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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 12:14 GMT
Paddick wins hearts and minds
A demonstration against Commander Paddick's reinstatement, on March 21
Not all protests have been in support of Paddick

The campaign to reinstate Brian Paddick to one of the toughest policing jobs in Britain has begun with hundreds attending a rally in the heart of south London.
If someone had said just five years ago that black, white, young and old, straight and gay, liberal and anarchist would all be standing together giving a standing ovation to a police commander in Brixton, people might have said they had smoked one spliff too many.

But there they were - the kind of cross-community gathering local politicians would give their right arm for - cheering Commander Brian Paddick, the officer who has shaken up the very concept of policing.

In one of his first - and now infamous - posts to a community action website in Lambeth, Brian Paddick said that he was mulling over a new strap line for police posters: "Don't damage my community".

Those who on Tuesday night at Lambeth Town Hall fired the first salvo in the campaign to reinstate him believe that his transfer to a desk job pending an investigation has done the greatest damage of all.

Community relations

Twenty years ago the Brixton riots marked one of the lowest ebbs in relations between London's police and the black community. Serious disturbances in 1995, deaths in custody and the handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry elsewhere had harmed the patient attempts at bridge-building.

Lee Jasper, London Mayor Ken Livingstone's race adviser
Lee Jasper: Letter of support from Mayor
And then, in an extraordinarily short space of time, a new commander arrived and appeared to win the kind of support that so many before him have failed to attract.

While this may appear a local matter, the show of strength for Brian Paddick prompts serious questions about the direction of Policing in Britain's towns and cities.

Quite simply, how many other police officers could honestly expect to be enthusiastically applauded by 250 people from all walks of life?

Media focus

The media focus has been firmly on Lambeth police's softly-softly approach on cannabis and Paddick's position as Britain's most senior openly gay policeman.

A poster demanding Brian Paddick's reinstatement
Campaign: Up and running
But to his supporters last night, numbering some 250, Paddick's strength has been in his apparent ability to communicate and empathise with all manner of people.

Lee Jasper, the influential race adviser to London mayor Ken Livingstone, told the audience that he has been personally and pleasantly "shocked" at the steps Brian Paddick had taken to ensure that he was accessible and that police decisions were transparent.

Floating around the audience - which included a curate and a rabbi - were a number of camcorder-wielding alternative action activists, the kind usually seen filming the police for signs of mistreatment of protesters.

Ken Livingstone himself sent a letter of support laying the blame for Brian Paddick's predicament firmly with a homophobic press.

"There can be little could be that Brian Paddick would not be in the position he is in today if it was not for his sexuality," the mayor wrote. "Those who have waged a campaign against this officer are the real obstacles in the fight against crime [in Lambeth]."

Other speakers joined the fray. Kevin Boyle of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association described Paddick's treatment as a homophobic violation of his privacy. Particular ire on the panel was reserved for Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn.

"Commander Paddick has made a difference in policing in this community," said local clergyman, the Reverend Idelaw Bowman.

"Not only has he made a difference but he has also shown how this metropolis should be policed in the future." Thunderous applause followed.

Dissenters in the minority

Not everyone in the audience supported the "crackpot commander", as one headline has described him.

One woman said that Paddick had failed to investigate the treatment of her son by police. Another man said that Paddick had only shifted crime out of Brixton to elsewhere in the borough.

But when the commander himself made a surprise appearance and took to the stage, they were in minority. The hall stood in rapturous applause.

Paddick may have been portrayed as all sorts of things in the press, but with his cropped hair and grey suit he looked the model of modern policing.

A thank you to the audience, a quick pose for the photographers on the steps of the Town Hall, no comment to the media and he was off walking his old beat towards Brixton Underground station.

On his way he would have passed some of the campaign posters now appearing around Lambeth, run up by a local Green activist.

One of them is a satire on the famous scene from the Monty Python's Life of Brian.

"He's not a very naughty boy, he's the Messiah," it read.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Penny Wrout
"Those speaking in support included a rabbi and a minister"
Commander Brian Paddick addresses Lambeth rally
"All I want to do is to come back and serve the people of Lambeth"
Commander Paddick interviewed on Today programme
"What has my sexuality got to do with my ability"

Click here to go to BBC London Online
Find out more about the Commander Brian Paddick

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