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Bianca Williams: Five Met officers involved in stop-and-search of sprinter charged with gross misconduct

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F

ive Met officers involved in the stop-and-search of Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams have been charged with gross misconduct amid allegations they treated her differently because her race.

The police watchdog on Wednesday ordered disciplinary hearings into the stop of the athlete, then 27, and her partner Ricardo dos Santos.

If found guilty, an acting police sergeant and four police constable face the sack.

The couple accused the force of “racially profiling” when they were handcuffed and separated from their three-month-old son in Maida Vale in July 2020.

Mr dos Santos was searched for weapons and for drugs and Ms Williams for weapons.

Former Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick apologised to Ms Williams after footage of their Mercedes being stopped was posted online by the former Olympic champion Linford Christie.

But Dame Cressida said at the time “any officer worth their salt” would have stopped the car because of the way it was being driven.

Nothing was found in the vehicle and Mr dos Santos was not reported for the offence of careless driving.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct also found there was no legitimate grounds for officers to place the baby’s details on the Met’s Merlin safeguarding database, which stores information on children who have become known to the police.

The force has been directed to determine what action it should take over that matter and consider deleting it.

In a statement issued through the couple’s lawyers, Ms Williams said: “I welcome this decision and hope this opens the door for the Met to start being more honest and reflective about the culture of racism which is undoubtedly still a reality within the organisation.”

Mr dos Santos said: “This has been a long journey, and one which has not been easy.

“This sheds a light on how difficult it is to ensure the police are held responsible for their failings.”

Detained: Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos criticised police

/ Bianca Williams

Sal Naseem, the IOPC’s regional director, said the five officers will face allegations they breached standards of professional behaviour for duties and responsibilities and for equality and diversity.

He said disciplinary proceedings should take place to examine why the vehicle was followed and stopped, whether force used against Ms Williams and Mr dos Santos was lawful, if the couple were treated less favourably because of they are black and the accuracy of the accounts provided by officers.

Mr Naseem added: “Four of them also face allegations that they breached the standards for use of force and for authority, respect and courtesy.

“Three of the five – all police constables – will face allegations that they breached the standards for honesty and integrity and one will face an allegation they breached the police standards of professional behaviour for orders and instructions.

“These matters were assessed as gross misconduct so it will be for the disciplinary panel, led by an independent legally qualified chair to determine whether or not the allegations are proven.”

Dame Cressida quit after losing the backing of mayor Sadiq Khan over her plan to reform the force amid allegations of a toxic racist, sexist and homophobic culture.

Scandals included the murder of marketing executive Sarah Everard, 33, by PC Wayne Couzens, WhatsApp exchanges between officers at Charing Cross and the unjustified strip-search of 15-year-old black schoolgirl Child Q in Hackney.

In July 2020 Dame Cressida told LBC host Nick Ferrari of the Williams stop-and-search: “I don’t personally accept that what we have seen so far on the video in relation to the stop of Miss Williams reveals racism.

“Having seen some of the footage myself, I would say that any officer worth their salt would have stopped that car that was being driven in that manner.”

However, she did apologise to Williams “as one human being to another” for any distress caused, but believed the officers had done nothing wrong.

Last year it was announced a review would take place into the use of handcuffs where an arrest has not been made – a tactic most commonly used during stop and search.

Williams welcomed that, but said further “effective” racial bias training was also needed.

She said in July 2021: “The handcuffs were painful and it was incredibly humiliating to be separated from my baby, in handcuffs outside my home with neighbours walking past.

“While I welcome better training in the Met on the use of handcuffs, the trauma of the incident did not start or end with the handcuffing. It was racial stereotyping and prejudice.

“I would like to see some effective bias training in the police as well as better training on the use of force and not just in relation to handcuffs.”

At the time, Sir Stephen House, who took over from Dame Cressida as acting Commissioner, defended the officers and said videos shared on social media did not show the “full picture”.

The IOPC investigated a complaint about the appropriateness of a statement Sir Stephen made to the London Assembly.

It directed that the Met to determine what action it should take and, in particular, whether he should apologise to the couple.

Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, the Met’s current deputy, told MPs in 2020 there had been “good grounds” for stopping the car.

The Met’s own Directorate of Professional Standards carried out two reviews, which found no misconduct by any officers.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Met Police Federation, said on Wednesday: “The officers involved have our full support.

“We feel this is a turning point. We await the outcome of the misconduct process because the implications will being far-reaching for policing in London.”

Mr Khan said Ms Williams’ case showed the need for Dame Cressida’s successor to draw up a “more effective plan to tackle the serious cultural issues” within the force to regain trust.

He commented: “This incident was understandably deeply distressing for Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos, and I, like many Londoners, was disturbed by the footage of what happened.

“I welcome the independent investigation by the IOPC and its findings. It is important there is no further delay and these officers now face gross misconduct proceedings as soon as possible.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bas Javid, from the Met’s Directorate of Professionalism, again apologised for the distress caused to the couple.

He said: “I acknowledge the IOPC’s direction in this case.

“We have co-operated fully with the investigation and, in accordance with their direction, are now arranging for an independently-led misconduct hearing to take place.

“I am sorry for the distress that this incident clearly caused Ms Williams and Mr dos Santos.”

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