Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Furious Row over Muslim PC Taken off Israel Embassy Duties

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Furious Row over Muslim PC Taken off Israel Embassy Duties

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTIN DAVENPORT

SCOTLAND YARD was at the centre of a growing row today over the decision to excuse a Muslim policeman from guarding the Israeli embassy on moral grounds.

Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair ordered an urgent review of the decision in an effort to head off the controversy.

However, the decision was branded a "grave error" by Lord Janner, former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He said it was the duty of police officers to protect British citizens and their guests.

Former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor also criticised the decision as "the beginning of the end for British policing".

The row erupted after it was revealed that senior Met officers had allowed Pc Alexander Omar Basha to be excused from guarding the embassy because he objected to the bombing of Lebanon.

Pc Basha, who is an armed officer attached to the Met's Diplomatic Protection Group, has a Lebanese wife who has family still living there.

Today Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson said the decision was "not about political correctness," but was taken on the basis of risk and safety.

Scotland Yard said it did consider special requests from individual officers to move on moral grounds but

each case was considered separately.

Ihtisham Hibatullah of the British Muslim Initiative defended the decision.

He said: "As an individual and as an officer, given his family connections in Lebanon, he had a moral obligation to say what he firmly believed, that he could not serve.

"The whole world objected to the Lebanon war and the killing of innocent people."

He denied the move could cause chaos with other officers requesting to be removed from duties, saying it was a "unique situation".

Around 300 Muslim officers serve in the 31,000 strong Met force and this is believed to be the first time such an issue has arisen.

Lord Janner said today: "It would be a grave error for this to be permitted.

Our police force has to protect British people and their guests."

He added: "In my view, as a police officer your job and your moral obligations are to do your duty and to protect people. I think it is a grave error to allow a policeman to move off his duty in that way."

The former Labour MP pointed out that during the miners' strike, officers who lived in pit communities still had to do their jobs.

He said of the decision to allow the police officer a dispensation: "Once you start letting that in you are in a bad way."

The Metropolitan Police Authority, the body that oversees the Met, said it had asked for a report into the issue.

One member, Damian Hockney, said: "Clearly this was a bad decision. A police officer has a duty to uphold the law whatever his personal opinions.

"By allowing this officer to avoid guard duties at the Israeli embassy, the Met has set a dangerous precedent. …

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