Met police veteran Leroy Logan: ‘The force has always had an issue about race’
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Halfway through our lunch at Zuma, a luxurious Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge, Leroy Logan recalls the lowest point in his battles with London’s Metropolitan Police. In 2001, the police force, which Logan served for 30 distinguished but frustrating years, was investigating unfounded allegations that he had fraudulently claimed £80 expenses for a hotel bill.
The claim related to Logan’s role as national chair of the Black Police Association, a pioneering group of minority ethnic police officers. Although he had anticipated some aspects of the ordeal, Logan was unprepared for its effect on Myles, his 11-year-old son.
“This was the height of my investigation, trial by media, and his school friends said, ‘Oh, your dad’s a criminal and he’s going to jail’,” Logan recalls. “So he came home and told me this — and that caught me on the blind side.”
Logan was forced to draw on his substantial reserves of resilience, which he attributes to his Christian faith. “I said to him, ‘Don’t worry, Myles — it will all get dealt with,’” he recalls. And it was.
Logan, who was born in London to Jamaican immigrant parents in 1957, not only “dealt with” the false allegations but became one of the UK’s loudest advocates for more equitable policing. When he left in 2013, after organising policing for the 2012 Olympics, Logan was among the few black people to have reached the rank of superintendent in the Met.
We are meeting before the sudden resignation this month of Cressida Dick as head of the Met after a series of controversies. But in our encounter he leaves no doubt of his views of her record.
“I think she’s got misplaced loyalties,” he says. “She seems to be protecting the organisation against any sort of reform or change because she doesn’t think it needs any reform or change. And that’s what I find astounding.”
Logan’s life story became widely known in late 2020, when his autobiography formed the basis for Red, White and Blue, one of Steve McQueen’s acclaimed Small Axe series of films about the lives of British black people.
The film — in which John Boyega plays Logan — shows how in May 1983 Logan gave up a blossoming career in medical science at London’s Royal Free Hospital to join the Met. It documents how Logan faced regular incidents of racist name-calling, graffiti on his locker and injuries caused when colleagues let him face dangerous situations alone.
He sounds astonished that he stuck it out. “The first 10 years in the Met, I was thinking, ‘Why would I leave a positive environment of science research . . . at the most cutting-edge hospital . . . then join a macho . . . militaristic, testosterone-driven culture that really doesn’t understand difference?’ ” he says.
5 Raphael St, London SW7 1DL
Grilled scallops £25
Zuma salad £11
Baby chicken £26
Roasted half-lobster £35
Steamed rice £4
Exotic fruit platter £16
Still water £5.10
Jasmine tea £4
Double espresso £4.50
Total (inc service) £165.72
Logan’s determination to join, remain inside and seek promotion in the Met afforded him a commanding vantage point on incidents that have shaped Britain’s postwar society. From the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 onwards, the Met has repeatedly been accused of excessive harshness towards black people it regarded as criminals and negligence towards black crime victims.
When I arrive, Logan is already at our table, wearing a stylish patterned shirt and drinking jasmine tea. After agreeing that neither of us handles lunchtime alcohol well, we order. So why, I ask, has the Met so consistently had poor relations with black Londoners?
“The Met has always had an issue about race, from the time when people of the Commonwealth settled back here after the second world war,” Logan tells me. “There was a lot of stereotyping. There were a lot of assumptions made, a lot around background.”
For many black men of Logan’s generation, the stereotyping and assumptions took their most pernicious form in the so-called “Sus” (from “suspected person”) laws. The laws — based on 19th-century statutes criminalising the homeless — let officers arrest people whom they suspected merely of intending to commit an offence.
Although the young Logan planned routes to and from school to avoid places with a regular police presence, his autobiography, Closing Ranks, describes how he was frequently stopped by what he and his friends called “the Thought Police” — officers who accused them of planning to commit crimes.
The laws were blamed for igniting the Brixton uprising — or riots — of April 1981. The disturbances over three days in south London, between mainly black youths and mainly white Met officers, led to hundreds of arrests, widespread destruction and shocked the country into one of its periodic bursts of reflection on race.
