By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Two London police officers were sacked on Wednesday after being found guilty of gross misconduct over the stop-and-search of two Black athletes who were in a car with their baby outside their home, in a case that raised accusations of racial profiling.
British sprinter Bianca Williams, 29, and her partner, Portuguese 400m runner Ricardo dos Santos, 28, were followed and then pulled over by police outside their house in Maida Vale, west London, in July 2020 because officers said they were suspicious about how the vehicle was being driven.
Both were handcuffed while they and the car were searched for weapons or drugs after officers said they could smell cannabis. They were separated from their three-month-old son, but nothing was found and no arrests were made.
Footage of the incident, widely shared on social media, showed Williams – a Commonwealth Games gold medallist – handcuffed and in a distressed state, leading to accusations that the couple had been stopped simply because they were Black and in an expensive Mercedes car.
Five officers were referred to a special police misconduct panel over the incident. The panel on Wednesday ordered Constables Jonathan Clapham and Sam Franks dismissed after finding they lied about smelling cannabis.
The panel found that allegations against the three others, including breaching equality and diversity standards, were not proven.
“It just goes to show, no matter what background you are, how well educated, what career path you choose to have, the colour of your skin plays a role,” Dos Santos told Reuters after the ruling.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to shed a light on it, be able to bring forward these claims and actually show to the world that the policing in London is still institutionally racist.”
Government figures last month showed Black individuals were four times as likely to be stopped as someone who was white.
London’s Metropolitan Police initially said the five officers’ actions did not warrant disciplinary action.
But the force later apologised and, citing “significant public interest”, referred the incident to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which called for a hearing.
Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward said Wednesday’s verdicts by a special panel “highlight that we still have a long way to go to earn the trust of our communities, particularly our Black communities, when it comes to our use of stop-and-search”.
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IOPC director Steve Noonan said his office was “acutely aware that Bianca and Ricardo’s interaction with police, and their feeling of being treated less favourably by officers because of their race, is reflective of the experiences of many Black people across London and throughout England and Wales”.
During the misconduct hearing, Dos Santos said he had feared for his family, and that he had been stopped repeatedly by police, including nine times within four weeks of buying a car in 2018.
The case is the latest embarrassment for London police after an independent review by welfare expert Louise Casey concluded in March that the force was institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic, and unable to police itself.
London’s police chief, Mark Rowley, has vowed to clean it up and regain public trust.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Sachin Ravikumar, additional reporting by Natalie Thomas; editing by William James, John Stonestreet, Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)