Policing minister says forces are ‘open and willing to learn’

Emma Bowden, PA
·3-min read

The “vast majority” of police forces are “open and willing to learn”, a Government minister has said in response to the Metropolitan Police voluntarily referring itself to a watchdog over a stop and search involving athlete Bianca Williams.

Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said it was “critical” for police forces to have the “processes and the transparency” to learn from mistakes.

British sprinter Ms Williams said she believes officers racially profiled her and partner Ricardo dos Santos when they were handcuffed and separated from their three-month-old son during a traffic stop.

Bianca Williams police stop
Bianca Williams (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A video of the incident, which saw the couple pulled from their car in a west London street, was posted online by former Olympic medallist Linford Christie.

The Met has voluntarily referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), despite two reviews by the force’s own directorate of professional standards finding no misconduct by its officers.

Appearing on Times Radio Breakfast, Mr Malthouse did not comment on the case specifically due to the ongoing investigation, but said “these situations are often challenging”.

“I mean obviously the police have to react in the circumstances that are presented to them, and they have to make fast-time judgments about what’s going on and how they should intervene,” he said.

“Now, sometimes, hopefully the small amount of occasions, mistakes are made. The critical thing is that the police have the structures and processes and the transparency to learn from mistakes.

“And that’s why we have an inquiry process to look back at these things and say, ‘well OK, how could it have been done differently, how should it have been done differently’?

“Now, the inquiry might say it was perfectly legitimate, I don’t know yet, but at the same time, the key thing is that as an organisation across the country, the police are open and willing to learn, and I know that the vast majority are.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has apologised to Ms Williams for the “distress” caused by the stop search.

Dame Cressida told the Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday a referral was made to the IOPC because of “the level of public concern”.

Nothing was found in the search of Ms Williams and her partner, which the Met said was carried out by officers patrolling the area in response to an increase in violence involving weapons.

The force also said their vehicle was seen driving suspiciously, including on the wrong side of the road, and that the driver had sped off when asked to stop.

But this account was rejected by Ms Williams, who has said she is considering legal action against the Met.

Mr Malthouse told Times Radio that footage from body-worn cameras allows for a “proper digestion” of the incident afterwards.

The MP for North West Hampshire added: “If there are mistakes made, the key thing is that we’ve got good evidence now with video-enabled… you know, these video cameras that police officers wear.

“But also that we have good, strong structures to make sure that there is that transparency and accountability.

“And I know the vast majority of police officers are happy with that, they want to be held to account and want people to see that they’re doing their job in a proportionate and sensible way.”