05/10/2006

Review launched following Israeli embassy police row

Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair has ordered an inquiry after a Muslim police officer was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy in London.

According to a report in 'The Sun' newspaper, Pc Alexander Omar Basha, who is assigned to the Metropolitan Police's Diplomatic Protection Group, requested to be reassigned on moral grounds, because he objected to Israel's offensive in Lebanon.

It is understood that Pc Basha had relatives from both Lebanon and Syria and said that he felt unsafe in his role at the embassy.

Superintendent Dal Babu, from the Association of Muslim Police Officers, told the BBC that the officer's reassignment was an issue regarding his welfare, rather a than a political issue. However, he said that it would be unacceptable to excuse officers from assignments because of moral beliefs.

However, John O'Connor, former Flying Squad commander, told 'The Sun' that police officers had a duty to provide a service to the public, a sentiment echoed by Lord MacKenzie, former president of the Superintendents' Association of England and Wales. He also told the BBC that officers' duties had to come before their political, religious, ideological and moral views.

The decision has been condemned by the former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Lord Janner told Sky News that it was the duty of police officers to protect British citizens and their guests.

Commenting on the decision, Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson has: "Whilst the Israel Embassy is not his normal posting, in view of the possibility that he could be deployed there, a risk assessment was undertaken, which is normal practice. It was as a result of this risk assessment - and not because of the officer's personal views whatever they might have been - that the decision was taken temporarily not to deploy him to the Embassy. The public would expect us to conduct such risk assessments and review the suitability of any firearms officer undertaking such duties.

"This is not about political correctness. I want to make it clear that this decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety."

(KMcA/SP)

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