In early 2003, in my then home of South London, an incoming council leadership set up an independent panel to investigate events that had happened around five years earlier at a council unit catering for vulnerable mostly elderly people. In existence only from 1997 to 2001, this was an emergency response service that clients could call 24/7 via a pendant if they got into trouble at home.
I was interested at the time, perversely you might think, in institutional failure, having regularly passed but never attended the inquiry into teenager Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder of 1993, which held its public hearings at Hannibal House in candy-pink Elephant & Castle in 1998. That inquiry found that Scotland Yard was ‘institutionally racist’, “namely that police prejudice against black people was so ingrained that it contributed to allowing racist murderers to get away with their crime.” (Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, February 18, 2000).
Now, at least in South London everybody knew that about the police at the time, but wouldn’t necessarily believe that similar was true about one of the more progressive councils in London and especially not within a unit whose laudable purpose was to provide a safety net for elderly people with onsetting difficulties but still living their life alone in their respective homes. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, it transpired: just read the play I drafted out of the transcripts at the time. Every word in ‘The Magpie Inquiry’ was spoken in one of the public hearings of early 2003. This has been edited and arranged, some of it in song, as a ‘verbatim play’, the purpose of which is to provide those who were not present with the most authentic experience of that drama, condensed from a dozen sessions into 90 min or so.
But why should you be interested in something that happened twenty years ago? Because there are some interesting historic parallels. New cyclones are ravaging communities around the world but especially in the UK and the US. There is Covid-19, threatening first and foremost the elderly and vulnerable, but also those health and social workers fighting its onslaught. Then there are the many governmental failures, the ongoing frustrating public enquiries, and last but not least, the racist police brutality that often but not always turns righteous protests into riots.
If you feel that right now in the eye of the storm is the time and chance to fundamentally change the mindset in the institutions of our societies, be they police departments or city administrations, or just want to unlearn some preconceived assumptions, maybe one way to start is to learn from the struggle of a previous generation. Without further ado, the curtain rises...
THE MAGPIE INQUIRY – a verbatim play by Michael Dominski
Two black women have been dismissed for acting morally wrongly but procedurally correctly while a white woman has got away with acting procedurally wrongly but morally justifiably. Can we be sure that council management in the London borough of Rashomon operates on an applaudable high-ground, or is something sinister at work – for example, institutional racism?
To investigate, a public inquiry was set up in Rashomon two years after the events. Under tremendous pressure from their workforce united by the Campaign for Justice, the Council leadership commissioned an Equalities Consultancy to establish what had happened in that Community Alarms Service. [All names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.]
All but the inquiry panel's findings were recently removed from the public domain. The report is available but thousands of pages of appendices are not.
The Equalities Consultancy states that the ownership of the oral testimony rests with the Council. The Council fears that the transcripts, once published on their website, might be used in defamation cases against them. The union involved, SOLIDAR, does not want to move against Council policy. And the Campaign for Justice, who forced the inquiry in the first place, want to protect their witnesses.
But some of the transcripts were saved in time and edited for this verbatim play. This unique oral testimony shows 'institutional racism at work', not only in the literal sense of 'at the workplace' but also in an analytical one, as the mechanics and consequences of this catchphrase of recent decades are explored.
PROF. MIKE COULTHARD, Chairman, Equalities Consultancy; 60, black
PAUL BOBBITT, Vice Chair, MBE, EU Xenophobia Monitoring Centre; 50, black
LADY WESTLEY of St Mark’s, the House of Lords, OBE; 60, black
WARREN MITCHELL, Rashomon Pensioners Forum; 65, white
CARL ANDREWS, the Stenographer, 25, black
MARNIE JOBSON, 28, white American (for the workers)
ALISON McKANE, 30, white (for the managers)
WORKERS Rashomon Community Alarms Service (RCAS)
SERENA ERIT, 39, black (West Indian)
DOREEN ESCHER, 29, mixed-raced (African&Irish)
SAMANTHA PADDINGTON, 63, white
TRACY SAILOR, 40, white
BETTY FORRESTER, Chief Executive Rashomon Council, 55, white
QUEENETTE DALSTON, Assistant Director of Special Housing Services, 39, black
OLGA ABACHA, RCAS Manager, 48, white (German)
[Also mentioned but not appearing: Annabel Pasanjo, Director of Special Housing Services, mixed-race; Emily Jackson, RCAS Line Manager, black; Barbara Miller, RCAS Line Manager, white]
MELANIE COOPER, 70, white
EDOZIE FELTON, 70, black
HARRY DAVIS, 65, white
RICK JEFFREYS, Branch Secretary of Rashomon SOLIDAR, 45, white
OTIS ADEBAYO, Leader of the Campaign for Justice and former SOLIDAR Shop Steward, 40, mixed-race (Nigerian&English)
A SPEAKER from the floor
I The Gospel Truth
AN ELDERLY WHITE WOMAN FINDS HERSELF IN A PRECARIOUS SITUATION AND HAS TO CALL FOR HELP.
Melanie Cooper enters in an electric wheelchair and moves around searching for something. Her wheelchair gets stuck. She presses her pendant. The voice of Serena Erit answers from off-stage.
SERENA: Hello Ms. Cooper. Rashomon Community Alarms Service, Serena speaking. Can I help you?
MELANIE: Excuse me, dear. I know that you are busy but I wonder if you could finally help me?
SERENA: Yes, of course. Could you just confirm your name, please?
MELANIE: Cooper. Melanie Cooper, dear. I rang before.
SERENA: Just hang on while I’m checking with my colleague.
