behind The Blue Line

@gurpalsvirdi 

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Iain Dale Reviews WINNING HERE by Chris Rennard

  • March 27, 2018 21:12
  • Iain Dale

It may have taken my 15 years, but I always get my man in the end. Back in 2003 I asked Chris Rennard to write a book about the art of political campaigning. If my memory is correct, he liked the idea but didn’t feel he could do it while still working actively for the LibDems. He’s now written the first volume of his memoirs covering his life up until 2006, and I published the book in January.

To understand the success of the Liberal Democrats in the period 1988-2006 you absolutely have to read this book. Rennard has an encyclopeadic memory for details of each and every by-election and doesn’t hold back in his assessment of all the various personalities involved in the LibDem politics of the period. His insights into the leaderships of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy shed a lot of new light on the politics of the period. He is especially good on Kennedy, analysing in detail the trials and tribulations the party went through on deciding to oppose the Iraq war, and also the events which led to Kennedy’s fall from power. He also gives fresh insights into how he and the party handled the Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes media scandals.

Some of the best bits of the book concern the concept of LibDem pavement politics. Rennard may not have been the inventor of pavement politics, but he will forever be associated with its developement and implementation. His skill in developing strategies to win both local and national by-elections leaves the reader awestruck. When he was in charge of by-elections the LibDems would invariably win them. Nowadays they rarely do. There’s a reason for that. Rennard isn’t in charge any longer, and people who think they know better than him aren’t fit to lick his electoral boots.

Some LibDems who aren’t fans of Rennard may think he overclaims the successes he contributed to – or overplays his role in them, but they would be mistaken. I know from personal experience his ability to stick his finger into the electoral wind and see which way it is blowing. Back in the summer of 2003 I told him I was thinking of applying to stand against Norman Lamb in the 2005 election. Lamb had a majority of 483 at the time, and I thought I could easily overturn it. Rennard told me I should look elswhere, but I thought I knew better. He said: “Dont go for it, Norman will increase his majority to more than 10,000”. I laughed. I wasn’t laughing on election night when the majority was announced as 10,606. I’ve often wondered how different my life might have been had I taken Chris Rennard’s advice…

But the real beauty of this book is found in the first few chapters detailing Rennard’s childhood in Liverpool. I often skip reading about people’s childhoods in books of this nature, but that would be a great mistake in this case. I won’t give too much detail but suffice to say there wasn’t a lot of money around and following his mother’s untimely death Chris and his younger brother were left to their own devices. His ability to come through that and finish his schooling is something to behold, given the circumstances. Like a lot of people, Chris Rennard then found a new family in the Liberal Party. It embraced him, encouraged him, but it also used him, and then, when he became an inconvenience they spat him out.

Just an accusation of wrongdoing can render you a non person in the political world, whatever the truth turns out to be. A forty year history of sacrificing your personal life and your health counts for little when you become the centre of sexual harassment allegations. Five years on, everyone remembers the allegations, but I wonder how many people remember that both the party inquiry and the police inquiry found there was no evidence and therefore delivered a verdict of ‘no further action’.

I’ve had various people tell me I shouldn’t have published this book, given those allegations. I stand by the age-old principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. What a pity so many people in the so-called ‘liberal’ Democrats find that such a difficult concept. Chris Rennard has a fascinating story to tell, and he has every right to be heard. Those who think the LibDems have nothing to learn from him illustrate why they remain at 7% in the polls, have lost most of their MPs and have their lowest number of councillors for decades.

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A response to Owen Jones.

  • March 26, 2018 11:49
  • John Nickson

Reducing inequality requires higher pay as well as higher taxes.

Owen Jones (23 March 2018) is right to say that wealth should be taxed to address inequality but does not go far enough. As a member of the top 1% by income and assets, I believe I should pay more tax but the reality is that everyone will have to pay more tax at Scandinavian levels to sustain the NHS and a social democratic society. That ought to include taxing gifts and inheritance as income and capital gains tax on all property sales including homes.

Higher taxes, however, will not be enough to counter increasing inequality. The wage share and capital share of wealth need to change. I favour capitalism but the current model is regressive. Socially responsible capitalism requires more regulation and policies designed to encourage companies to spend less on dividends and more on pay.

'Our Common Good' by John Nickson

@johndnickson

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