BBC exposé of police racism is a fair cop

Who’d be a BBC news and current affairs executive? As Hutton-shaped storm clouds gather prior to the deluge of the report into David Kelly’s death, it’s already raining hard. Every decision, every move, every call is under scrutiny like never before. The non-broadcast of Michael Crick’s Newsnight investigation into financial irregularities involving Iain Duncan Smith? Spineless. The spiking of John Humphrys’ interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury? Shameful.

And now an ITC poll finds that its coverage of the war in Iraq was considered more biased than any other channel apart from CNN. Shocking.

So let’s give those drenched execs some respite from the downpour with full credit for the BBC One documentary exposing racism among some police recruits at a training centre in the North West.

The Secret Policeman is based on an seven-month investigation by undercover reporter Mark Daly, who successfully applied to join a 15-week course at Bruche police training college, near Warrington, and then graduated to start work as an £18,000-a-year probationary constable at Hazel Grove in Stockport.

In the course of his training he used hidden cameras to film a small, but significant, number of his fellow trainees exhibiting racist behaviour.

The footage has been damning. One cadet is shown putting on a Ku Klux Klan hood before taunting one of the Asian recruits. Others use torrents of offensively racist and obscene remarks.

Yet predictably enough, the backlash started before broadcast. With Daly already having been arrested for obtaining his salary by deception (even though the BBC held the money in a special account to pay back afterwards) and damaging his uniform by inserting a pin-hole camera in his tunic, police chiefs and the Home Secretary opted to turn on the messenger.

Greater Manchester Police chief Michael Todd called the investigation an “outrageous waste of public funds”. For David Blunkett, it was a “covert stunt” and an attempt to “create, not report” a story.

Both are wrong.

This was a serious piece of investigative journalism, an increasingly rare commodity on UK television.

The undercover element of it was absolutely essential to obtain the results it did. It delivered the first clear, unambiguous evidence of police racism since the Macpherson Report following Stephen Lawrence’s death.

Good journalism, compelling television. The BBC, having resisted pressure to show police the programme prior to broadcast, should be allowed to enjoy its day in the sun.

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