MELANIE: It’s the wheelchair, dear. I am afraid I can’t contribute a lot of detail, although what I do know I am happy to share with you. It just made this noise and stopped working. Can you send someone to help me out, please.
SERENA: Yes, Ms. Cooper. My colleague has just confirmed that she is trying to contact your keyholders right now. We are trying to contact them. We will send someone as soon as we can get hold of one of them. Are you OK? You haven’t fallen, have you?
MELANIE: No, no. I’m just stuck. Can’t you come?
SERENA: No, I’m sorry Ms. Cooper, but my colleague has already explained to you that we can’t come out to move a wheelchair. Please be patient while we try again to get someone to go out to you.
MELANIE: I don’t actually want to take up a lot of your time but, obviously, I will need you to help me as quickly as you can. I am telling the truth and nothing but the gospel truth.
SERENA: I understand, Ms. Cooper. We will do our best.
MELANIE: Thank you so much, dear.
II Suspended To Be Sacked
A BLACK WORKER TELLS ABOUT THE RACIST ORDEAL SHE HAD TO PUT UP WITH THAT RESULTED IN HER DISMISSAL.
Facing the audience is a row of tables behind which the panel members take their seats, namely Professor Mike Coulthard as Chairman, Paul Bobbitt and Warren Mitchell. A fourth seat, that of Lady Westley, remains empty for the time-being. On their left is a table for the Stenographer. The first witness, Serena Erit, and the workers representative Ms. Jobson approach the stand on the right.
PROF. COULTHARD: Before you begin your testimony, I have just two announcements. One is that we were asked to have a stenographer. The stenographer is here and he will be with us for the rest of the time. This means we will have a literally verbatim report of the proceedings – a formal official record. The second thing is that I will break the meeting after about an hour or an hour and a half for a comfort pause. Thank you.
MS. JOBSON: If I may make a quick point.
PROF. COULTHARD: Yes, you can.
MS. JOBSON: This is a little awkward to raise, but so far now there have been two white managers who have commented to Mr. Adebayo on his physical appearance, flattering him about his hair. Mr. Adebayo does not feel that this is respectful, particularly coming from people who have not ever been his friends, have never helped him, have never related to him in a way that is kind, but have rather done things to hurt his working career as a trade union steward. He finds this very disrespectful. Mr. Adebayo is certain that his hair looks fabulous but he would appreciate it if…
PROF. COULTHARD: We can say that goes for the Panel, too.
MS. JOBSON: But he would appreciate it if Rashomon Council management did not take it upon itself to flatter him about his appearance. That is it.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed.
MS. JOBSON: Ms. Erit, could you just state your name for us?
SERENA: Serena Erit.
MS. JOBSON: What is your racial identity?
SERENA: Black, West Indian descent.
MS. JOBSON: Did you at one time work for Rashomon Council?
MS. JOBSON: What kind of service were you providing at Community Alarms?
SERENA: Community Alarms is an emergency response service for elderly people in their homes. In effect, what you would do is... elderly people would have a pendant and, if they needed help, they would press the pendant and we would go out to them.
MS. JOBSON: I want to take you to the night of 11th May 2002. Did you work that night?
SERENA: I did. I worked 7 in the evening till 7 in the morning with Doreen.
MS. JOBSON: Did anything unusual happen on that shift?
SERENA: As far as I was concerned on that shift, nothing happened that I would have described as anything out of the ordinary. I can describe the incident as it happened, which was that a lady called in and said that her wheelchair was stuck. Now, to us, that was not a priority. Doreen spent a long time with this lady actually trying to get help to her in one form or the other but didn’t succeed. And then, afterwards, we cleared the call down, she called back again and I said to her, ‘My colleague has just explained to you that we are not going to come out to move the wheelchair’, and that was basically it.
MS. JOBSON: Did anyone tell you that the woman in question later wrote the Council a letter, complaining?
SERENA: I learned about that, actually, when a memo came through – from Olga.
MS. JOBSON: Who is Olga?
SERENA: Olga Abacha was the manager in RCAS.
MS. JOBSON: Were you surprised that the woman in the wheelchair was unhappy?
SERENA: I was, because on that day she hadn’t actually come through and said that there was a problem. In terms of her complaining afterwards, if she didn’t get a proper service, then she had every right to complain, and I have always felt that. But the fact is, if somebody complains, it is about then looking at where the flaws are in the system – I would have thought anyway, but there you go…
MS. JOBSON: How did the complaint subsequently get used?
SERENA: The complaint, basically, was used to discipline myself and Doreen.
MS. JOBSON: What did you think was the real reason why Olga was handling it?
SERENA: The real reason was because she wanted to get rid of me and Doreen as two black females in that section.
MS. JOBSON: Olga Abacha, what race was she?
SERENA: Olga is white.
MS. JOBSON: Her last name; is it Nigerian?
SERENA: Yes, it is.
MS. JOBSON: Do you know why that is?
SERENA: She is married to a Nigerian.
MS. JOBSON: What were your first interactions with Olga Abacha like?
SERENA: One evening I went out, it was about five-to 6 and I had to go and collect my son. On the way back, I got a call from Doreen that somebody was on the floor. My first concern was to go back to the office because, obviously, one of us has got to go out and deal with this client. So my colleague went off and I brought my son back to work with me. For some reason, Olga came into the office. When she saw my son, she said, ‘Can I have a word?’ She said to me, ‘Have you got a childcare problem’, and then, ‘Are you a single parent; are you, are you?’ And I took from that, because I am a black female, the stereotype is that I am going to be a single parent, you know. I don’t believe she would have said that to me if I was white; I just don’t believe she would have done.
