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Exclusive: Met police accused of ‘watering down’ lesbian and gay liaison officers as hate crime rises

Jessica Geen October 23, 2009
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A exclusive

The Metropolitan Police Service has been accused of watering down LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) liaison officers in London at a time of increased reports of homophobic hate crime.

Latest Met figures show the number of reported crimes has risen by 18 per cent since last October and there have been a number of murders of gay men in the last year.

This month, 62-year-old Ian Baynham died after being beaten by teenagers in a homophobic attack in Trafalgar Square.

In July, Edward Highwood, 79, was found murdered at his home in Greenwich.

Gerry Edwards, 59, was stabbed to death at his home in Bromley in March, while his partner suffered serious stab wounds.

In November last year, David Cooper was beaten to death at his home in Woolwich. can report that one London borough, Southwark, no longer has a full-time LGBT liaison officer.

Jenny Jones, a member of the Greater London Authority and the Metropolitan Police Association, told she did not think the changes in Southwark would work and added that she would raise the issue with the MPA’s committee.

“I spoke to the borough commander. Instead of having one officer trained [in LGBT policing], she said one officer for each ward – that’s 33 wards in the borough – would be trained.

“I don’t know whether that’s going to work. That’s a high level of expertise and that’s considering the high level of homophobic hate crimes.”

The two officers currently filling the role in Westminster will shortly take on other responsibilities and it is not clear how they will be replaced.

Lambeth has also been suggested as a borough that is considering changing the role, although understands that all full and part-time LGBT liaison officers will continue in their roles.

All three boroughs have a high proportion of lesbians and gays, due to popular gay areas such as Vauxhall and Soho.

In Westminster, gay groups are concerned that LGBT liaison officers may be replaced with Equality Officers, who would address policing issues relating to race and religion, along with sexual orientation.

Policing boroughs are free to chose how to police their individual areas according to the needs of local communities.

Currently, there are around 215 LGBT liaison officers. Not all are full-time. Previously, Westminster had two full-time officers, while Southwark had one.

Nick Maxwell of Age Concern told he feared that losing some LGBT liaison officers would lead to older gay people becoming too scared to report gay hate crimes.

He said: “It’s a water-down of the LGBT service. Equality Officers would focus on race and religion and LGBTs would be left out in the cold. It’s also about building trust.

“From our perspective. when we work with LGBT liaison officers, reporting [of crime] increases. Older people often used to experience homophobia from police. Many of those in my group say they have even been blackmailed by police. So a lot of reports aren’t happening. But LGBT liaison officers do increase reporting.”

Maxwell pointed to particular issues with the Quebec Pub in Marble Arch, saying that there are problems with gangs targeting older gay men. He said that younger men would offer to go home with them but then rob them. Some gay men have been beaten and hospitalised. He said that LGBT liaison officers were vital to deal with this kind of crime. understands that Patrick Williams, a director of Pride London, wrote to the deputy commissioner to express his concerns at any change.

Bob Hodgson, co-chair of the MPS LGBT Advisory Group, said he had been assured that this was not a Met-wide strategy.

He said: “One or two London borough have removed full-time liaison officers and replaced them with part time roles or roles that aren’t so clear.

“We have been working robustly with the Met this week and I have been assured it is not a policy to replace LGBT liaison officers with Equality Officers in Westminster. They are changing personnel but we have been assured that LGBT liaison officers will stay in place and will not be called Equality officers.

“We don’t think it is a cost-cutting thing, it seems to be more about redeploying resources. Any reduction in LGBT liaison officers is not acceptable to us.”

Superintendent Steve Deehan of Southwark police, said that although full-time LGBT liaison officers were no longer working in the borough, he was looking to “enhance” the role and part-time officers were still working. He admitted that there were “constraints” on where officers could be deployed.

He said: “All organisations are looking at their financial position right now. I came to this new post knowing that we weren’t deploying our full range of staff to deal with homophobic hate crime.

“We have four teams across the borough, dealing with north and south. There are a lot of gay staff in this borough – I’m from the LGBT community, my chief inspector is from the LGBT community, and one of those teams is one-third gay staff. Are we deploying them properly? Our staff have grown up with gay people, with positive gay role models – they are capable of dealing with the gay community.

“We know that older [LGBT] people haven’t had trust in the police in the past. With removing that post, we’re looking to revitalise how we deal with the LGBT community, rather than just deploying one staff member.

“The blunt issue is that there are some constraints about where we deploy staff. This is a very busy borough with a lot of policing demands. There are difficult decisions to be made.

“We’ve got to mobilise and make the public aware that there are lots of LGBT staff in this borough.”

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, accused the Met of complacency this week after the the rise in reported homophobic hate crime was revealed.

He told “We want a Metropolitan Police Service where all 140,000 staff are gay friendly, not just two in each London borough. And the issue is working out how we get to that position. We have had concerns that too often having just one LGBT liaison officer in a borough that might have 150,000 LGBT people simply lets other officers off the hook.

“There has been huge progress in the Met but there is still an element of complacency when providing for its LGBT taxpayers as well as the general public.”

However, Summerskill was unsure whether older gay men felt particularly wary of police.

“Stonewall research shows that 75 per cent of LGB people in London won’t report homophobic crime because they feel they won’t be taken seriously. I’m not sure whether that’s higher in older men. I’d be wary of making grandiose statements when we don’t have the evidence,” he said.

A Met spokesman emphasised the service’s commitment to the LGBT liaison officer role and the “unique combination of professional and life skills”.

He said: “The deputy commissioner is going to write to all boroughs to state our position of LGBT liaison officers and that they should be kept in place.

“There is no plan to lose the role in Westminster – the borough will continue to have two full-time LGBT liaison officers.”

The Metropolitan Police Association, which acts as a watchdog to the Met, said it could not comment until the issue had been raised at its committee.

More: Edward Highwood, Gerry Edwards, greater london authority, Ian Baynham, Jenny Jones, LGBT, liaison, London, metropolitan police service, murders of gay men, Patrick Williams, PinkNews, police, Quebec, stab wounds, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Woolwich

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