Who is Gurpal
My name is Gurpal Singh Virdi, I grew up in Southall, educated in England and have worked most of my life in various occupations. I am a Sikh. I have a wonderful wife and two children.
What are your hobbies?
I love researching historical facts as I am fascinated with history. I also enjoy travelling. Any spare time is given to volunteering in the community whether it be for improving the local neighbourhood or fighting a cause to improve people’s lives.
Who are your role models?
My father was a great role model.
What is your favourite book?
It was ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell. Now it’s ‘Behind the Blue Line.’
You joined the police force in 1982, what made you join the police force?
I grew up in Southall, in the heart of the Asian Community, at a time in the 1960’s when Asians and Blacks were treated badly and discrimination was widespread. Being outnumbered you had to stand up for yourself. Back in the sixties there were only a few Asian families and the government had installed the ‘Bussing Policy’, that is, local ethnic minority children could not study at their local school but were transported (Bussed out) to other mainly white areas for education. A lot of parents objected but there was little that they could do as there was nobody voicing their concerns.
The sixties and seventies changed west London rapidly; demonstrations by the Asian community to get equality were increasing as were racial attacks on the ethnic minority communities. White families began to flee Southall. Even in those early days, I wanted to make a difference because I was witnessing inequality. I wanted to join the police following the footsteps of my father who had served in the Delhi police. Being the third child, it was also a tradition amongst the Sikhs that you joined the services.
After completing my education, I informed my parents of my intentions to join the police, both were against the idea, many of my friends could not believe my intentions after all that had happened to the Asian community. I did not want to upset my parents so I joined the private sector in sales management for a large company. However, in 1982, I did join the Metropolitan Police as the first Asian from Hounslow.
What was your first memory of being in the police force?
After finishing training school, I was posted to Battersea Division in South London. Being the only person of colour things were made difficult so that you would not survive in the police. The only thing that kept me going was that I enjoyed my work and I was welcomed by the various diverse communities of South London.
You were one of the first officer of an Asian descent to join the force how was your experience?
The first Asian officer was Piara Singh Kenth who joined in 1969 whom I have had the privileged opportunity to meet. In the early eighties there were very few ethnic minority officers, there was no formal method of communication between ethnic minority officers, it was only at social functions or on ‘jobs’ that you met each other. There was a climate of overt racism so you either ‘sink or swim’. I recall my Chief Inspector saying “You won’t last long, why should I send you on courses.” The level of ethnic minority officers leaving the service was high. This led to the Bristol seminars to establish the causes. However, on a positive note it also established social / support networks and staff associations.
Since joining the police, I have raised my head above the parapet several times in return I have suffered discrimination to the present time. Although it is not so overt at present, discrimination is now more sophisticated and covered up by fancy reports or words. Thirty years on, I was still not given a driving course. Despite having a Law degree and passing my promotion exams, I was not allowed to progress further than a Detective Sergeant. I have served in South, West and central London. During my service I have served both in uniform, CID and specialist squad posts.
You received racial hate mail whilst being in the force. How did that make you feel? The note said “Not Wanted, Keep the Force White”
In December 1997, on Ealing Division ethnic minority officers received hate mail. This was an internal criminal offence that was not investigated properly. As the only ethnic minority supervisor, junior officers came to me for advice and leadership. In 1998, whilst dealing with a near fatal racial stabbing of two Asian youths by five White youths, I realised how the police service had not moved in relation to tackling discrimination.
On 20th December 1998, I made a written submission to Sir William MacPherson of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The submission related to my experiences within the Metropolitan Police and of a summary of a stabbing incident that I had dealt with in my posted area of Hanwell. The stabbing incident had many similar hallmarks of the Stephen Lawrence case. In stark contrast, the victims in my case were given first aid, suspects were arrested, evidence was gathered and the family informed. However, this was not recorded as a Racist Incident or investigated as such by senior officers on Ealing Division. When I challenged this, I was reprimanded by Chief Superintendent James Howard and after a couple of weeks, I was falsely arrested for sending racist hate mail. My family home was searched by an anti-terrorist search team led by Chief Inspector Andrew Hards, even to the extent that my young children were searched whilst my wife and I were trying to get them away from a distressing situation in our home. I was treated like a terrorist. The next day it was reported in the Daily Mail that an Asian officer had been arrested for conducting a race-hate campaign.
