Black trainee solicitor stopped by police for ‘looking suspicious’ on way to meet client
A Black trainee solicitor has spoken out after he says he was stopped by five police officers for “looking suspicious” on his way to visit a client in prison.
Eldred Taylor-Camara, 26, of MTC Solicitors, was travelling to HMP Lewes, East Sussex, on the afternoon of 24 October when he was questioned by British Transport Police officers at Lewes railway station.
Dressed in a full suit, he said he was asked to account for his journey, including where it had started, its purpose and was asked to provide specific details such as locations and times, leaving him “stressed and physically shaken”.
When Mr Taylor-Camara answered their questions and asked why he was being interrogated, he said he was informed that he had been observed looking “lost” which “raised their suspicion” and was asked to provide ID.
The paralegal believes that he was racially profiled by the officers who, in his view, were unable to provide a “robust explanation” as to why he was stopped and subjected to “extensive questioning”. The police said they received “intelligence” about an “extremely violent” drug dealer in the area and he matched the description.
“I felt vulnerable and targeted,” Mr Taylor-Camara told The Independent. “They say the stop was ‘intelligence led’. However, if that’s the case I’m concerned by the glaring mistakes made – the approach by the officers purportedly acting on intelligence was obviously inadequate and the intelligence was simply inaccurate.
“The justification for the stop was unnerving. It showed the disassociation of the police between themselves and those in the public who are likely to encounter this kind of treatment – specifically, people who are Black and male.
“Due to the conduct of the officers and the inadequacy of the response to my complaint, the only plausible rationale that I could draw at the time is I was stopped because I am a young Black man.”
Mr Eldred-Taylor complained to British Transport Police but it was not upheld. The force defended its actions, saying the officers behaved in an “acceptable” manner – a response Mr Eldred-Taylor called “disappointing”.
“The conduct of the officers left me feeling intimidated and publicly humiliated. Despite my formal attire and explanation that I worked for a solicitor’s firm, I was treated with suspicion and subjected to extensive questioning,” Mr Taylor-Camara said in a letter to the force.
“It should be noted that these officers were not from Sussex Police and were in fact British Transport Police based at London Bridge, which only further aggravates the insinuation that I appeared to be out of place or lost, and therefore criminally suspicious.
“Had they been local officers with an extensive understanding of the town and its residents, it may have been plausible.”
The paralegal told The Independent: “That’s not to say that people in formal attire don’t commit crimes, but using that as a basis to approach me in a busy station isn’t acceptable.
“The most important thing for me is spreading awareness about this issue. For those who experience it, I’m aware that this is nothing new. However, for those who are trying to pursue a professional career, thinking it affords them protection from being profiled ... I want them to be aware that this is still a possibility. It’s important to highlight this reality, so it informs others.”
This scenario reflects the breakdown of trust between UK police forces and Black communities, Mr Taylor-Camara added.
Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and five times more likely to have force used upon them. Moreover, Black people have significantly lower than average rates of confidence in their police force (64 per cent compared with an average of 74 per cent).
Commenting on the case, barrister and star of The Chase quiz show, Shaun Wallace, said despite promises of “real and positive change” following the findings of the MacPherson Report into police racism, prompted by the response to Stephen Lawrence’s murder, nothing has changed.
“Eldred, quite understandably and properly, complained about the treatment he received and conduct of the so-called investigating officers and lodged a formal complaint to a complaints department within the British Transport Police however, unsurprisingly, his complaint was dismissed.”
Comparing this case with controversial police stops of athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo Dos Santos, Mr Wallace said these “worrying accounts” only demonstrated that the widespread problem of racial profiling within police show “little signs of abating”.
“But what can be done about it? Proper education of the force in areas of anti-discrimination? A truly independent panel to investigate such matters in order to ensure greater accountability? Maybe so, but these are only two suggestions of an inexhaustible list of what can and must be done to eradicate the cancer of stereotype racial profiling.
“Until a lasting solution is found, we must remain vigilant and continue to shine a light on such dark and shady practices.”
A BTP spokesperson said an investigation, which included a review of body-worn camera footage of the stop and interviews with all officers involved, found their actions were acceptable and no further action was taken.
“Our officers who patrol the railway and engage with passengers every day are not there to cause distress, but to ensure everyone is safe and that the network remains a hostile environment for offenders to operate in. Stopping passengers to speak to them is part and parcel of that, and we will always provide our full rationale for doing so,” they added.