MPS condemns ‘trial by social media’ following fresh allegations of racial profiling

The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has condemned the increasing use of ‘trial by social media’ as ‘unfair and damaging’ to individual officers and the service as a whole.

Aug 12, 2020
By Tony Thompson
A still from the social media footage released by MP Dawn Butler.

Sir Steve House was responding to accusations of racial profiling by Labour MP Dawn Butler who was stopped while driving through East London on Sunday afternoon (August 9).

Ms Butler, who represents Brent Central, had been the passenger in a BMW driven by a black male friend when it was pulled over by two MPS vehicles.

Footage filmed by the former shadows equalities minister shows her telling the officers: “It is really quite irritating. It’s like you cannot drive around and enjoy a Sunday afternoon whilst black, because you’re going to be stopped by police.”

She later told Sky News: “It’s obviously racial profiling. We know that the police is institutionally racist and what we have to do is weed that out. We have to stop seeing black with crime. We have to stop associating being black and driving a nice car with crime. If you’re stopping cars because of the colour of the people inside them, that’s racist.”

Officers involved in the incident insisted they had done nothing wrong. The Metropolitan Police Federation said the officers were unhappy that they were unable to release their own footage from their body-worn video cameras to rebut the claims of racism.

In a statement issued on Wednesday (August 12) Sir Steve House further defended the actions of the officers, providing a detailed account of the circumstances of the stop. He said: “The stop of a car in which Dawn Butler MP was travelling by Met officers on Sunday has prompted a lot of debate and it is important that the facts are fully understood.

“The officers who undertook the stop were from the Violent Crime Task Force and were in the area as part of our proactive work to protect communities from violence.

“Criminals often use vehicles to travel in and to commit crime, therefore officers will often check cars to see if there is anything that requires them to stop it and do further checks. The officers ran a number plate check on the vehicle. At this stage, the officers still didn’t know who the occupants of the car were, including their ethnicity because the car windows were tinted.

“As a result of an officer making a human error as he inputted the car registration, the Police National Computer returned details of a car from another part of the UK.

“The officers were not initially aware of this problem and as a result felt, with good reason, that they should do further checks on the car by stopping it and engaging with the occupants. I expect officers to have professional curiosity and I would have done the same.

“I have viewed all the available video material of that interaction and I have read their statements – the officers acted professionally and politely, explaining why the stop was made and, when realising there was a mistake, explaining this and continuing to answer the occupants’ questions. Ms Butler has said that she has no complaint about ‘how’ the stop was conducted, rather her concerns lie in why the stop was initiated and I have discussed these concerns with her.

“Officers expect to be scrutinised and there are existing, appropriate and proportionate processes for making complaints and for facts to be established, and on the occasions where there is fault – unlike this case – for consequences to follow. The increasingly routine trial by social media is unfair and damaging to individual officers and has the potential to undermine the role our communities need us to do to protect them and keep them safe from violence.”

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for mayor of London, also defended the actions of the police. He said on Twitter: “I’ve been stopped and searched, Dawn. Yes, police make mistakes. But they’re not racist. Instead of political attacks, let’s improve relations between police and the communities they serve.”

Earlier this year the Independent Office for Police Conduct launched an investigation into whether officers in England and Wales racially discriminate against ethnic minority people.

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