SORRY MESS OF THE ALI DIZAEI CASE
While corruption exposed is a cause for celebration, the Met’s minority officers can see themselves suffering collateral damage…
Clink, clink. Pop. That’s the sound of corks being pulled and toasts being proposed by those who said they would do just that when Ali Dizaei finally got his comeuppance. They are likely to be triumphant – more so than they would ever have expected. Not only is the former Metropolitan police commander disgraced, having been convicted of perverting the course of justice, he got four years. Four years! Two in jail, two on licence.
The language has been harsh and justified, given his conviction by a jury of peers. The IPCC said Dizaei was a “criminal in a uniform”.
It was hard not to sense vindication in the tone of the Met’s former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, who condemned his former colleague even before sentence as a “disgrace”. Today Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson agreed.
But then, on top of everything that emerged at Southwark crown court, Dizaei and some of the powers that be had “previous”, as old-style coppers used to say.
Was the four-year sentence excessive, as some have said? Soon we will know, for if anything is certain, even now Dizaei, a trained lawyer and a man who never gives up, right or wrong, will be planning to appeal against it. If there are even the smallest legal grounds to challenge the conviction itself, he’ll do that too.
But surely, there was an inevitability about the sentence upon conviction. The law is played for high stakes. Had the jury taken the view that he was innocent, the stories today would have been about the Met’s hounding of a senior minority officer who was a thorn in its side.
Having heard the evidence, however, the jury decided that he had – in no particular order – misled his colleagues, fabricating an emergency situation; fitted up and assaulted an innocent man to settle a personal score; invented evidence; and lied under oath. These are serious transgressions and, whatever his supporters say, in the eyes of the law they were proven. In 2001, Lord Archer, convicted of perjury, got four years. And Archer wasn’t a police officer, sworn into office, honour bound to protect and serve.
A sense of euphoria at Scotland Yard might be predictable owing to the fact that officials, past and present, know that they have made a mess of the Dizaei issue from the outset and see Monday’s verdict as a way of claiming redemption. They always had doubts about the officer’s behaviour and character and yet botched Operation Helios, the massively expensive, massively labour-intensive investigation that targeted him.
Both Hayman and the previous commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, had starring roles in that fiasco. On the evaluation of some, there were elements of the investigation that, pursued in a less dramatic way, might have led to a minor conviction or, failing that, disciplinary sanction. Either would have meant the end for Dizaei in the Met.
But with Helios they opted, at length, for the spectacular. The case became a cause célèbre. They got nothing. The result was that an officer many in the highest echelons of the Met and the Met Police Authority privately considered unfit for the uniform kept his job. And then, because he was smart, knew his rights and officially had no stain on his character, that same group of people found themselves having to promote him. They blame political correctness, but then they always blame political correctness. The truth is that they messed up and, for a while, a strategically clever bloke outsmarted them.
So what next? Hard to say, for while it should always be a cause for celebration when corruption is uprooted, the case of Ali Dizaei is clouded by context and history. Many minority officers don’t feel like celebrating because they still face an uphill battle to progress their careers in the police force, and whatever they thought of Dizaei personally, they saw him as someone with nerve enough to articulate those concerns. With his conviction, they see themselves suffering collateral damage.
This morning on Radio 4’s Today programme, the Metropolitan Black Police Association (MetBPA) was asked whether in the light of Dizaei’s conviction it should be questioning its own existence. For critics of the MetBPA and those tired of activism by the minority staff, the fall of Dizaei is a welcome development. Grist to the mill.
But it shouldn’t be. For while Dizaei is serving his sentence, the statistical reality that minority officers still don’t get a fair deal from the Met, and that the minority population of London still doesn’t get fair treatment from the Met continues to require urgent attention.
The Dizaei situation may have been dealt with but the core problem remains.
Alfred John, the chairman of the MetBPA, agreed on the Today programme that the association had been damaged. But he insisted there was “without a doubt” still institutional racism in the force, as identified in the 1999 MacPherson report into the aftermath of the botched investigation into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
“Black people [in the Met] are still disproportionately disciplined, are still disproportionately asked to resign and there’s still a lack of progress for black people,” he said.
John said the MetBPA supported the process which allowed Dizaei to be prosecuted. But he added: “The case cost more than a murder case and, if you remember, one of the reasons for the boycott from the black police association was the disproportionate pursuit of black people.”
The National Black Police Association, the body which covers all the country’s Black Police Associations, including the MetBPA, yesterday issued the following statement:
“The conviction of Dr Ali Dizaei has come as a surprise to the NBPA. Given the possibility of future appeal proceedings it would be inappropriate to comment in any detail at this stage.
This is clearly an extremely difficult and traumatic period for Dr Dizaei and his family and we respect their privacy.
It is essential that we have a Criminal Justice system that is fair and has the confidence of the Public
The objective of the National Black Police Association is to promote good race relations and equality of opportunity within the police services of the United Kingdom and the wider community.”