MS. JOBSON: Did you later learn that Olga Abacha had such stereotypes?
SERENA: I have learned later from colleagues that she had said about West Indian women, they’re all single parents, they all live off benefits and she has got statistics that prove it. These were the kind of comments that she made.
MS. JOBSON: Now, these interactions with Olga Abacha; how did those interactions leave you? Did you come, at some point, to conclude that she was racist?
THE SONG ON SPOTTING RACISM
Sung by Serena Erit as a Gospel.
With some situations you know immediately
At other times you just kind of think, ‘OK. ’
It is not what she has said but you have walked
Away with that strange feeling in your stomach.
A picture begins to build and you begin to watch
How this woman reacts to black people and
You begin to see, ‘No, this is a racist attitude’.
You can feel racism from mannerism, tone, attitude.
This is one of the things that white people find very
Difficult to accept. You do not have to verbalise
Racism. Black people can sense racism.
A picture begins to build and I want you to watch
How this woman reacts to black people and
You’ll begin to see, ‘Yes, this is a racist attitude’
MS. JOBSON: What happened then in the investigation process into you and your colleague? Did you have an interview?
SERENA: Yes, I did – if you could call it that.
MS. JOBSON: What was it like?
SERENA: Very – I don’t know if ‘oppressive’ is the right word. Basically, Olga asked me a series of maybe 35 questions, one after the other. You go into this disciplinary interview and you bring a shop steward, who is told that he can’t speak. You are in this position where you just feel that you have no control over anything.
MS. JOBSON: Did you than have a disciplinary hearing?
SERENA: Well, on the day the hearing was supposed to take place, I was actually off sick and Doreen was working the night shift, so we asked for it to be adjourned. And it wasn’t. The hearing actually went ahead, in our absence.
MS. JOBSON: What happened when you came back to work?
SERENA: Right, I came in to work and Doreen and I did an early shift. Then I got a phone call from Otis to say that we needed to go to the union office --
MS. JOBSON: Who is Otis?
SERENA: Otis Adebayo, the shop steward – shop steward he was then. When we got there, he said, ‘You’ve been suspended to be sacked’, which was kind of a shock to us. We went to see Rick Jeffreys. He said, ‘You need to sort out your direct debits’, and Otis said, ‘No, we have to fight this. These girls – these women – have not had a hearing. We need to fight this.’ That was when we decided, Doreen and I, that we had to highlight what was going on in RCAS, and when we made the decision to write the leaflet.
MS. JOBSON: What did it say?
SERENA: I believe the heading was ‘Enough is Enough’. Basically, it talked about the racism in RCAS; it talked about the bullying; it talked about the victimisation; it talked about Olga and that none of the managers, none of the senior managers, were willing actually to do anything about it.
MS. JOBSON: Did the leaflet call for there to be a hearing for you?
SERENA: Yes, it did as well. That was the one thing that we wanted. So we sent out the letters, and there was also a petition to try and get a hearing for us.
MS. JOBSON: And did you?
SERENA: Yes, we got a hearing.
MS. JOBSON: What was the decision of the Panel in the second hearing?
SERENA: The decision of the Panel was that we should be sacked.
MS. JOBSON: Did you give up?
SERENA: No, we didn’t. We continued to fight because we had to.
MS. JOBSON: Did you get an appeal?
SERENA: We did, and that was because Otis struggled and fought tooth and nail for us, really.
MS. JOBSON: What was the outcome of your fight for reinstatement on appeal?
SERENA: We got reinstated. I’ve been told that this is quite an unusual thing to happen.
MS. JOBSON: Did you go back to work for Rashomon Council?
SERENA: No, I didn’t. No.
MS. JOBSON: So even though you weren’t going to go back to work for Rashomon Council, you continued fighting for reinstatement. Why?
SERENA: Because I needed to prove a point. I don’t feel that I deserved those gross misconduct charges and it was about the need to exonerate myself in some way because, at the end of the day, all I have got is my reputation, and I know one of the issues for Olga was her reputation. Well, is it only white managers that have reputations, then? What about mine as a black worker? My reputation has been sullied and I would like that amended because, at the end of the day, my reputation is all I have – my reputation, my self-respect and my dignity – and I want that amended.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed, Serena. I am going to give us a few more minutes now because there are certainly fresh points in the panellists’ minds that we want to keep fresh and ask if you are able to answer. Are you OK?
PROF. COULTHARD: I would like to start, as I intend to with all people who give evidence. It is very, very clear that the bulk of your evidence fell in all of the areas of the Inquiry, ranging from management issues, users’ issues and certainly institutional racism issues. My question is actually a very simple question. What I would like to ask you here is, can you tell me whether in fact your notion of Olga’s racism is at all influenced by the fact – and this has not come out in the evidence – that Olga is German?
SERENA: I can remember saying in the investigation, ‘Olga is incredibly rude and she is incredibly abrupt and when you speak to her, she will say, “It is because I am German”. But if I was rude and abrupt and I said, “It’s because I’m black”, it would not be accepted.’
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you. You obviously understood the full force of that question. I could ask a lot more; but now I want to give the other panellists an opportunity to ask the questions uppermost in their own minds.
MR. MITCHELL: I am going to put my questions on service delivery and how you treat, or how the scheme treats clients. Do you feel the work you were doing for disabled and elderly people was delivered in the best way possible?
SERENA: I think the service to the clients could have been a lot better. If the managers had perhaps been willing to listen a bit more and actually take on some of the concerns that the staff were raising – the clients could have had a better service.
