For a man who has suffered as much abuse as anyone in his life, Gurpal Virdi is remarkably optimistic.
The 63-year-old does not hold any grudges, but he says he suffered the most appalling racial abuse both as a child growing up in white-dominated London and as a police officer.
To top it off, when it was all over and he decided to resign from the police force and become a local councilor, he says the Met brought totally unproven sexual abuse charges against him that derailed his political career. .
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Her father came to the UK in 1961 with the aim of finding a better life for his family in the UK, as India at the time was mired in the chaos of British-imposed partition.
Although he has a degree and is a trained police officer, he says he was unable to find professional employment as Indians were effectively banned, so he was forced to work in the factory. of Southall Rubber.
But he worked hard, saved money, and was able to buy a house for his wife and three children to follow him to England.
Gurpal was only eight years old when he suddenly found himself in a London torn by racism.
“It was very nice and warm in India and here it was very very cold. We were used to big houses in India and suddenly we lived in tiny terraced houses. It was quite a shock, ”he says.
“There were very few Asians back then. Just a few families on our way.”
It was the policy of the day to take ethnic minority schoolchildren to schools in white-dominated neighborhoods to help them “fit in” – but in reality this led to bullying and abuse. awful.
Gurpal was transported by bus from Southall to a school in Greenford.
“It was very, very wrong what they did because we were isolated,” he says.
“I was a long haired Sikh. My hair was pulled out every day for three or four years. There was blood flowing down my face and I was in great pain.
“I was getting punches and beatings. People would say things like ‘go take a swim, brown shit’.”
Even after all these years, Gurpal still looks emotional about it.
“My dad didn’t want to know because he was under stress himself, but mom still had to treat my cuts and bruises. The elders of the community tended to keep their heads down, ”he says.
“The thing is, the teachers weren’t listening if you said you were being bullied.
“If you reported being bullied, you would still get the cane.”
Fortunately Gurpal’s uncle has been one of those who spoke out against the “bussing” school system and challenged school authorities.
There were protests and the Indian Workers Association got involved and forced the government to change its policy.
“The policy changed and I went to Featherstone School in Southall… but still got bullied,” Gurpal said.
“It really, really touched me and I wanted to take action to do something.”
In the end, Gurpal and his friends spent time exercising and building muscles so they could defend themselves, and then the bullies started firing them.
He also learned to give as much as he received verbally. It was ultimately the only way to survive.
“The police were very, very mean to us. They never investigated anything if we were attacked. They never did anything. That’s what made me decide to join the police to try. to make a change, ”says Gurpal.
As a teenager, Gurpal was caught up in battles with the skinheads – a subculture originally from London – who repeatedly attempted to attack Southall and the Asian resistance to them.
He remembers the night in 1979 when a New Zealand activist by the name of Blair Peach was killed during a protest after the National Front took control of Southall town hall. Later, Gurpal said, it turned out that he had been beaten by a police officer.
It was this horrific moment that brought the Asian community together and sparked a backlash that permanently chased skinheads out of town.
Gurpal was 100% determined to join the police – a move that meant he was being rejected by his community.
“My parents objected. With the exception of a few close friends, all of them disappeared and the parents weren’t coming to our house,” he said bitterly.
“I was trying to tell them, ‘If you want to change, you have to do it from the inside out.'”
Ultimately, Gurpal signed on as a special constable in 1979 so his father wouldn’t know it, and then he became a full-fledged police officer two years later.
Yet his problems were only just beginning.
“The police professors were constantly lashing out at me in class, so after three or four weeks I just volunteered to talk and they had to say I had to hold back,” Gurpal laughs.
“Some of the officers made it clear that you were not welcome, but if you complained you were out, so it was about trying to get through your two-year probation.”
He was initially posted to Battersea, but it was when he was posted to Ealing that he said things went very badly. Here he claims to have been confronted with officers who remembered watching Asians on the streets of Southall.
“Hated. I was hated by quite a few officers,” he said. “Rather than acknowledge my commitment to making London a better place, I was attacked.”
Gurpal says a systematic hate mail campaign has started against black and Asian officers, and he has been blamed for it.
Batches of hate mail were sent to police, support staff and even canteen workers.
Gurpal says he was one of 13 black and Asian officers who received a printed image of a black man along with the message, “Not wanted. Keep the font white, so go now or else. “
The Met decided to investigate, but Gurpal called for an external investigation because he feared they were covering it up. He says he was forcibly suspended as a result.
An employment tribunal of course later found out that it had nothing to do with hate mail.
The commanders involved reached an out-of-court settlement and Gurpal received a formal apology from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.
“I was reinstated but I have always been targeted and I have always received hate mail for the race,” he says.
He returned to work and continued to fight for justice, but says he was still targeted every two years or so and promotions were often blocked.
A key part of her job was fighting to get the police reports on Blair Peach’s death released.
These duly confirmed that Peach was murdered by a member of the police team, but Gurpal says there have been more than a few other race-related murders that should have been investigated. and never have been.
He later testified at the inquest into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, which helped convince judges that the police were “institutionally racist.”
Eventually, however, he couldn’t stand being targeted and left the police in 2012.
But again, his problems were just beginning.
He decided to run as a local councilor and was introduced as a possible local MP. That’s when the Met unearthed allegations of sexual abuse 25 years earlier.
They claimed he assaulted a minor with a baton in the back of a police van.
“I’m getting sewn up again,” he told his wife when he returned home after questioning.
“They were quite worried about what would happen if I became an MP,” he said.
Needless to say, the charges weren’t proven at all and the case was closed within an hour.
In short, the judge said there had been a “conspiracy” to convict Gurpal.
But his political career was fundamentally ruined.
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The Labor Party deselected him, but he still ran successfully and won a seat on Hounslow’s Council as an independent.
“I’m lucky enough, I have a great family and a supportive and supportive wife and children,” he says.
“[But] my wife and I are both on medication because of all the stress.
“I would not change what I did. I would always join the police department. The promotion system changed because of my labor tribunal. The recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry have had an impact and community relations have changed. “
These days, Gurpal teaches law to students at the University of East London with the aim of helping young people equip themselves with the skills to create a more just society.
And he offers help to the locals, and even the police, who are caught up in racial issues.
“I always keep my phone on in case someone needs help,” he says.
He admits things have improved in terms of race relations, but says there has been a slippage since 2010 as funding has become more limited.
And he says there is still a long way to go to bring ethnic minorities into the police force.
“How many officers from ethnic minorities have completed 30 years of police service,” he asks. “This is the number to look at. I was only the 12th or 13th to do so.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police (MPS) declined to comment on Mr Virdi’s case, but said the service “has made significant progress in ensuring that we have a larger workforce. diverse and inclusive “.
The spokesperson said that following recommendations made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2016, the Met has created “dedicated specialist teams to respond to internal complaints of discrimination,” adding: “The MPS is also investing in improving the way it registers internal complaints of discrimination so that it is better able to identify victimization.
Gurpal’s book “Behind the Blue Line: My Fight Against Racism and Discrimination in the Police” is widely available from bookstores.
Do you have an interesting memory or story from your life in London? Please email [email protected]