Met Police apologises to GB sprinter Bianca Williams for 'distressing' stop-and-search

8 July 2020, 10:54 | Updated: 8 July 2020, 11:43

Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed the Met have apologised to Bianca Williams
Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed the Met have apologised to Bianca Williams. Picture: Home Affairs Select Committee
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Metropolitan Police has apologised to Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams for the distress caused during her stop-and-search, Commissioner Cressida Dick has said.

Speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Ms Dick said two separate teams had thoroughly reviewed the incident and found there was no apparent misconduct by officers.

However, they have since visited Ms Williams and apologised for the "distressing" stop-and-search which left the sprinter visibly and audibly distressed after she was separated from her three-month-old son.

Ms Dick said she has also asked for a review into handcuffing to ensure they have not become default practice after they were used on Ms Williams and her partner Ricardo dos Santos - a Portuguese 400-metre runner - when they were pulled out of their Mercedes in Maida Vale in north-west London.

A video of the stop, which saw the Team GB sprinter and her partner Mr dos Santos pulled from their car in a London street, was posted online.

College of Policing guidelines state that "officers should not routinely handcuff people in order to carry out a stop-and-search."

Instead, they should judge each situation on merit and must be able to justify any use of force, "including the use of handcuffs."

The Met has voluntarily referred itself to the police watchdog following the incident due to the public interest in the case.

On Wednesday, Dame Cressida told the select committee: "We apologised yesterday to Ms Williams and I apologise again for the distress this stop clearly caused her.

"I think all of us watching could empathise with somebody who is stopped in a vehicle, who has a young child in the back, who does not probably know what exactly is going on and is subsequently found, together with her partner, not to be carrying anything illicit."

Williams has said she believes officers racially profiled her and dos Santos when they were handcuffed, despite the force saying the vehicle was seen driving suspiciously.

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening the Met said that following a vehicle stop on Lanhill Road in west London on Saturday it had made "a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct".

It added: "We have now recorded this incident as a public complaint.

"The decision to refer to the IOPC has been taken due to the complaint being recorded and the significant public interest in this matter and we welcome independent scrutiny of the facts.

"Two reviews of the circumstances by the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards have not identified misconduct for any officer involved."

The athlete has said she plans to sue the Met over the incident, telling LBC's Nick Ferrari that an apology from the force wouldn't be enough.

"They took me away from my son. That hurts more than anything," she said, recalling the moment outside her home when officers pulled her and her partner Riccardo out of the family car, handcuffing them, and telling them they could smell cannabis.

"We were going home normally from training...it's the normal shortcut if there is a ridiculous amount of traffic," she said, adding that she believed they had actually been stopped because the car was "all black."

Nothing was found during the search, which the Met said was carried out by officers patrolling the area in response to an increase in violence involving weapons.

The force also said the vehicle was seen driving suspiciously, including on the wrong side of the road, and that the driver sped off when asked to stop.

But this account was rejected by Ms Williams, who has since confirmed she is considering legal action against the Met.

IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said the watchdog will be looking at whether the use of stop and search was "appropriate and proportionate".

He added: "We will also investigate if racial profiling or discrimination played a part in the incident."

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