MR. MITCHELL: While you say this, you gave some evidence about the wheelchair, to the effect that the instruction was you couldn’t assist people stuck in a wheelchair.
SERENA: Mm hmm.
MR. MITCHELL: This seems very inhuman. Wasn’t that instruction going against what you wanted to do? I presume you were in the job because you cared and wanted to support vulnerable people?
SERENA: Mm hmm.
MR. MITCHELL: I think I have had my share, Mr. Chairman, of questions.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. Paul?
MR. BOBBITT: Hi Serena. I obviously have to ask a couple of things which arose from the May 11th situation. What managers were on duty during that night?
SERENA: Managers at the weekend? We don’t have managers at the weekends.
MR. BOBBITT: But you have constant phone access to them at weekends?
SERENA: Yes, in theory.
MR. BOBBITT: And yet, there were no managers that you felt it was appropriate to refer to.
SERENA: I was basing this on my previous experience of dealing with wheelchairs, and what was then said to me by a manager, which was, ‘You don’t go out to deal with wheelchairs; it is not something we do; it is not something we actually provide’. I am basing it on that. It may seem in retrospect that, you know, to leave somebody there for that length of time was quite a harsh thing to do but that is the reality we work with.
MR. BOBBITT: This is my last question. It is probably a bit unfair because I know you’ve left, but, as far as you know, do you know if there has been a review of these practices so that this could never happen again?
SERENA: Up to the point I left RCAS, there was no procedure in place for dealing with wheelchairs. And can I just say before I go, we were disciplined because we didn’t go out to deal with a wheelchair. One of my colleagues was disciplined because they did go out and deal with a wheelchair incident and got charges of gross misconduct. So, in RCAS, you never win.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you, Serena. It has been a long ordeal and the Panel would like to thank you for your testimony. Thank you very much indeed. Now, without further ado, I would like to ask the legal representative of the workers to introduce the next witness.
Serena Erit leaves.
III Still Stuck In The Chair
THE ELDERLY WHITE WOMAN ONCE AGAIN CALLS FOR HELP.
Melanie Cooper is still in her wheelchair. Again, she presses her pendant. The voice of Doreen Escher answers from off-stage.
DOREEN: Hello Ms. Cooper. It’s Doreen again. Has nobody come to see you yet?
MELANIE: No, no-one. Last time, the response was so good.
DOREEN: I’m sorry. I have told Home Care. They are usually so prompt and everybody knows they are the right people for the job, and I have called other keyholders. But at the moment, there is no chance any of them will come out.
MELANIE: I suppose I am in the rather unusual situation of probably being the only person nobody cares about.
DOREEN: Don’t say that, Ms. Cooper.
MELANIE: But this has been the case, and so …
DOREEN: Don’t cry, Ms. Cooper.
MELANIE: I am labouring under slight disabilities tonight, my dear, insofar as I am without my glasses so the whole room is just one blur at the moment and I have got a dodgy knee, so excuse me for not actually getting up myself.
DOREEN: Ms.Cooper. Melanie. I don’t know what else to do.
MELANIE: But when a call comes, isn’t it up to you to decide what to do?
DOREEN: I know, although, to be honest, the regular users sometimes report things that we wouldn’t necessarily consider an emergency. I’m sorry, but I always explain to them: If you sit in front of the computer for a whole shift, you will see that each call you answer, you have to take a decision affecting a client, or rather clients – because if you go out to one of them you can’t go out to the next call.
MELANIE: What counts as an emergency, then?
DOREEN: I think, ‘I have fallen over’, accounts for most of the problems we go out to: or if there is no response at all. So if there is no response, you have to go, you have to see them. If there is no response, you go and about 90% of the cases you will find that the person is relaxed in bed and watching television. You have to explain nicely to the person why you are here and then they accept that, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t hear.’ Talking to the person for about two minutes, you realise that there is a hearing problem because they seem to push their head towards you or turn one ear towards you. I hope this will be of some use to you, Melanie. - Melanie? - Ms. Cooper? - Hello?
IV A Touch Of The Tar Brush
A YOUNG WORKER BORN TO A WHITE MOTHER AND A BLACK FATHER RECOUNTS HOW HER SENSE OF IDENTITY CHANGED.
Approaching the stand is Doreen Escher. Ms. Jobson starts the questioning.
MS. JOBSON: Could you state your full name?
DOREEN: Doreen Escher. MS.
JOBSON: Where did you grow up?
MS. JOBSON: What is the race of your parents?
DOREEN: My father is from Mali and my mother is white Irish.
MS. JOBSON: Do people ever assume that you are simply white British?
DOREEN: Yes, all the time.
MS. JOBSON: In terms of your complexion and appearance, have you ever been described in peculiar racial terms?
MS. JOBSON: What would they be?
DOREEN: Often, when people find out that I am half African, they might say, ‘Oh, you have a touch of the tar brush’.
MS. JOBSON: ‘A touch of the tar brush?’
DOREEN: Yes; or, if they do know, it might be ‘slightly dusky’, or, you know, ‘I thought you looked a bit exotic’, or something like that.
MS. JOBSON: Are these statements offensive to you?
MS. JOBSON: Why?
DOREEN: Because even if I don’t think I look white, ‘a touch of the tar brush’, that just sounds like something out of the middle ages. And to think that people are looking at me and judging me using that sort of language isn’t very nice.
MS. JOBSON: As an adolescent, how did you see yourself in racial terms?
DOREEN: Mixed race.
