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Met refers itself to police watchdog over sprinter search

UK News | Published:

A video if the incident was posted online.

Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams

The Metropolitan Police has voluntarily referred itself to the police watchdog following a stop and search involving athlete Bianca Williams.

A video of the incident, which saw the Great Britain sprinter and her partner Ricardo dos Santos pulled from their car in a London street, was posted online.

Williams has said she believes officers racially profiled her and dos Santos – a Portuguese 400-metre runner – when they were handcuffed and separated from their three-month-old son.

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening the Met said that following a vehicle stop on Lanhill Road in west London on Saturday it had made “a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct”.

The force added: “We have now recorded this incident as a public complaint.

“The decision to refer to the IOPC has been taken due to the complaint being recorded and the significant public interest in this matter and we welcome independent scrutiny of the facts.

“Two reviews of the circumstances by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards have not identified misconduct for any officer involved.”

The referral follows comments from 68-year-old Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, who accused the Met Police of being “out of touch” and described the incident as “disturbing and shocking”.

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Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said it had been supporting officers involved in the incident.

He added: “We call on the Independent Office for Police Conduct to conclude their work in a fair and timely fashion for the benefits of all parties concerned.

“And remind the public that a short clip of an incident widely shared on social media does not always tell the full operational policing story.”

The Met previously said on Monday that its Directorate of Professional Standards had revisited body-worn camera footage and social media videos of Saturday’s incident and found no misconduct issues.

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Bianca Williams
Bianca Williams (Aaron Chown/PA)

But Hynde, who lives in Maida Vale, west London, where Williams and her partner were stopped, said the incident “illustrates how out of touch the police in London have become”.

In a letter published by The Guardian, she wrote: “The incident was disturbing and aggressive, and the police van remained parked there for over an hour.

“The couple were innocent of whatever charges they were suspected of and were eventually let go.

“There has been a surge of violence in this area over the past five years. The son of a friend of mine was stabbed eight times last year in broad daylight on the same street as Saturday’s incident.

“Nobody will press charges against local gangs for fear of the inevitable payback.

“I watched gang members smash the windows and rob the shop downstairs from me recently and could not get the police on the phone – I was held in a queue long after the smash-and-grabbers had left.

“For years there has been no protection at all on the streets and now hordes of police are pulling over innocent citizens and causing real distress for no reason.

“Can the police get their house in order and start patrolling the gangs, and leave parents to do their shopping?”

Footage of the search was shared widely on Twitter after being posted by former Olympic medallist Linford Christie, who asked why the vehicle had been stopped.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy described the video as “shocking footage that anyone in their right mind would be alarmed about”.

Nothing was found in the search, which the Met said was carried out by officers patrolling the area in response to an increase in violence involving weapons.

The force also said the vehicle was seen driving suspiciously, including on the wrong side of the road, and that the driver sped off when asked to stop.

But this account was rejected by Ms Williams, who has said she is considering legal action against the Met.

“I feel very hurt by their actions, and to witness my partner being taken away and for me to be taken away from my son, my heart hurts,” she said.

In a statement on Monday, Met Commander for Central West Helen Harper said that while no misconduct issues had been found, “that does not mean there isn’t something to be learnt from every interaction we have with the public”.

She added: “Myself and Chief Superintendent Karen Findlay, who is in charge of the Territorial Support Group, are really keen to speak personally to the occupants of the vehicle to discuss what happened and the concerns they have.”

David Lammy
David Lammy (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mr Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, told the PA news agency such incidents are “diminishing trust among black populations in the criminal justice system”.

Speaking on Tuesday at the launch of a new public art display celebrating the work of artist Khadija Saye, who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, he said: “I’m afraid there has been far too much footage now of what feels like incredibly heavy-handed policing of black people, not just in London but across the country, and this is a moment I think to pause and ask ourselves deep questions that are coming up in relation to Black Lives Matter.

“Why is it that this is persistently happening? It’s diminishing trust among black populations in the criminal justice system.

“These are issues I raised in the review I was asked to do by David Cameron and it’s very, very concerning that here we are three years later and these issues remain perennial.”

Mr Lammy’s intervention came after his boss, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, said on Monday that he could see no justification for the use of handcuffs during the incident and he would “feel uncomfortable” if he were a senior officer watching the footage.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan also said he takes allegations of racial profiling “extremely seriously” and that he has raised the case with the force.

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