Retired senior Asian Met police officer says her 30-year career was plagued by racism which left her with PTSD – from colleagues calling her ‘Bounty’ to holding a weapon to her head while making a racial slur
- Shabnam Chaudhri, 55, says she experienced racism growing up in East London
- Told how she ‘wanted to make a difference’ from young age and applied to police
- Was rejected three times and took six years before she was accepted in 1989
- Says she was unfairly treated throughout her career due to her Asian ethnicity
- Called the ‘Bounty’ by colleagues and says official complaint held back career
A retired senior Metropolitan Police officer has spoken out about her experience of racism within the force throughout her 30-year career.
Shabnam Chaudhri, 55, of Essex, told how colleagues would call her the ‘Bounty’ and claims she was ‘held back’ from progressing up the ladder after making an official complaint about her treatment.
Instead of feeling supported, she said she felt subsequently victimised and was labelled a ‘troublemaker’ who ‘plays the race card’, which made her feel ‘scared’ about going to work.
Following an anonymous internal complaint, Shabnam was investigated – and later cleared – of misconduct – the toll of which led to a diagnosis of PTSD and tinnitus.
Shabnam Chaudhri, 55, of Essex, has spoken out about her experience of racism within the force throughout her 30-year career
Speaking to the BBC, Shabnam said she used to call her sister ‘crying down the phone’ on her commute to work because she was so scared she would lose her job.
‘It warranted me to leave after just over 30 years,’ she said. ‘I’d love to have stayed for 35 years, but if I stayed I’d have been watching my back.
‘I’d be scared every time I got a phone call, thinking, “Are they watching me? Have I done some something wrong?”‘
Shabnam told how it took four applications before she was accepted to join the police in 1989. Her first three rejections were allegedly due to her being too skinny, too young and lacking ‘life experience’.
Growing up in East London she had already experienced discrimination first-hand; she recalled having their windows smashed and racist flyers put through their letterbox.
Shabnam (pictured early in her career) told how it took four applications before she was accepted to join the police in 1989. Her first three rejections were allegedly due to her being too skinny, too young and lacking ‘life experience’
Shabnam shared this letter dated May 26, 1983 in April last year, tweeting: ‘The first of many applications to join the police. After six years, several rejections, 1989 I was in! 30 years later I’m still proud to be serving. Can’t think of many who get told to put on a stone to get their dream job!’
She told how her mother was once the victim of a racially motivated assault on the way home from the mosque, and afterwards she bought her daughter trainers so she could run away from attackers.
Shabnam said it taught her to stand up to racism and instilled a desire in her to ‘make a difference’.
She finally landed a placement as an officer on the beat in Bethnal Green, but claims she was subjected to prejudice by her own colleagues.
‘They used to call me the “Bounty”,’ she told the BBC. ‘On one occasion an officer grabbed hold of me, put a weapon to my head and said, “Everybody stop or the Paki gets it.”
‘I just wanted to get on with the job, so I accepted it as part and parcel of being an officer.’
Shabnam finally landed a placement as an officer on the beat in Bethnal Green, but claims she was subjected to prejudice by her own colleagues. Pictured early in her career
After progressing to the rank of detective sergeant, Shabnam made an official complaint of racism in 1999, claiming it held her back in her career.
It was the same year at the Macpherson Report, which investigated the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and branded the Metropolitan Police ‘institutionally racist’.
After a racism awareness training session – a recommendation of the report – Shabnam put in a complaint after an officer called Muslim headwear ‘tea cosies’ and mispronounced ‘Shi’ites’ to make an offensive joke.
But instead of feeling supported, Shabnam said she was victimised to the point where the job she loved suddenly became a place she was ‘scared to work’ – with items going missing from her desk and her team blanking her.
Feeling her position had become untenable, she moved boroughs, but claims she’d developed a reputation as a ‘troublemaker’ which had a negative impact on her relationship with her new team.
Speaking to the BBC, Shabnam said she used to call her sister ‘crying down the phone’ on her commute to work because she was so scared she would lose her job
A long legal battle ensued, which saw Scotland Yard forced to pay damages to officers Shabnam accused in 2005 after an Employment Tribunal ruled the force had treated those officers unfairly – a decision criticised by Met commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
The problem of officers facing backlash when they raise racial grievances was not new; in 2005 a report from the Commission for Racial Equality found there was a ‘general feeling’ from a number of the correspondents involved that ‘grievance procedures were operating to their disadvantage’.
Sir David Calvert-Smith, who led the team behind the report, said lessons have still not been learned.
Shabnam added that there wasn’t a full cultural transformation of the Met, though the force did try to address inequalities for black and minority officers and ‘introduced good processes’.
In 2015, Shabnam landed the role of a staff officer at the Inspectorate of Constabulary – the policing watchdog known as HMIC, after doing a training course designed to help BAME officers further their careers.
Shabnam said there wasn’t a full cultural transformation of the Met, though the force did try to address inequalities for black and minority officers and ‘introduced good processes’
But, after she’d held a leaving do and was ready to hit the ground running, her job offer was withdrawn due to a problem during the vetting process – because Shabnam declared she knew someone whose family may have been involved in crime.
Despite her association eventually being deemed low risk by the Met’s Professional Standards Departments (PSD), with Shabnam having made the decision not to have any further contact with the individual in question, she said it demonstrated an ‘unconscious bias’ within PSD.
‘I think I wasn’t believed at face value because of a stereotype that BAME officers associate with criminals,’ she told the BBC.
When Shabnam later applied for an acting superintendent role, an anonymous caller reported her for not entering her work hours properly, sparking another investigation which left her ‘devastated’.
After making an official complaint, Shabnam said she was victimised to the point where the job she loved suddenly became a place she was ‘scared to work’ – with items going missing from her desk and her team blanking her. Pictured outside Scotland Yard
Despite everything, Shabnam said she ‘loved’ being an officer and ‘wouldn’t change any of what I did’
It was during this seven month investigation for gross misconduct that she received the Outstanding Contribution prize at the No2H8 Crime Awards for her work in tackling hate crime, which helped her feel ‘vindicated’.
She was cleared and given the job, but it was her final hurrah in the force and she retired in December last year. Shabnam said she hopes the recent killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Black Lives Matter movement will help bring about change.
Despite everything, Shabnam said she ‘loved’ being an officer and ‘wouldn’t change any of what I did’.
The Metropolitan Police told the BBC there is ‘no place for discrimination or victimisation’ in the force and said improvements have been made to its grievance procedures, with a dedicated Discrimination Investigation Unit now in place.
Scotland Yard told the publication it has amended its employment and vetting process to make it ‘smoother’ and all officers now have training in unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion.
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