In 2000 after the CPS refused to press any criminal charges against me; I was dismissed from the MPS on trumped up allegations. My disciplinary hearing was the first to be observed by the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) after legal battles to get them in. The IAG wrote a scathing report on the MPS disciplinary procedure against me. This was a turning point in policing history to have disciplinary hearing in public.
When dismissed, I got a great job with a major airline but was continually being harassed by the Met and the press.
In order to clear my name my employment tribunal case was heard in 2000, it was the first in the public domain that exposed racism within the MPS. It was a high-profile and stated case, both my wife and I refused to sign any confidentiality clauses. This led to the MPA ‘Virdi Inquiry report.’ The case was the first to change practices within the MPS especially in relation to suspension and disciplinary procedures. Throughout my case there were only a handful of people who supported me whilst others hid. I got a written apology from the Commissioner.
You felt that your card was marked after you gave evidence to the public inquiry into the 1993 murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence by a group of five white youths. What made you think this?
I was dismissed from the police service. Even after the Employment Tribunal exonerated me, secret reports were written about me and circulated amongst senior officers to discredit me and the findings of the Employment Tribunal. My promotion was blocked no matter how many times I passed my promotion exams. My career was finished.
You challenged racism in the force, how hard was it?
Despite my wife’s objections, in a true Sikh manner, I decided to return to Met to confront my racist accusers as I had no intention of walking away. I have always stood up to challenge racism and wrongdoing in the service and in the community. I have supported many colleagues and families that caused personal suffering to my own health. I served as an executive member of the Black Police Association and the Metropolitan Police Sikh Association. I have publicly challenged racism and corruption in the MPS; this has led to the CRE, Morris and MPA Race & Faith inquiries.
Challenging any form of wrongdoing is not easy especially in the police because the police as employers also use criminal law to criminalise you. This does not happen in other employments. You are left on your own to fight and have fund legal battles with own finances as the police federation will not support you.
In November 2001, the National Black Police Association gave me an award in recognition for my courage and tenacity in fighting for justice in the police service.
Ever since the first Black Officer, Norwell Roberts, in 1967, of all BAME officers, I am the twelfth person to have completed my full service. This is a shameful record for the government and successive Commissioners of the police.
You served in the police force for 30 years what were your fondest memories?
I met some really wonderful people; made great friends and I have made a difference to policing.
How much negativity did you receive being in the force?
Since 1998, the Metropolitan Police has continually made negative press releases against me using their preferred papers and media outlets. I even took on a national newspaper for defamation.
As a role model for many young people, I was continually investigated for one thing or another by the Met police. They are continually out to destroy my standing in the community.
You wrote a book “Behind the blue line” tell me a little bit about the book and how it came about?
After leaving the police, I retrained to teach whilst doing volunteer work. However, my community wanted me to go into local politics. I did. I was selected for the Labour Party’s Future Candidates Programme. The Metropolitan Police decided to pursue me yet again on false allegations, this time, historical sexual allegations. These allegations were yet again to destroy my reputation in the community with negative publicity. The case was heard at Southwark Crown court and the jury found me Not Guilty on all charges.
In order to get the truth out in the public domain, I wrote the book ‘Behind the Blue Line’ detailing the false historical allegations against me and the conduct of the police. This case clearly showed how I was targeted by the senior officers via a Gold Group. I suggest that this book is read if you are seriously concerned about Institutional Racism. Both, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Dr Richard Stone OBE, have written forwards for my book.
What changes would you like to see in the police?
Ideally, I would like someone independent to carry out an inquiry into how I was treated by an institutional racist organisation. The results of this will provide a lot of answers on changes to policing. I have made submissions to Home Affairs Committees on several matters to improve the police.
What have you been doing since you left the force?
I have been an elected councillor, carried the Olympic torch, still volunteering and working within the education sector in Supported Learning.
What is next for Gurpal Virdi?
More books to write and to carry on fighting for equality and fairness