Pay-out Made a Decade After Illegal Chiswick Stop and Search

Met deny racism after dog walker arrested and strip-searched

Chiswick Back Common
Chiswick Back Common. Picture: Facebook

A man has received a pay-out of £30,000 from the Metropolitan nearly ten years after he was illegally detained while walking his dog on Chiswick Back Common.

In December 2012, Zac Sharif-Ali, a black postal worker and aspiring musician, was approached by PC Duncan Bullock, who was not in uniform and two other officers. He forcibly detained Mr Sharif-Ali but failed to give his name or say which station he was based at, which the Met now admit made a stop-and-search illegal.

The officers with PC Bullock gave testimony that the reason for the detention of Mr Sharif-Ali was unclear, describing it as coming out of the blue. PC Bullock told a later investigation into the incident that Mr Sharif-Ali was approached because he was ‘hanging around the park’ and on his phone in an area that was a known hot-spot for drug dealing which he later admitted was not a strong reason. The investigation found that there was no specific intelligence to support the search of Mr Sharif-Ali.

According to the Observer newspaper, a sergeant who worked with PC Bullock told an internal investigation his work ethic wasn’t good and that he would normally conduct a stop-and-search once his lunchbreak had ended to ensure he would need to go out on patrol for the rest of the day.

Both men claim that the other was rude and aggressive and a report later concluded that PC Bullock had failed to follow training which encouraged officers to be respectful in such situations. Mr Sharif-Ali was put in a neck hold by PC Bullock, which made it difficult for him to speak. PC Bullock claimed he needed to do this to put handcuffs on him. One of the other officers said that PC Bullock pushed Mr Sharif-Ali to the ground and punched him twice in the shoulder. The Met has subsequently admitted that the method of restraint was inappropriate although it denies that he was placed in a neck hold for a prolonged period.

Mr Sharif-Ali told a later investigation that he was talking to the two other officers and not resisting when PC Bullock started to restrain him. He said, “Suddenly, it became apparent to me that my airways were being cut off while in this chokehold. I was gasping for breath while standing, and I seemed to lose consciousness whereby my legs weakened and as I was about to fall to the floor…. [PC Bullock], knowing I had no strength left, aggressively slammed my chest to the ground, his grip still around my neck.”

Police officers are not supposed to use force when making arrest unless they are preventing a crime or arresting an offender, and Mr Sharif-Ali was not being detained for a specific offence.

He was then taken to a police station, strip-searched before being released the same day.

He embarked on a decade long battle for justice in which three internal investigations were held by the police into the incident after which the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched another inquiry and it was only as a result of civil litigation that a pay-out was made.

The report the IOPC made in 2017, which concluded that PC Bullock had a case to answer for the method used to detain Mr Sharif-Ali and the subsequent strip-search, provided the basis of a civil claim. However, the following year a Met misconduct hearing concluded that PC Bullock had used legitimate force and had reasonable grounds to search Mr Sharif-Ali.

A result of Mr Sharif-Ali’s continuing litigation on the matter he eventually received a letter from the Met’s directorate of professional standards expressing regret that he was subject to an illegal search adding, “I acknowledge the anxiety and distress this incident caused you and would like to apologise to you on behalf of the Metropolitan police service.”

The Met continue to deny that the stop-and-search was racially motivated.

Mr Sharif-Ali told the Observer newspaper that he felt that the Met apology was worthless and that he still had not received justice. He said, “What did I get for being choked to the point I feared I might die? What did I get for being stripped naked and humiliated? What did I get for all the trauma and years of mental health problems?

“No officer has been disciplined. The Met has dragged this out for 10 years. I haven’t been able to heal and move on. It’s like they have gone out of their way to aggravate my pain.

“If I’m doing what everyone else does in a park – walking my dog and eating a sandwich – then which one of my actions gave him any suspicion? I looked casually professional. So, what else is there other than the colour of my skin that would make him think I was doing anything illegal?”

In the interview with the Observer he said that his experience had led to him becoming distrustful and suspicious causing his relationship with his partner the break down and he lost touch with friends and family. He was treated by his community mental health team and his GP for nine years following the incident.

Iain Gould, a solicitor who represented Sharif-Ali, told the Observer that PC Bullock had subjected Mr Sharif-Ali to a gross abuse of power adding, “In many ways, the worst thing that happened to Zac was not, however, the aggressive actions of Bullock but the callous rejection of Zac’s complaint by the Metropolitan Police, who forced Zac through a tortuous 10-year process of complaint and litigation before finally settling his claim. The Met have shown no remorse for their actions, and if anything seem to have taken pride in fighting PC Bullock’s corner and throwing as many obstacles as possible in the path of my client’s campaign for justice.”

A Met Police spokesperson said, “We do not underestimate the impact the use of stop and search can have, and we are redoubling our efforts to listen, engage and explain why we do what we do, and make improvements based on individuals’ lived experience to build trust in the tactic.”


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August 7, 2022