MS. JOBSON: Is that the same as how you saw yourself when you began working for Rashomon Council?
MS. JOBSON: Is this how you see yourself now?
MS. JOBSON: How do you self-identify racially now?
DOREEN: As black.
MS. JOBSON: Why do you identify as black now?
DOREEN: It’s taken all of this that happened to me at Rashomon to realise that, basically, that is how the world sees me, as a black woman. I might not be very dark skinned, but I am still a black woman, and judgments have been made just going by the colour of my skin.
MS. JOBSON: Soon after you began to work in Community Alarms, did Olga Abacha ask you about your race?
MS. JOBSON: What did she ask you?
DOREEN: She was under the impression that I was of West Indian descent.
MS. JOBSON: So when Olga Abacha learned that you were part African and not part West Indian, did that seem to change her attitude towards you?
DOREEN: I think so.
MS. JOBSON: Based on her interactions with you, would you say that she saw people of all races in an equal manner?
MS. JOBSON: If it wasn’t equal, who ranked highest?
DOREEN: I think she thought – let me think. West Indians were right down at the bottom, maybe Africans a notch better and then white were just up there at the top – English and white.
MS. JOBSON: Did you feel like care was a big component of the job?
DOREEN: No, a lot of it was all about stats. We had to do the statistics, I think, every couple of weeks. We had to take a certain amount of calls and answer them in a certain amount of time and Olga was always, you know, ‘We’ve got to meet the stats, we’ve got to meet the stats’.
MS. JOBSON: Did cuts taking place in Home Care have any impact on your job?
DOREEN: Yes, we began getting more calls from people saying, ‘I’m hungry, there’s no food; when am I getting my breakfast?’ There was one lady; she used to come through in the morning. You would do a night shift and she started coming through at about 5 o’clock, ‘I’m hungry; I’m hungry, I want something to eat.’
MS. JOBSON: Was there anything you could do about it?
DOREEN: Well, no, because we were seen to be an emergency service and, of course, it’s terrible if someone’s hungry and they want to eat, but that is not an emergency. We didn’t have the resources to deal with someone wanting to go to the toilet but not quite being able to, so …
PROF. COULTHARD: Can you give us just one minute.
Lady Westley enters the room and takes her seat on the panel.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you.
MS. JOBSON: Serena Erit has already testified to the question of the disciplinary processes that she went through, related to a call from a client. When she called through on May 11, what did you attempt to do for her?
DOREEN: I tried to contact all of her keyholders to ask them to assist, and also Home Care, and nobody was able to help.
MS. JOBSON: Did you make repeated efforts to get help?
DOREEN: I did, yes. I did.
MS. JOBSON: If you had gone out to the woman, what role would you have been able to play?
DOREEN: Not a very big one, really. I just would have been able to let myself into the flat with the keys we had and I would have been able to speak to her, perhaps get her a drink, but that would have been it. That was always drummed into us from day one, ‘Do not touch in any way, shape or form a client; do not at all.’
MS. JOBSON: Subsequent to the night of May 11, did you learn how long this woman had been sitting in her wheelchair?
MS. JOBSON: And how long was it?
DOREEN: I think it was close to seven hours.
MS. JOBSON: Do you think that the client should have had to sit for seven years stuck in a wheelchair?
DOREEN: Seven hours.
MS. JOBSON: Seven years; seven millennia!
DOREEN: I am sure it felt that way to her. No, she shouldn’t have had to sit like that at all. No way. No.
MS. JOBSON: Did you then learn that you had been sacked?
MS. JOBSON: And how did you learn that you had been sacked?
DOREEN: In the middle of the Human Resources’ office. It is an open plan office, and the lady in question, from Human Resources, told Otis to tell us we had been sacked. We were standing next to Otis. She looked at Otis and said, ‘Tell them they’ve been sacked.’
MS. JOBSON: She would not address you?
MS. JOBSON: Did you then ask Otis to communicate something to her?
DOREEN: I did, yes. I wasn’t going to talk to her if she wasn’t talking to me, so I asked Otis to ask her if we could go and collect our belongings.
MS. JOBSON: So what did she say?
DOREEN: ‘Why isn’t she talking to me?’ – She did say that and, after the confusion, she said yes, we could go and collect our belongings.
MS. JOBSON: Did you resolve to do anything?
DOREEN: After the initial shock had worn off, yes. We phoned colleagues, we phoned as many people as we could and everyone was just amazed and, the more people heard about it, it was just, ‘Oh, my God, what are you going to do? You’re going to fight it, aren’t you?’, and we thought, ‘Yeah, we are; we’re going to do something’.
PROF. COULTHARD: I think that is probably a very good point to end on because I have heard that reply before. Now I want to open it up to the Panel.
MS. JOBSON: Professor Coulthard, some matters that don’t involve Serena at all, that relate specifically to Doreen and the continued discrimination against her after she was brought back into work, have not been raised. I am not sure how to handle it.
PROF. COULTHARD: I need to be convinced that we have not heard them. Would you, therefore, list them for me so that I can consider them and then – time permitting – we can pick them up at a later stage.
(to Doreen) I would like you to tell the Panel about how you felt when you began to realise that you were black. From your evidence, it seemed to me that, as a result of the treatment, as a result of attitudes, as a result of various incidents, you came to a sudden consciousness of your own identity as a black person.
