July 7, 2020 / 6:55 PM / a month ago

UK police call in watchdog over stop-and-search of two Black athletes

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - London’s police force referred itself on Tuesday to an independent watchdog following widespread complaints about the treatment of two Black athletes pulled over in their car.

British sprinter Bianca Williams, 26, and her partner, Portuguese 400m record holder Ricardo dos Santos, 25, were stopped on Saturday afternoon while driving from training back to their home in Maida Vale in west London.

Williams, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, was filmed distressed and handcuffed, with the couple’s baby son in the car, sparking accusations of racial profiling and fuelling concerns rolling globally about racism in police forces.

London’s Metropolitan Police said two reviews of the incident had not identified any misconduct by its officers but the police service had now referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

“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,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he had raised the case with the Metropolitan Police, and Britain’s opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer also questioned the justification for stopping the couple and the use of handcuffs.

Williams could not be immediately reached for comment.

The incident comes following a wave of Black Lives Matter protests in Britain that have prompted a re-evaluation of the memorialisation of Britain’s colonial and slave-trading past.

Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Britain, as they have in the United States and around the world, since the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem confirmed the watchdog was investigating the stop-and-search incident that took place on July 4, of which video footage was shared on social media.

Video from the scene was posted on Twitter by Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie, who coaches both Williams and Dos Santos and accused the Met of “institutionalised racism”.

“We will be independently examining whether the use of stop and search on this occasion was appropriate and proportionate in line with approved police policies,” Naseem said in a statement.

“We will also investigate if racial profiling or discrimination played a part in the incident.”

IOPC investigations result in a report that is forwarded to the Metropolitan Police to carry out any disciplinary action recommended. This could range from further training to a warning to dismissal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged many Black and ethnic minority people in Britain feel they face discrimination and the country had to break down barriers.

Last month he launched a commission on racial inequalities following Black Lives Matter protests to examine racism and the disparities experienced by minority ethnic groups in education, health and the criminal justice system.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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