Today at Southwark crown court, London, Commander Ali Dizaei of the Metropolitan Police was sent to prison for 4 years after a jury found him guilty of misconduct in public office and attempting to pervert the course of justice. His alleged crime was false imprisonment and making up a story that he was threatened and assaulted. Dizaei is the most senior officer in recent times to stand trial.
Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve called this a smear campaign when a jury has found him guilty of the crime? Why do I doubt his guilt? Simple: this case bears all the hallmarks of a stitch-up. Dizaei has been an outspoken critic of the Met for a long time, and this court case follows other, failed, attempts to ruin him. And in my view the evidence against him just doesn’t stack up.
The case against him is as follows. In July 2008, Dizaei and his wife were sitting in a car outside Yas, a west end restaurant, talking to the restaurateur, when they were approached by a man named Waad al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi, a website designer, claims that Dizaei owed him £600. Baghdadi, and the prosecution, say that he wanted to talk to Dizaei about this debt. Dizaei didn’t want to discuss the matter, and told Baghdadi to leave the restaurant “or else”. A row broke out and Dizaei abused his position as a police officer to insult, threaten, assault and falsely arrest Baghdadi. Dizaei then invented a reason for the arrest, reporting that Baghdadi threatened him then stabbed him with the mouthpiece of a shisha pipe (a type of hookah). That’s the prosecution case, which the jury believed. Of course Dizaei disputes this: he claimed that Baghdadi did threaten then assault him, and had an injury to his stomach to back this up. His wife agreed, saying she felt “terrorised” by Baghdadi’s threats. And Sohrab Eshragi, the restaurateur and also a friend of Dizaei, also corroborated the commander’s account. Eshragi told the jury that Baghdadi was “a crook basically”, adding: “His history … everybody knows he’s not a good gentleman.” Eshragi said that, far from Dizaei intimidating Baghdadi by ordering him out of the restaurant, he had urged him to ask the web designer to leave because he feared a fight might break out.
The prosecution claimed they had CCTV footage to show that Dizaei was lying. But this footage showed only part of the incident, and it is impossible to verify from it if any threats were issued by either party. A police doctor testified for the prosecution, saying that the wound to Dizaei’s stomach was “probably self-inflicted”. But this was disputed by Dr Nat Cary, one of the country’s leading forensic pathologists who has worked on many high-profile cases including the death of Benazir Bhutto and the case of Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller who died at last year’s G20 protest. Cary said the claim was based on a “fundamentally flawed approach” to forensic medicine. “He [Dizaei] alleges he has been poked with the shisha pipe,” he said. “In my view, that’s consistent [with the injuries].”
In the end it all came down to a question of who the jury believed: a police commander and his wife and a respected restaurateur… or Baghdadi. Surprisingly, they chose to believe Baghdadi.
No doubt you’re wondering why I believe Dizaei. After all, supporting the police isn’t something I’m noted for. And you’re right. I hate bent coppers; in my opinion any police officer found guilty of commiting a crime should be sent to jail for a very long time. But there’s a lot about this case, and about Dizaei in particular, that makes me feel he has been fitted up.
Ali Dizaei is no stranger to controversy. He has always been outspoken on the subject of racism in the Met, and is president of the National Black Police Association. In 1999, it was later revealed, MI5 thought that the Iranian-born officer (he holds dual nationality) was an Iranian spy! They reported these suspicions to the Met, which resulted in a protracted investigation. Some outrageous charges were made at this time – it was claimed for example that he consorted with prostitutes and used illegal drugs, on top of being “a danger to national security” – and he was suspended from 2001 to 2003. Of course there was no basis to any of these outrageous claims, and none of them appeared on the final indictment. Instead he was accused of just one rather minor offence, and in 2003 a jury cleared him unanimously of any wrongdoing.
Back then it was widely believed that he had attracted this trouble because of his connection with the National Black Police Association – no one knew about MI5’s ridiculous suspicions until the Guardian revealed all in 2007 – he worked as a legal advisor for the Association in 2001. And in 2008 this possible motive still existed. In September 2008, when he was suspended for the second time, he was involved in a huge race row that hit the Met. The assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur – the Met’s third most senior officer – sued the force for discrimination and described his boss, the commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, as a racist. For such a high-ranking officer to make such accusations was highly embarrassing, and Dizaei was right in the middle of it – he was both Ghaffur’s main adviser and the president of the National Black Police Association. The Met employed all sorts of dirty tricks against Ghaffur, such as leaking allegations about his private life to the press; and they used similar tactics against Dizaei, a paper at the time claiming that he was a bigamist. It’s certainly not outlandish to suggest this latest development is more of the same.
This is all pretty circumstantial, I know. But it’s pretty believable too. And there’s one more factor, which anyone with any experience of police complaints will agree is very important. It is usually very difficult to make a complaint stick against even a low-ranking officer. If it is a case of your word against the cop’s, the investigators will fall on the officer’s side. If it’s just your word against that of a high-ranking officer and 2 witnesses, you don’t stand a chance. Yet the Independent Police Complaints Commission believed with Baghdadi. What the heck is that all about?
The IPCC chairman, Nick Hardwick, said after the verdict that Dizaei was a “criminal in uniform” who had behaved like a “bully”. But it seems to me that that description might better apply to some of Dizaei’s soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. It took them a while, but in the end they succeeded in getting rid of the pain in the ass. I wonder who they’ll take out next? It’s a relief to know that the police isn’t racist any more, don’t you think?
Note: Earlier I noted that Dizaei is the most senior police officer to have stood trial in the UK in recent times. This is true only because the UK is so weak when it comes to dealing with police forces that are out of control. On 22 July 2005, a Brazilian electrician called Jean-Charles de Menezes was shot to death on a london tube train by armed police directly because of orders given by Sir Ian Blair, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The shoot-to-kill policy, called “Operation Kratos” was Blair’s invention. And after the shooting, Blair lied to the public, first suggesting that de Menezes was a terrorist, then claiming that de Menezes had tried to run after the officers identified themselves as police when in fact they had not identified themselves but had opened fire without warning, repeatedly shooting the man in the face when he was on the ground dying. In any democracy worthy of the name, Blair would have stood trial for his crimes. But in the UK, such men are rewarded for their criminality, incompetence and deceit. So yes, Commander Ali Dizaei is the highest-ranking police officer to have stood trial in recent times. He’s also the highest-ranking officer to go to jail for crimer he did not commit.
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