DOREEN: I don’t really know exactly what happened, or how it happened. We were sacked, and Serena was – it all started to come out how she felt over the years and how she felt that this was because she was a black woman – that Olga had not liked her because of that fact, and I believed her. At that point, I still didn’t think that I was sacked because of my colour. So we wrote the leaflet and Serena said, ‘I want to put in that I feel this is about racism’, and I said, ‘OK, that’s fine’. And it wasn’t until a few weeks later, when we were in our disciplinary and it just became clear. I was talking at the time and I just suddenly realised that if I was white, if I was one of those white members of staff, I would have been invited to dinner parties, and I would have been made cups of tea, and I would have been made toast, and I would have been listened to when I wrote memos about the service, and I would have been able to go on courses that I wanted to go on, but was told I couldn’t. It just was all in stunning clarity. I would have been part of the clique. I would not have been sacked. I would have been called into the office, had a chat with. It was just there: I would not be in this position if I was white.
PROF. COULTHARD: It was a sort of sudden realisation?
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much. Lady Westley.
LADY WESTLEY: Doreen, I apologise very much for being here late. You have seen these printouts?
DOREEN: Of the telephone calls? Yes.
LADY WESTLEY: Somebody is referred to here as ‘H-C’, you were talking to her or him. Do you remember that?
PROF. COULTHARD: Home Care.
DOREEN: Home Care? Right.
LADY WESTLEY: I am going exactly by what I have here, for a very good reason. This person said to you: ‘I mean, obviously, she’s a very needy person. She has a wheelchair and so on. I mean, it can take me a couple of hours to find a person who will be willing to go out to her. So, from my point of view, if you’ve got the key, then you could go. That would make more sense; save me blocking the line for two hours trying to find somebody.’ That is here on the log, right? You said: ‘Sure, sure. OK, then. Well, no problem.’ Yes?
LADY WESTLEY: Then you went back to Melanie on the phone and you said: ‘Home Care does not have anyone to send out to you at the moment. Can we call Susan?’
LADY WESTLEY: And I am just a little concerned. I am trying to understand what went on that day because, having heard Home Care say ‘she’s a very needy person’ and that you had a key, when you went back to her, you didn’t suggest to her anything about that key that you had. You said, ‘Can we call Susan?’ Now, Susan goes on to tell you that she couldn’t go because she was ill.
DOREEN: Mm hmm.
LADY WESTLEY: You told Melanie then that Susan is unable to come in, yes?
DOREEN: Mm hmm.
LADY WESTLEY: And that is the bit I don’t understand here. Home Care had said to you that ‘she’s a very needy person’ and I just wondered, whether you could touch her or not, what did you do for her besides making these calls? Did you do anything for somebody who is in trouble?
DOREEN: I was in the control centre at the time so I was trying to... The procedure is that, when somebody needs help, we phone the keyholders first.
LADY WESTLEY: Sure.
DOREEN: We are a last alternative. There were three or four keyholders, including Home Care, on the file. I was making all these phone calls to have somebody go up there because this was not a service we provided. I was trying to find a keyholder who could go out and help in some way, shape or form.
LADY WESTLEY: I appreciate that. Were you successful?
DOREEN: No, I was not successful.
LADY WESTLEY: You were not successful in getting anybody at all to go to her?
LADY WESTLEY: Thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. Paul, can you continue?
MR. BOBBITT: Yes. Doreen, I just want to take you back to one other thing. You said – and this was in reference to some of your other work colleagues – you suggested that they had a sort of clique thing going on. How many were ‘they’?
DOREEN: They were Olga, Emily, Barbara…
MR. BOBBITT: Those are the three managers but…
DOREEN: Those are the three managers; and then Tracy, Marie, and…
MR. BOBBITT: I just wanted to know how many; not names.
DOREEN: The three managers, and maybe four or five staff at a time.
MR. BOBBITT: Out of the 13 staff?
DOREEN: Those were the ones who would actually get together and do things, yes; all but Tracy, she didn’t go to dinner parties. However, she would bring in Olga tomatoes from her garden.
MR. BOBBITT: OK, thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you. Warren?
MR. MITCHELL: I can only ask whether the two line managers and the unit manager actually ever took calls or ever went out; because, to my mind, when they were taking managerial responsibility, they should have gone and seen what it was all about. You are obviously caring, interested people, but it would appear that you are being prevented from giving the elementary care and service that you were paid for. Is that what you are telling us?
DOREEN: I am definitely saying that.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you very much. I think that is enough, Mr. Chair.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. We got through most of the evidence I think you were going to give but…
MS. JOBSON: No.
PROF. COULTHARD: We didn’t?
MS. JOBSON: No.
PROF. COULTHARD: I would like an assessment, please, Marnie, in terms of where we are in the presentation of the evidence, because we only have ten minutes left, you see.
MS. JOBSON: We can try to go at a jet pace.
PROF. COULTHARD: Because I am going to have to cut it off.
MS. JOBSON: There is really only one matter that we think we need to cover.
(to Doreen) You did come back, you did get reinstated and you were moved to a new place in the Council; is that correct?
DOREEN: Yes. I went to Finance, which is on the third floor of the Town Hall building.
MS. JOBSON: Were any restrictions put on you in your new post because of Olga Abacha?
DOREEN: Yes. I was along the corridor from her office and I was told not to talk to her or have any interaction with her and I was also told not to use the lift up to the third floor, but to use the stairs.
MS. JOBSON: Why were you told to use the stairs and not the lift?
DOREEN: Well, I had this surreal chat with Queenette Dalston and she just kept saying, you know, ‘This is going to be OK, isn’t it, Doreen; nothing’s going to happen? You are OK with seeing Olga, aren’t you?’ I was extremely insulted because I thought she was trying to insinuate that I was going to try to attack Olga, and then for her to say, ‘Use the stairs’ – ‘Yessir, massa’, just use the back stairs like a slave - I was quite insulted.
