Leeds man says ‘racist’ stop and search turned him off joining police
Watchdog orders West Yorkshire police to reinvestigate complaint by Hesham Sharif over search last year
A black man abandoned his plans of being a police officer after he was subjected to a stop and search that he believes to have been based on racist profiling, by officers from the force he was hoping to join.
Hesham Sharif, 33, is a prominent member of the Somali community in Leeds. His brother is an officer in the Metropolitan police and he hoped to follow a similar career path. Sharif said he hoped he could be a bridge between communities of colour and the police.
He said he and black friends had been stopped and searched by police repeatedly when they were teenagers, but he had not experienced such problems recently.
Sharif began studying for a degree in policing from Leeds Trinity University and hoped to enter the West Yorkshire police force at graduate level. In January 2021, when he was partway through his course, he and a friend were stopped and searched by two police officers after going out for a takeaway.
The officers told Sharif that he had aroused suspicion because he was wearing dark clothing and had not taken the same route back from the restaurant as he had taken on the way there.
Sharif explained that this was due to the icy weather conditions. He recorded the stop and search on his phone. Nothing illegal was found when the search was conducted.
He later complained to West Yorkshire police that he had been stopped and searched due to racist profiling and discrimination. An internal police investigation backed the actions of the two officers who stopped and searched him.
Sharif then took his case to Independent Office for Police Conduct, which last month completed its investigation into Sharif’s complaint and found in his favour. The watchdog ordered West Yorkshire police to investigate the incident again.
The IOPC report states: “I see that your account and version of events has not been noted at all … In my view the account that you have given is a plausible version of events. I agree with your solicitor that the complaint handler could be perceived as favouring the officers’ version of events over yours.”
Sharif welcomed the report and said he was saddened that the stop and search incident had turned him against the police when he believed he could have contributed a lot to the force.
“I believed that by becoming a police officer I could create a link between the BAME community and the police and build trust in the police and in turn help, support and protect my community,” he said.
“I came to the UK from Somalia when I was nine. There was no safety and security there so I really value safety and security in this country. I was heartbroken after this incident and changed my degree from policing to criminology with police studies. I speak fluent Somali and Arabic and could have contributed so much to West Yorkshire police.”
A spokesperson for West Yorkshire police said: “We have received correspondence from the IOPC on this matter and a further investigation is now taking place in line with the recommendations made.”
Sharif’s solicitor, Daniel Lemberger Cooper, of Imran Khan & Partners, said: “Hesham’s experience is a sad and deplorable example of discriminatory over policing, stop and search and criminalisation. This IOPC review demonstrates again that police forces across the United Kingdom are failing to properly investigate allegations of discrimination and racial profiling.”