Met Police leader laments ‘trial by social media’ after criticism of Labour MP traffic stop
Deputy commissioner condemns ‘damaging’ abuse against both officers and Dawn Butler
The Metropolitan Police have blamed “human error” for the decision to pull over Labour MP Dawn Butler’s car, as the force hit out at “trial by social media” of its officers.
The police force was accused of racial profiling by the Brent Central MP after being stopped by officers while driving in the London borough of Hackney on Sunday afternoon.
Butler was the passenger in a BMW driven by black male friend when it was pulled over by two Metropolitan Police cars.
In a statement on the incident earlier this week, the Met's deputy commissioner Sir Steve House said it was “important that the facts are fully understood”.
And he said the officers involved had acted “professionally and politely” after carrying out a review of video evidence relating to the stop.
“Criminals often use vehicles to travel in and to commit crime, therefore officers will often check cars to see if there is anything that requires them to stop it and do further checks,” the deputy commissioner said. “The officers ran a number plate check on the vehicle. At this stage, the officers still didn’t know who the occupants of the car were, including their ethnicity because the car windows were tinted. As a result of an officer making a human error as he inputted the car registration, the Police National Computer returned details of a car from another part of the UK.”
He added: “The officers were not initially aware of this problem and as a result felt, with good reason, that they should do further checks on the car by stopping it and engaging with the occupants. I expect officers to have professional curiosity and I would have done the same.
“I have viewed all the available video material of that interaction and I have read their statements – the officers acted professionally and politely, explaining why the stop was made and, when realising there was a mistake, explaining this and continuing to answer the occupants’ questions.
“Ms Butler has said that she has no complaint about 'how' the stop was conducted, rather her concerns lie in why the stop was initiated and I have discussed these concerns with her.”
The senior officer also attacked social media criticism of force over its handling of the incident, saying there were “existing, appropriate and proportionate processes for making complaints and for facts to be established“.
“The increasingly routine trial by social media is unfair and damaging to individual officers and has the potential to undermine the role our communities need us to do to protect them and keep them safe from violence,” he added. “I am grateful to these officers, as I am to all our officers who act professionally, humanely and in the service of the public. I would also like to condemn the abuse that some on social media have directed at Ms Butler. It is unwarranted and unacceptable and we are working to support her.”
Speaking about the incident earlier this week, former shadow equalities secretary Butler said the incident was “obviously racial profiling”.
She added: "We know that the police is institutionally racist and what we have to do is weed that out. We have to stop seeing black with crime. We have to stop associating being black and driving a nice car with crime."
Prime minister Boris Johnson meanwhile said it was “very, very important that the Met continue to do everything that they can, as indeed they do, to show that they are serving every part of our country, every part of our community, with fairness and equality”.
However, a spokesperson for Number 10 later said Johnson did not believe that the Met remained "institutionally racist" as an organisation, a term that was used about the force in the wake of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in the 1990s.
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