Lord Scarman, a retired High Court judge, criticised much of the police’s conduct in a subsequent report. He recommended a shift towards more consensual “community policing”.
The police never said sorry, Logan points out. “Just the misuse of that [‘Sus’] law showed they had a massive problem — a race problem,” he says. “Even when that law was repealed and overtaken by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1984, they’ve never actually said, ‘Well, we have a problem’. They’ve got this institutional arrogance.”
We are sitting in a thicket of tastefully arranged cedar-wood partitions in arguably London’s swankiest postcode. Logan has chosen the restaurant because he knows the niece of the founder, Arjun Waney.
I urge Logan to break off talking to enjoy three tempting-looking scallops while they are still hot. I feel a stab of envy as I pick with my chopsticks at the baby spinach leaves and raw enoki mushrooms of my salad.
Lord Scarman’s report encouraged Logan’s application — it said the police should recruit more black people. But after joining, he quickly accumulated injuries of all kinds. When he was a probationary constable, he fell through a weak roof while pursuing a burglar. Psychologically, meanwhile, he endured the “massive trauma” of his father being beaten up by police officers while his own application was under way. Closing Ranks describes how, after having briefly considered withdrawing his application, he supported his father through seven years of ultimately successful battles to make the police pay compensation.
It was only when he saw McQueen’s film, Logan says, that he appreciated how harrowing the experience had been.
“I didn’t know how lonely and isolated I was until I saw the Small Axe film,” Logan tells me. “Steve and Courttia Newland, who wrote the script, brought out these silent moments, which in the film jumped out at me.”
The first meeting of the BPA, where Logan would vent many of his frustrations, was in April 1993 — by grim coincidence, in the same month the stabbing to death of Stephen Lawrence, a black London teenager, by a racist white gang, underlined the grave and urgent nature of the force’s problems with racism. Public revulsion at the murder turned to anger at the Met over its botched investigation. Officers had made racist assumptions about the victim and had corrupt links with criminals in some of the perpetrators’ families.
As two uneaten scallops cool on his plate, Logan recalls the effects of the landmark Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence affair, which branded the Met “institutionally racist”. Logan and other BPA members gave damning evidence to Macpherson’s inquiry, ordered after Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory.
Logan, who by then was a manager at the Met’s training centre in Hendon, north London, sounds more positive about the period immediately following the report’s publication in 1999 than any other period of his career. “Casual racism — the name-calling, the use of derogatory terms — literally went overnight,” he recalls. “The culture improved massively.”
Recent governments, by contrast, have decided that racism is no longer a problem, according to Logan. In March last year a government-appointed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Tony Sewell, a black educationalist, produced a report that was criticised for downplaying racism’s role in affecting the life chances of members of Britain’s minority ethnic groups. The report said that other factors — such as geography, family background, culture and religion — all had more influence than race discrimination.
Logan dismisses the Sewell report as “a total whitewash” for its failure to identify what he insists is an unchanged culture of institutional racism in much of British society.
“They’d drunk this post-racial Kool-Aid,” he says of recent administrations. Such attitudes, he adds, have been accompanied by a damaging relaxing of scrutiny over the Met. “It was quite clear that if you take pressure off and allow the Met to mark their own homework . . . they’ll always gloss it over as, ‘We’re A1, A-star’,” he says.
Race has been just one of many issues blighting the Met’s reputation. Logan looks disgusted when conversation turns to the kidnap, rape and murder last March of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman from south London, by a serving police officer. Wayne Couzens was in the Met’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command and used his police warrant card to trick Everard into his car. Logan expresses no surprise at the unsavoury revelations about the Met’s culture that have followed Couzens’ conviction in September.
“I was devastated that an officer [like that] could be allowed to be on the force,” he says. “His violent tendencies and his hatred for women and the way that he talked about it before . . . In the name of banter, in that parliamentary and diplomatic policing group, it was a safe haven for misogyny. Twenty-six of Couzens’ colleagues in that unit were done for sexual offences in 2015, 2016.”
