Firstly, I will declare my interests. I am white man, who saves his black Wine Gums for last, uses black ink on white paper, prefers white meat when Christmas comes round, and who would not describe himself as a racist. But then again, who would? Even the BNP are now accepting non-white members.
A little while ago now, a Ms Halima Aziz was awarded £600,000 in compensation. She arrived at court in the days following September 11th 2001, and made a remark to the security guard about Osama Bin Laden. A scuffle of some sort broke out between two groups of youths at the court, of differing minorities, who were, as I understand it, present to answer charges relating to the Oldham race riots. Ms Aziz was accused of starting what was described as a 'riot', and was suspended.
As a result of the way the CPS treated her, she was awarded £600,000. The award was in relation to racial discrimination. Including costs, that little shambles cost you and I, the humble taxpayers, more than a million quid. We all have an interest in that sort of thing not happening again.
Now, the CPS is again being accused of racism.
Lewisham CPS is the borough with the dubious distinction of having received a little bit of a kicking in the most recent inspection by Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. The CPS, by way of Gary Dolby, the Borough Crown Prosecutor in charge of Lewisham, issued a press release.
To my mind, the Independent article simply doesn't ring true. For example, Ms Riley alleges that the management "undermined her when she was in court prosecuting cases". Management never get within undermining distance of a court room, so that bit at least, has got to be rubbish.
So, it's clearly a troubled borough. But is it a racist borough? Mr Ebuzoeme and Ms Riley clearly think so. A few anonymous phone calls to my equally anonymous sources have established that the two individuals are both off on long-term sick leave, so I can't probe any further into the detail of their complaint.
Before we delve any further into the murky and perhaps racist world of the CPS, I will become serious for a moment, and say that I sincerely hope that neither of my colleagues are suffering from anything serious, and that they are both able to return to being effective front-line prosecutors in the near future. Their colleagues could do with the help, it seems.
Anyway, curiosity, other than being that which killed the cat, is a character trait that any lawyer would do well to cultivate. It struck me as odd that these two individuals would consent to the Independent publishing their full names and place of work, plenty enough to obtain very personal information, e.g. home address, number of children (on the electoral roll, for some reason), company directorships, etc. etc.
So, I decided to see what their full names could get me. I started with the most useful of research tools, Google.
Tycia Riley's name appears only on French and Belgian sites, in relation to the terrible murders of Bonomo and Ferez. It is reported that she was the lawyer who dealt with the initial remand hearing for Nigel Farmer.
Mr Ebuzoeme's name appears more often. In the Nineties, he stood trial for an affray. There is nothing at all unusual about that. There are plenty of prosecutors with convictions, so a prosecutor who has previously been acquitted is a bit of a non-story.
It seems, from my rapid Googling, that there was a wider context of an employment dispute. Given today's article in the Independent, I was curious. The CPS has a good policy about complaint handling, and investigators are appointed from senior management in other offices to ensure impartiality. The spokeswoman to whom the Independent spoke was clearly adamant that the claims were spurious and / or had been dismissed by internal investigation.
I wanted to know, does Mr Ebuzoeme have a history of spurious complaints, as the CPS seems to imply? Were there previous racism complaints? Does that make any difference to how I should view my employer? Was he just the victim of racism on two occasions in his life (unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence)? Can I, as a white man, expect a promotion over my non-white colleagues? Or at least nicer biscuits?
More googling, and it turns out that Mr Ebuzoeme, during his academic studies in the Nineties, was involved in student politics. He was elected to a sabbatical office by a London university, and then dismissed. A complaint was made and proceedings brought. Almost ten years later, preliminary matters were still rumbling on in the House of Lords, which was hearing an appeal against various striking out orders from lower jurisdictions. Their Lordships directed that the matter be given a full hearing.
It received a full hearing in 2003, some two years after the Independent says Mr Ebuzoeme joined the CPS. I found the judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal here, on Bailii, a wonderful and free legal resource. It makes interesting reading.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal was said by the EAT to be "unassailable" (paragraph 88). Neither tribunal found that there was any discrimination, and rejected the evidence given by Mr Ebuzoeme in respect of alleged racism by members of the university. In particular, a Mr McCormack, a South African gentleman, was accused of having "...a background in the South African Army or Police or in the administration of the apartheid system in South Africa. These allegations were rejected by the Employment Tribunal which found on the contrary that he was firmly anti-apartheid."
Mr Ebuzoeme, then, has previously made allegations of racism. The Employment Tribunal rejected them, and the EAT upheld that decision. He represented himself as far as the House of Lords, in an area of law not his own. That takes some courage, as appearing before higher courts is a nerve-wracking experience. He now accuses the CPS of seriously racist behaviour, far beyond that which was previously alleged; going as far as actual segregation of lawyers by colour.
Which is it? Is he a vexatious litigant, relentlessly pursuing spurious claims of racism? Or is the CPS an institutionally racist organisation, within which he has suffered, in the 21st century, segregation? Only time will tell, and I look forward to the Employment Tribunal's decision in the latest matter.
And at a million quid a pop, the taxpayer should care, too.