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'For us, the Met is like Life on Mars'

10 October 07 16:25 GMT
By Steven Shukor
BBC News, London

An Asian police officer has won a claim of victimisation against the Metropolitan Police after he was turned down for promotion.

Observers say the case highlights the struggle faced by ethnic minority officers to rise through the ranks.

Det Sgt Gurpal Virdi, 48, sued the Met on grounds of racial discrimination and victimisation after failing to secure promotion.

The tribunal's judgement ruled he had been victimised but dismissed his race claim.

He brought the case after he was rejected for promotion to detective inspector in 2005.

As a police officer, suing your employer is usually an act of last resort and one which leaves scars as Det Sgt Virdi knows well.

In 2000 he sued the Met after he was accused of sending racist hate mail from a police station in Ealing, west London, and sacked.

It was claimed he mounted a hate mail campaign by sending two batches of letters between December 1997 and January 1998.

The letters were sent via the Met's internal mail system to ethnic minority officers, including the officer himself, telling them to quit the force.

'Dead' career

Each envelope carried a picture of a black man's face and the initials of the National Front.

Det Sgt Virdi fought to clear his name and claimed the culprits, who have never been caught, had used his computer log-in to produce the letters.

He won substantial damages and an apology from the Met in 2002 after he was cleared by an employment tribunal of any wrongdoing.

But his victory was not without cost and he believes it has dogged his promotion chances within the force.

"My career has been dead since '97," he says.

"I took the Met on for racism and they have not forgotten it. I'm still doing the same job as sergeant since I was suspended so I've not been working to my full potential."

Since returning to the force, he has been assigned to the Serious Crime Directorate, working on community safety initiatives.

"Basically, if you challenge the organisation, you're finished."

But he says he has no plans for a career change. Rather, he sees himself as an agent of change in the force.

"I want to stay in the Met to help improve the career prospects of ethnic minority officers."

'Continued support'

The Met, while disappointed with the tribunal's findings, insists it will continue to help Det Sgt Virdi with his promotion bid.

It said in a statement: "Mr Virdi remains a valued member of the [Met] and we will continue to provide him with the appropriate support to meet his professional development needs, as we do with all of our staff."

Observers say the case reflects the challenges many ethnic minority police officers face when they go for promotion.

Det Insp Mukhtiar Singh, chairman of the Met's Sikh Association, said Det Sgt Virdi had "exposed some of the truths behind police promotion systems".

"Many black and ethnic minority officers continue to find it difficult to be posted within specialist posts and get promoted," he said.

"We do not want special treatment only equal opportunities. To many of us the Met is still just a closed shop. It's like the TV drama Life on Mars, with outdated attitudes.

He said that despite several public inquiries on race-related issues in the Met, "it would be naive to think that this case will change anything substantially".

"I fear that Gurpal will continue to be victimised," he said.

"It is difficult to gain confidence in the community when we are treating our own in this way."

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