MS. JOBSON: And did she let you know any of what this might be related to?
DOREEN: She then went on to say that I was in a precarious position, in that accusations could be made against me and they might not be able to protect me from those allegations and, thus, it wasn’t safe.
MS. JOBSON: Did she make clear that they would be allegations from Olga Abacha?
PROF. COULTHARD: I think we are going to have to end at this point. We see the drift of your question here.
MS. JOBSON: Is there any way we could just have ten minutes?
PROF. COULTHARD: No, because there are trains and things to catch. I am sorry. We will reconvene again on Tuesday. Thank you very much indeed. It has been a long evening for you and I look forward to seeing members of the public here next Tuesday at 6 o’clock.
The panel adjourns. Everybody leaves but Melanie Cooper, still stuck in her wheelchair.
V If In Doubt You Go Out
A WHITE WORKER COMES TO THE RESCUE, IN THEORY.
Tracy Sailor enters. During her speech she walks over to Melanie Cooper in her wheelchair. She holds Melanie’s hand and strokes her brow, to offer comfort to the crying woman.
TRACY: I could hardly fail to be aware of the situation in which Ms. Melanie Cooper did not receive a satisfactory service from Rashomon Community Alarms. At the time, I felt the whole situation had been badly handled by management and was even considering helping Doreen Escher. However, I ultimately felt unable to do so because in my own mind, I know I would have acted differently. I would have gone out to Ms. Cooper and found a way to help her out of her predicament. To this day, I cannot understand why Doreen Escher and Serena Erit failed to give assistance to Ms. Melanie Cooper. It has always been my understanding that ‘if in doubt, you go out’.
THE SONG OF WHY I LOVE THE JOB SO MUCH
Sung by Tracy Sailor as an English folk song.
I care very much for our service users.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
I also enjoy positive, regular contact with Homecare agencies, Social Services, the Metropolitan Police, GPs, hospitals.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
We also have much contact with users’ families and friends.
I am proud to be an officer who delivers a service
Which is second to none in the quality of care
We afford to our vulnerable client group.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Just one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Whenever anybody was making tea, a general offer was made around
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
I used to bring food into the Control Centre to share
I made Koresh, an Iranian stew, and a huge lasagna.
I devised a tomato and avocado dip, and Green Fish Curry.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Others loved it and asked me to write the recipe for them.
I am proud to be an officer who delivers a service
Which is second to none in the quality of care
We afford to our vulnerable client group.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Just one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
There wasn’t a procedure for ‘dealing with wheelchairs’ as such,
One is required to use initiative and
To find a way of resolving problems.
This is one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Just one of the reasons why I love the job so much.
Tracy exits with Melanie.
VI A Tall Poppy In The Field
THE WHITE MANAGER OF THE BUSINESS UNIT REFLECTS ON THE END OF 'LAISSEZ-FAIRE' AND ON THE NOTION OF 'TOUGH'.
The panel reconvenes; a reduced panel, as only Paul Bobbitt and Warren Mitchell take their seats. Olga Abacha and the managers’ representative Alison McKane appear and sit down behind the witness table.
MR. BOBBITT: Ms. Abacha, I want to apologise for a number of things today. First of all, Mike is held up, so that is a problem. We were due to have Lady Westley with us but she has got stuck in the House of Lords. So you are left with Warren and myself. Would your representative like to start, please?
MS. McKANE: There are one or two things. When we met last time, we mentioned the libel, the defamatory allegations which have been made by Mr. Adebayo when he was a trade unionist with SOLIDAR, which resulted in a claim and settlement by SOLIDAR, who paid Olga some damages, her legal costs and apologised. You have copies of that.
Unfortunately that is not the end of it because there has also been the continuing campaign which you may be aware of within Rashomon, the poster campaign by the ‘Campaign for Justice By Any Means Necessary’, which is now a new tag which has been added to it. Quite apart from how distressing it is for Olga to have to walk past posters saying the sort of things these do, since she is one of the prime targets of this Campaign for Justice, she is extremely concerned about the term ‘By Any Means Necessary’. ‘By any means necessary’ to me means that you can adopt bullying, intimidation, harassment, defamatory allegations, all of which have been clearly part of the campaign. But it would also suggest possibly violence; any means, you do not have to put words to it.
OLGA: They use it on all their banners and things like that.
MR. BOBBITT: I totally agree with what your solicitor is saying in terms of the way that that may be interpreted…
OLGA: Can I just mention that I did have a death threat when I was doing the disciplinary and all the leaflets were going out. Actually I had a death threat at that time. That is why I am thinking any lunatic can take the cause on and may want to do something.
MS. McKANE: You are just doing your job and you think that is what you have been contracted to do. But inevitably it has raised the temperature further so far as Olga is concerned. Richard, her husband, is worried about her. She is worried about herself and I am worried about her.
MR. BOBBITT: And we are too. We share that concern because what we are looking at here – and perhaps we should go on because it will then emerge that this is not about an individual – we are looking at the totality of a service that should have been delivered in a particular way, how it operated and how it was managed. With the greatest of respect, as brilliant and clever as you might have been, I do not think you were in the position at Rashomon to be able to do that as one individual. Otherwise we will send you back there to put it right. We will not put that in the minutes.
Prof. Coulthard enters and takes his seat on the panel.
OLGA: Could I have some water, please?
MR. BOBBITT: Sure. There is cold water there. Are you OK? Do you want to take a break?
OLGA: No, no, I just…
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you. Mike?
