A Black bank manager who is suing the Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest has spoken of the devastating impact the incident continues to have on his family.
Dale Semper says the nightmare began when he was pulled over and arrested in 2017 – six years on, he describes in an interview with Yahoo News UK how the episode left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and doubting his own mind, while his partner suffers panic attacks when she sees a police car.
The incident happened as Semper, who was 35 at the time, drove his partner Denise Huggan to the train station on 22 August in her Mini Paceman.
They were stopped by officers, a moment that sparked a long-running saga that saw him accused of firearms offences, fraud and money laundering (all of which he has consistently denied) and involved his home being searched, as well as that of his partner and mother, and his bank accounts being frozen.
Semper, who worked as a high street bank manager at the time, maintains there was a racial motivation behind his arrest and subsequent 26-month investigation - which resulted in no charges and no further action.
He is now suing the Met for damages for negligence, malicious prosecution and procurement of a warrant, misfeasance in public office, breach of statutory duty, misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018, trespass, false imprisonment, unlawful racial discrimination and unlawful harassment.
'It’s really painful'
Semper has described how when he was arrested officers rushed up to the car, shouting and swearing at him to get out of the car before handcuffing him and arresting him.
He and Huggan were searched at the roadside and Huggan’s car was also searched, as were the contents of her suitcase in view of members of the public. Semper was escorted back to his home in Enfield, north London, which was searched for firearms.
None were found, but police then switched their attention to cash that was in Semper’s safe, accusing him of money laundering. His partner and mother’s homes were later also searched.
Throughout the investigation, Semper says comments and suggestions were made that his lifestyle could not have been obtained legitimately and must have been the product of illegal activity – something he and his partner say was based on his skin colour.
After the conclusion of the investigation, Semper made a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police Service but following the force’s investigation into his complaint, the Met said the matter had not been upheld, and that there had not been a failure in the way he had been dealt with by the force.
Semper has now lodged an appeal against the results of the investigation with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) whilst also pursuing his civil claim.
Speaking to Yahoo News UK, Semper and his partner say the “never-ending” situation has had a “painful” impact on them.
“It’s something that is just consistently ongoing,” he says. “And no matter how much we do, for me I still feel like it’s never-ending. It’s really, really painful.
“I started even doubting myself, thinking did I do something and not realise I had done it? My mind started playing tricks on me making me think that I could actually do something I hadn’t done, because they were so relentless.”
Huggan adds: “You’re reliving it every time something else happens. I got very much triggered when we got the report that came back from the Met Police.
“Dale’s mum and I weren’t arrested, but we’re still triggered. When we’re driving in a car and I see a police car behind us I’m triggered, I’m in panic mode. There was a point where I saw a police officer parked outside my house when I was with a friend and I was so panicked because I thought ‘they have come back again’.
“This is what we’re living with, and I don’t think we’ll ever wholeheartedly be over it. It was ongoing, relentless victimisation. It was like they thought they might have a case and were searching for things to build around it to make sure that he ended up in prison.
“We were out of our heads at home just thinking, what else are they going to throw at us? It was madness.”
'It’s 2023, this shouldn’t be happening’
The couple, who have undergone counselling following the experience, insist the issue remains unresolved.
As well as battling for a sincere apology from the Met – which Semper says remains lacking – as well as some kind of compensation, he wants to show that his experience highlights what he describes as institutional racism in the force.
“How many people like me have been in this situation where they can’t financially protect themselves or get legal representation to support them and are locked away in prison for something they haven’t actually done? For me, that’s massive, because it just hurts that this is still going on after so many years. It’s 2023, this shouldn’t be happening.’
“I feel the police literally have no one to answer to. There’s no one holding them accountable. So this is why this continues.”
The couple said the “systematic victimisation” they experienced was an example of the widespread problems that continue to exist within the force.
Watch: Met Police chief rejects use of term 'institutional' to describe racism in force
In March year, The Casey Review found the Met was “institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic”.
The damning report, which was commissioned to review the culture and standards of London’s police service in the wake of the rape, abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, described “severe institutional failings” across the organisation that, it said, will “require radical reform to resolve”.
Upon taking over as new Met Police commissioner in September 2022, Sir Mark Rowley promised to “bring more trust, less crime and high standards to the Met”.
However, these words ring somewhat hollow with Semper, who says that while they had been hopeful the new commissioner would have helped their case as part of his pledges to combat racism in the force, the lack of “meaningful apology” had left them disappointed, along with a denial that comments captured on officers’ body-worn cameras and made to Semper were racist.
The commissioner also rejected the use of the term "institutional" used by the Casey review.
“We want a meaningful apology and we want to sit down with the Met commissioner and for him to talk us through our experience and actually say what it is that he thinks they didn’t do wrong.
“There’s been lots of ‘reports’ - there was the MacPherson inquiry [into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993], but nothing has happened.
“You need to admit there’s an issue to be able to start fixing it and if you’re not admitting it then you’re just a part of the problem.”
Natasha Shim, Director at legal firm Holborn Adams, which is representing the couple, said they had experienced “a systematic campaign of racial harassment” and called for change to come “from the top” in order to ensure other families would not have to go through anything similar.
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Metropolitan Police for comment, as well as whether Rowley would consider meeting Semper to discuss his concerns.
A response from the force said: “We understand that the claimant has challenged the findings and made an appeal to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.”
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