He sees the case as indicative of deep-rooted problems in the force. “When you first join the Met, they come out with the saying, ‘If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined’. So that’s an excuse to be racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever because it’s only a joke, so you’re just being sensitive.”
His criticism moves up the command chain to the “complicit” politicians whose austerity policies, he says, forced the abandonment of many post-Macpherson initiatives.
The conversation barely pauses with the arrival of our main courses — a roasted half-lobster and asparagus for Logan and a baby chicken and steamed rice for me.
I mix beautifully sticky morsels of chicken with clumps of rice while Logan explains how a “perfect storm” of events has coarsened the Met’s culture. The Macpherson safeguards — including a steering group overseeing implementation of the recommendations — were gradually dismantled by successive home secretaries, according to Logan. Deep cuts under the post-2010 Conservative-led governments slashed budgets for items such as safer neighbourhood teams, he says. Those small, now mostly disbanded teams of officers used to build relationships with specific areas’ communities, especially their young people.
Most worryingly of all, Logan fears that a new recruitment drive, aimed at resolving the problems, could reinforce an intolerant, harsh culture. “I’m not saying that the racist language has returned but, behind closed doors, people are speaking in real hostile terms and it’s being found out through various investigations of officers,” Logan says. “The look and feel . . . remind me of a pre-Macpherson organisation. And I don’t say that easily. I’m really sorry to say that.”
As Logan picks the meat out of the shell of his lobster, I turn to the global picture and point out that after living in the US, where the record of the police is much worse, I can find it odd to hear UK police described so scathingly. UK officers are mostly unarmed and kill and injure far fewer of their fellow citizens. There was only one fatal shooting by police in England and Wales in the year to March 2021. There were around 1,000 in the US in 2021, a figure that does not include other killings of civilians by police.
“I don’t care if it’s a hundredth of their shootings or deaths in police contact,” Logan says. “It’s the theme that is exactly the same. You fear black men, so you persecute them, whether they die at your hands or are falsely convicted or in any way criminalised.”
Logan has found solace over the years via the church. His autobiography describes how his Christian faith has given him a sense of direction. He cites the “surreal” moment in June 2020 when, after filming Red, White and Blue, he attended London’s first big Black Lives Matter protest alongside John Boyega. Standing in Hyde Park, the actor gave an impassioned, tearful speech.
“For me, it was . . . showing that there was some divine intervention there — not only Steve [McQueen] hearing my story and wanting to bring it to the screen but also the fact that John decided he wanted to play me,” Logan says.
His faith also “kicked in” at some of the worst moments during his police career. “It was a vocation but it was more like a commission,” Logan says. “I wouldn’t put myself through this unless I really felt that, even if it’s small seeds, I’m hoping a mighty oak of change will happen.”
A shared platter of exotic fruit arrives. As we pick at pieces of juicy dragon fruit, melon, dates and kiwi fruit, Logan says he is deeply worried about sharp falls in measures of public confidence in the police, especially among African-Caribbean people. In the past, it has taken serious unrest or another tragedy before the Met addressed such crises.
“The last thing I want is more riots or killings at the hand of the police or anything like that,” Logan says. “I would love the organisation to be pro-active on these things. But there’s going to be some sort of moment that’s going to get people’s attention. I’m just hoping it’s not going to cost anyone’s lives.”
Logan is nevertheless confident that justice can prevail — as illustrated by the conclusion of his Myles’s story. Logan brought an employment tribunal case, and won both a large cash payment and agreement to end similar investigations against other BPA members.
“When the headlines said I’m cleared, the Met has to compensate me, he [Myles] went to school with the newspaper to show them it was all fake news,” Logan recalls.
Logan has to leave for another meeting in his hectic, post-retirement round of charity and community work. As he drains his cappuccino and I knock back an espresso, he declares himself determined that his grandchildren’s generation will avoid ordeals such as he has faced.
“I want to be on the right side of history,” he says. “I want to have a sense that, ‘OK, I tried everything I could’.”
Robert Wright is the FT’s social policy correspondent
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