‘You Can’t Ignore The Facts. This Was A Black Woman Being Struck’

Anti-racism campaigners criticised South Yorkshire police yesterday after the force’s insistence that the fracas between its officer and the black woman he struck several times within the view of CCTV was not a racial incident.

Amid the outcry over the filmed confrontation, revealed yesterday by the Guardian, the force said it was outraged at the “possible suggestion that this may be linked to any kind of racist incident”.

 But this triggered fresh criticism from activists, other police officers and Richard Stone, who sat on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and helped devise the definition of a “racial incident” used by forces around the country, including South Yorkshire, since the report was published eight years ago.

As far as the Guardian is aware the victim has not claimed the incident was racially motivated. But the definition classifies as racial “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. South Yorkshire’s own policy refers to “all racist incidents as defined by the Macpherson report on the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence”.

Dr Stone said: “To my mind they have to accept that it is a racial incident. Their officers have been trained in restraint and they appear to have behaved in a very unprofessional way. To spend time debating whether it is a racial incident, when under the definition it clearly is, is just deflecting the discussion away from the unprofessionalism of using punches in this situation.”

Sgt Keith Jarrett, president of the Black Police Association, said it was important not to prejudge the officers’ actions. “I understand how difficult it is to control someone when they are drunk – I have been in that position myself. But it also doesn’t help to be in denial. They should designate it as a racial incident. If it turns out not to be that’s fine. I’m not saying that the officers should be hung out to dry. But they should treat this as the law dictates.”

Ruggie Johnson, the local activist who obtained the tape, has maintained from the outset that the incident was racial. “Being discriminated against because of our colour is the common experience of the black community here,” he said. “You can’t ignore the facts. This was a black woman being struck and then dragged with her pants down around her ankles.”

In devising a definition, Sir William Macpherson and his panel adapted and simplified principles laid down by the Association of Chief Police Officers.