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Actions of Metropolitan Police in the spotlight after accusations of racial discrimination against a local nightclub

Posted on 4th July 2016

The actions of the Metropolitan Police are again in the spotlight after owners of the Dice Bar in Croydon accused the force of racial discrimination. This follows alleged attempts by officers to prevent the venue from playing certain genres of music.

The allegations have arisen from attempts by police to curtail the club’s licence conditions so that it would have to close at midnight. The changes to conditions were refused at a hearing in April 2016, which decided to take no action against the venue. The police had claimed there was an ‘overwhelmingly compelling’ case against the club’, yet its owner Mr Seda noted in evidence that the 27 arrests referred to by police amounted to only 0.045% of the club’s customers.

The result was described by local press as ‘a damaging blow’ to the police and the credibility of its licensing unit. According to Mr Seda’s statement, the strained relations date back to late 2014 when he met with police to discuss the implications of the closure of another local venue, Yates’s. After suggesting a number of courses of action, he reports finding it difficult to understand what the police wanted and eventually asking whether they were suggesting black people be denied entry.

In response, according to Mr Seda, Sergeant Emery (a key officer involved in the case) raised his eyebrows and nodded several times. This is denied by the police, but the extensive evidence they filed for the hearing criticises Dice Bar for ‘going back to its old ways.’ Citing its clientele as an example, it refers to seeing ‘numerous undesirable IC3 males’ (IC3 being the police code for black ethnicity) and later goes on to repeat that the men were ‘clearly undesirable’ and it was not appropriate for them to be allowed to try again to enter the venue.

Mr Seda also states that he was prohibited by the police from playing ‘bashment’ music (a genre of Jamaican origin, also known as ‘dancehall’). Again, they deny this, stating that the decision not to play bashment was Mr Seda’s own. Yet a recording of a meeting between the two in January 2015 appears to indicate that once bashment was no longer being played, the police then tried to further limit the types of music that could be heard at the venue. It was also reported that a Sergeant Emery had sent an email in June 2015 accusing the club of failing to comply with ‘acceptable forms of music,’ while minutes of a meeting two days later, written by a police officer, reference an agreement ‘not to play bashman or John Paul [sic] (bashment or Sean Paul)’ and criticisms of the Dice Bar for ‘not adhering to the music policy.’

Decisions not to play such music could be seen as a way of discouraging black people from attending a venue. Minutes of a meeting in July 2015 show another officer considering what was attracting ‘undesirable’ customers to the club and suggesting that this might be caused by the type of music played, such that Mr Seda’s statement expressed the view that, ‘the licensing police do not want black people coming to Croydon’s night time economy as they have discouraged me from having black customers, and have been discouraging Jamaican music.’

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for both service providers and public bodies to discriminate on the basis of a number of ‘protected characteristics,’ which include race. The Act also defines various different types of discrimination and prohibited conduct, which include direct discrimination, where a person is treated less favourably as a result of a protected characteristic. Had the club followed the alleged advice by the police to deny entry to some or all black people, this would have been likely to amount to direct discrimination. Indeed DSKRKT, a Central London club was recently accused of refusing entry to a group of women on the basis that they were ‘too dark’ and ‘too fat.’ The fact that such concerning practices may still be occurring makes it even more important for authorities to support events that are welcoming to ethnic minorities.

It is also possible that further action taken by the police against the club resulted from its failure to fully implement their alleged suggestions, which as noted above were potentially discriminatory. As a public body, the police are under an obligation to give due regard, in exercising their functions, to the need to eliminate discrimination and other conduct prohibited under the Equality Act, and to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between those with a relevant protected characteristic and others. Their dealings with the club should therefore have promoted good relations between black people and other people; it is difficult to see how this could be achieved by discouraging particular types of music, still less by describing particular groups of men as ‘undesirable.’

Another type of prohibited conduct under the Equality Act is indirect discrimination, which arises when a provision, criterion or practice is applied which puts people of a certain protected characteristic at a disadvantage compared with those that do not share the characteristic, unless this can be shown to be a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim. This may be relevant to the allegations of restricting certain types of music. Of course, not all black people are fans of the genres in question, and not all fans of these genres are black. Yet the origins of these types of music and their popularity among many black people mean that a decision to prevent them being played in a club might be said to place black people at a disadvantage.

As noted above the police deny any ban existed, rather than seeking to justify it as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Any such justification seems likely to be difficult. Were the police to argue that there was a ‘legitimate aim’ in, for example, preventing disorder and violent crime, this would have to be based on a stereotyped view about the impact of playing bashment and other Jamaican music. Without such stereotyping, it is difficult to see how preventing certain types of music being played could even be seen as causally related to the aim, let alone a proportionate means of achieving it.

Mr Seda also asserts that after the police started to receive negative feedback about restrictions on music, they changed their approach, parking at least one police van outside the club every Friday and Saturday, with at least two officers standing directly by the front door gathering evidence. Compared to the previous situation where the club dealt directly with removing customers, the police reportedly determined that they would speak to every ejected individual, whether or not it was suggested that a criminal offence had occurred – sometimes, according to Mr Seda, with the effect of inflaming the situation. Bearing in mind recent concerns over cuts to police funding, the decision to devote such extensive resources into having a constant presence outside a club is surprising.

The issues raised by the situation at the Dice Bar are not unique. In November 2015 the leader of Croydon Council, Councillor Newman, complained of difficulties arranging for a number of award-winning urban music acts to appear at local events, arguing that ‘draconian’ policing was giving the impression that such artists and their fans were not welcome in the area. Chief Superintendent Tarrant expressed surprise at the councillor’s concerns, arguing that there was no overall policy of discouraging particular genres of music and that diversification would be welcome. However, he also indicated that ‘on a minority of occasions’ he had ‘put the safety of the public first’ by declining to support certain events. The idea that there is no policy against certain types of music seems to be contradicted by the correspondence relating to the Dice Bar. Meanwhile, the reference to certain events not being permitted based on public safety implies an acceptance that certain ‘types’ of music or events would put people at risk, so should be policed to prevent this, returning to a prejudiced connection between particular genres of music of black origin and the idea of violence and disorder.

Elsewhere in London, when the Fridge Bar in Brixton closed in October 2015, its owners argued that the system surrounding the night time economy was ‘antithetical to black advancement.’ Organisers of the music festival Brixton Splash, which has been cancelled for 2016 on the basis that it is too expensive to police and to clear up afterwards, have argued that the decision relates to the festival being out of sync with the council’s ‘gentrified image’ of Brixton.

The concerns about police conduct towards the Dice Bar and the Croydon area have yet to be investigated. Following an accusation that the police had swept a complaint about their behaviour ‘under the carpet,’ a review into their conduct and the night economy in Croydon has been set up. This is to be led by local councillor Callton Young, a former civil servant who had a central role in efforts to amend the Race Relations Act after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. This is a promising development and it is to be hoped that the suggestions of potentially discriminatory behaviour listed above will be fully explored, with appropriate action taken if they are found to be substantiated.

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