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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Exclusive interview with Ali Dizaei
Superintendent Ali Dizaei
It's cost the taxpapyer between 3 and 7 million pounds, and thousands of hours of police officers' time - for what?

Superintendent Ali Dizaei one of Britain's most senior ethnic minority police officers was cleared of all criminal charges after a case he described as a "witch-hunt" by his employers, the Met.

The last of thirty allegations, centring on vandalism against his car and an expenses claim, were thrown out after an investigation his lawyers called "disproportionate."

So what are the ramifications for the Metropolitan Police and the much vaunted policies on racism within the service? Barnie Choudhury reported.

It was a nightmare Superintendent Ali Dizaei of the Metropolitan Police endured for more than two and a half years but today he left court cleared of charges that could have sent him to prison.

Absolute relief, I'm delighted that I have been unequivocally vindicated.

Iranian born Ali Dizaei was a rising star, tipped to be Britain's first ethnic minority Chief Constable. But he was a flamboyant character who admitted to the court that he had a open marriage and a string of girlfriends. He had a law degree and a PHD in race relations. As a prominent member of the National Black Police Association he was an outspoken critic of racism within the force. But on 18th January 2001, Dr Dizaei's world fell apart when he was suspended.

The Assistant Commissioner, Mike Todd, now Chief Constable in Manchester, read the allegations to me, and you know something, I actually thought he was quite funny. You know when you're in a state of shock, I thought it was funny, some of the allegations were so bizarre that I thought they were funny.

The newspaper headlines the next day screamed allegations of corruption, that he took drugs, visited prostitutes and fraudulently helped people stay in Britain. Nobody disputes these were allegations that the police had to take seriously. But it's the manner in which he was investigated that is now being questioned.

Dozens of officers spent more than a year investigating Ali Dizaei, putting him under almost constant surveillance. They secretly recorded 3,500 phone conversations he had with friends and colleagues. They even tried to set up a sting operation, involving the FBI. It didn't work. Conservative estimates put the cost of this investigation, called 'Operation Helios' at almost 2 million.

One of the most serious allegations was that Superintendent Ali Dizaei was a threat to national security. The Met said he made unauthorised visits to the Iranian embassy. But did this bear close scrutiny.

I don't see how it can be covert if I am going in full uniform with my hat on and being driven by a police car to the door of the embassy.

And Dr Dizaei had sought permission to visit the embassy. After his suspension, a Special Branch Detective wrote to his superiors that the officer frequently reported his visits. In fact, he said it was memorable because Ali Dezaei was the only Superintendent to have notified Special Branch of visiting the Iranian Embassy. The Met dropped the allegation.

In fact, of the 30 criminal investigations faced by Ali Dizaei, all but two were eventually dropped. Even these were originally going to be dealt with internally. In fact, what remained was arguably the most bizarre accusation of all.

The first of these revolved around where he'd parked his car. The Dr Desaei says his car was vandalised in Coat Place near the Kensington and Chelsea police station while he was at a meeting. He says he moved it half a mile away to Emperor's Gate to catch the tube to a BPA meeting. On his return, he realised the damage was far more serious and decided to report it.

Why would anybody close off roads, do a reconstruction for a scratched car? Usually that kind of thing is done for major murders, rapes, crimes of serious gravity.

The police say Ali Dizaei's car was at Emperor's Gate all day and never at Coat Place. The Met have never disputed that he was a victim of crime. But investigators accusing him of deliberately lying about the location of the car say he was pointing the finger at colleagues, suggesting that the attack was racially motivated. For this, he was charged with misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice.

Those individuals who are running this pantomime, Operation Helios, realised very late in the investigation that they had nothing else left. They had to go back to the drawing board and start looking for something that they could prosecute.

In April, a jury cleared him unanimously of these charges, but we're restricted from reporting this because there was still one more outstanding allegation of fiddling 270 in travelling expenses. Today, this was thrown out of court.

The MP, Peter Bottomley, has been following race cases against the Met since the murder of Steven Lawrence. He's asked questions in the commons about the Ali Dizaei affair. Now he wants a public inquiry.

Advisor to National Black Police Association

I think they tried to set Ali Dizaei up. They delayed serious Parliamentary questions by running this charge, and I think any MP knows that many real criminals have not had cases taken against them because of lack of resources or because it was in the public interest. In this case it was not in the public interest. Every part of the police action, since I have been involved, I think is unjustifiable.

This isn't the first time the Met's actions have been challenged. Gurpal Virdi was accused of sending racist e-mails to colleagues and even himself, but it wasn't true, so they had to pay him 240,000 in compensation.

Racial discrimination inflicted on Detective Chief Inspector David Michael, resulted in a humiliating public apology from the then Met Commissioner Paul Condon, in November 1998.

National Black Police Association

Unchecked, uncontrollable, and very much untouchable, that is the message that I see coming from the Metropolitan Police at this moment in time.

But the Met say they have learned lessons from the Steven Lawrence inquiry. They say they did everything they could to race proof the investigation, and that its independent advisory group gave them a clean bill of health.

But professor Ben Bowling, a criminologist, who was a member of that group, says procedures weren't followed. He was asked by the police to look over the investigation without letting his colleagues know. He refused. It wasn't until Ali Dizaei was suspended he learnt that the Chair of the group, Beverly Thompson, had secretly looked at the material and apparently given her approval. Outraged, he and three others resigned.

The real question will be on looking back this investigation, once it's in the public domain, looking at it closely, can we then say that it was a justified, effective, and efficient investigation, and that'll be the true test.

Superintendent Dizaei believes the Met's problem is that they wont accept unconventional officers in their top ranks. He certainly sees himself cut adrift because of his outspoken views.

We don't like him, he doesn't conform to our normal values, he is not one of us, we cant have him in the club, and last but not least, he is a dissident. He is part of an organisation we can just about tolerate. But by taking him out it'll be a huge blow to the National Black Police Association and it will send a very powerful message to them not to challenge us post Lawrence.

Ali Dizaei's nightmare still isn't over. Not only is his career in tatters but he still faces an internal disciplinary hearing. The Met told us there were no winners in this case, that's possibly the only thing upon which they and Ali Dizaei will ever agree.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.


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