The home secretary is at the centre of the worst race row to engulf the police service for almost a decade as chief constables stand accused of blocking an inquiry into discrimination against Muslim officers.
Jacqui Smith will be asked to intervene tomorrow after the damning revelation that at least 20 police forces refused to co-operate with the first audit into the treatment of Muslim and black officers. Information from those forces that did take part suggested there was routine racial discrimination against them.
Accusations that police forces refused to co-operate with the audit, which was conducted jointly by the National Association of Muslim Police and the think-tank Demos, is bound to cause consternation in government. Initially, only 11 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales replied to the questionnaire on the promotional prospects, rank and number of Muslim and black officers employed. As a result of this 'poor rate of return', the deadline was extended by another month. Even then barely half - only 23 - co-operated. The association condemned a seeming 'widespread squeamishness' on issues of race among a number of forces.
A letter sent to Smith and all chief constables in England and Wales by the association asks: 'Why were some forces unable or unwilling to co-operate, while others completed in full and on time? Why did some forces refuse to complete on grounds of the pretext of the Data Protection Act, while others said they did not have the time to take part?'
Senior Muslim officers warned forces last night that they would lodge Freedom of Information requests if they continued to refuse to take part.
The letter says: 'If the police are serious about ensuring that Muslim officers are able to rise through the ranks at the same speed as their fellow white officers, and ensuring that Muslims are deployed to counter-terrorism duties at a time of heightened national security, we must have reliable data to track progress and measure success.' It adds that the 'paucity' of information 'means that each individual case of discrimination, or alleged discrimination, can only be assumed to be symptomatic of the conditions facing Muslim officers across the UK'.
The letter from the president of the association, Zaheer Ahmad, also suggests that almost a decade after the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence found the Metropolitan police to be 'institutionally racist', the situation may have deteriorated. It urges the Home Secretary to order a 'critical review' of racism in the police before the 10-year anniversary of Sir William Macpherson's landmark report next year.
The results of the association's audit suggest routine racial discrimination against its members in terms of promotion and opportunities. The letter, leaked to The Observer, says: 'Muslim officers are being overlooked, potentially discriminated against in promotion, or are failing to receive the necessary training and personal development that would allow them to rise through the ranks. We urge you [the Home Secretary] to recommend a review of these matters.'
Among the audit's findings include figures revealing that Muslim officers were almost 'entirely absent' from specialist operations, such as counter-terrorism. It found that some forces do not even have a single Muslim working in terrorism or Special Branch almost three years after the 7 July London bombings, a move that Ahmad believes is hampering the fight against terrorism.
The audit also reveals that only one chief constable of the 43 forces is black or Muslim, while only eight of the 300 members of the Association of Chief Police Officers belong to ethnic minorities, with just 32 out of 1,600 superintendents black or Asian.
'The statistics speak volumes,' said Ahmad. 'As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, progress on diversity in the police appears to have been painfully slow.' From the replies it received, only 0.7 per cent of police officers were found to be Muslim, compared with 3 per cent of the British population.
The letter will heap further pressure on Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner who is embroiled in a race row with assistant Met commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, Britain's most senior Muslim officer, who may sue for discrimination.
Scotland Yard refused to comment on Ghaffur's intention to sue the force, but sources have told The Observer that the assistant commissioner has collated a dossier of evidence running to hundreds of pages to support his allegations of racism. Those who have seen the dossier said it was so 'explosive' it could harm national security. 'If this went to trial, the harm it would do to Muslim community relations would be tremendous,' said a friend of Ghaffur.
As well as Blair, the head of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Len Duvall, is also understood to be named in the dossier. Both strongly deny all claims of racism. Ken Jones, president of Acpo, said forces were working 'hard to make sure that all forms of discrimination are tackled head on'.
Source: Guardian (English), h/t Islamophobia Watch