PROF. COULTHARD: I do remember, I think correctly, you mentioned that when you arrived to take over RCAS there was a rather libertarian culture, where people went off shopping when they wanted to and all sorts of things. You mentioned these things in the written submission. The impression that I got was that you had stamped on this?
OLGA: I had, yes.
PROF. COULTHARD: And that you had tried to change the culture quite significantly from being one of being a fairly laissez-faire, do what we wish, no trouble to anybody kind of culture to in fact a far more managerial and professional culture that you might expect from a service. Given your attempts to instill those changes within your group, were you aware of any reactions to those changes?
OLGA: When I initially arrived there, the staff were quite friendly to me and they seemed to be happy that I had come. When we actually started to rule out all these things, of course there were difficulties. Because with me they had to come to work, they had to sign in and out, I checked their mileage, which I found to be very fraudulent. You know, there was a whole range of things and of course they would tell me, it was never their fault, that was how they had always done things. When I stopped it I am sure they were not pleased. For instance, one of the things that we knew was happening was that people would always sleep throughout the night. They would get five calls in the night, you know, nothing to do. So, yes, they would sleep. Things that needed to be done but had never been done, we then put it as a night duty. And of course they did not like it. Previously they had brought in a television to the Control Centre, and I stopped that. I did not allow them to watch television. So there were things that probably they did not like. They never said to me that they did not like it because they could hardly say they were sleeping at night. There was a lot of work that needed to be done that had not been done and they now had to start doing those duties.
PROF. COULTHARD: Had to start to perform really?
OLGA: Yes, and then we started to introduce standards and targets, so they now were responsible for their own activities. The case was that you would give somebody a particular task to do, say, on the afternoon shift and they would not do it. They would try to pass it on to the next shift. Everybody would be blaming everybody else. So what we did was we introduced a work sheet. The managers would give them the task to do and at the end of the shift they had to say how much they had completed of that task. Of course the ones who always work have no problems with it, just the ones who do not.
PROF. COULTHARD: In your view, then, had they ever been monitored before by anyone?
OLGA: No, not at all.
PROF. COULTHARD: It was completely new to them?
OLGA: Not even their attendance at work was monitored. Can I just make one point here, because I think I was generally regarded as a hands-on manager, a bit tough probably. When difficult issues needed to be done, they would ask me…
PROF. COULTHARD: So initially they saw you as a tough manager…
PROF. COULTHARD: ... there to deal with the problems that they did not want to deal with for some reason or another?
OLGA: Exactly. I was not the only one, there were a few other managers as well.
PROF. COULTHARD: Yes, there usually are in an organisation, one or two toughies, or people who are seen as tough and they are used in that way. You have got not only the feeling but you have just given me evidence of the way you were used in that sense.
MR. BOBBITT: Tough or effective in doing the role…
PROF. COULTHARD: I was using it in a very positive way.
OLGA: What I am saying is I basically follow procedure.
PROF. COULTHARD: Yes, you followed the procedures. The procedures were laid down for good reason?
PROF. COULTHARD: And you followed them. And if that is considered to be tough, tough it is. That is really interesting from a discourse point of view, the notion of ‘tough’. From what you said, you were seen to be ‘tough’. If you are just following procedures, why should you be seen to be ‘tough’?
MR. BOBBITT: Could I maybe just put a point?
(to Olga) Did this apply just to the procedures? Or did you fall out over more than just procedures? It is a fine line, but perhaps an important one to distinguish.
OLGA: Perhaps I could just mention one occasion. One time at a team meeting Queenette Dalston said to the whole team, her management team, that if she said ‘Jump!’, I’d ask ‘How high?’. I commented then that that can land you in a lot of trouble. They all felt it, you know, because I basically asked, ‘Why are you asking me to jump?’ So that probably illustrates a little bit the difference.
MR. BOBBITT: I think you have answered it.
PROF. COULTHARD: So now I can come to the other issue, which is of concern to us all, which is really about racism and racial discrimination within the unit. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that what you are saying in your evidence is that there was no issue of racial discrimination whatsoever until after – and correct me if I am wrong – Otis Adebayo became involved?
PROF. COULTHARD: How did you then interpret it when Otis articulated that managers were racist and accused you of being racist?
OLGA: Basically that they had no defence for their actions and that was the only reason that they could think of to defend the indefensible, that it was…
PROF. COULTHARD: It was the cast iron defence, you mean?
OLGA: It was the only defence they had.
PROF. COULTHARD: The only defence they had.
OLGA: That was the only defence because they never disputed any of the facts of the case. I think he abused it, basically. I do not think he did his members any favours either, because they would then fail to examine their behaviour and therefore not actually improve their performance. So I do not think it actually was very helpful at all.
PROF. COULTHARD: Really, the question rotates around your relationships with black staff within your team. You have said that you were in no way racist.
OLGA: I appointed all of them. If I did not want to appoint them, you know, what is the point? I mean…
PROF. COULTHARD: But you could have appointed them because you are racist. There is a syndrome. There is a…
OLGA: Is there? OK. Oh well.
PROF. COULTHARD: ... syndrome of people who are racist who employ some people who are the opposite colour because they have then someone to…
OLGA: All I am concerned with is if somebody performs. I do not care what they are.
PROF. COULTHARD: Last question, really, and it is not facetious. Do you think you were really too competent, too professional, too managerially efficient for the environment in which you worked?
OLGA: That is what my husband has said. I do not know. I mean, it is difficult for me to say.
MS. McKANE: Are you talking about the sort of ‘tall poppy in the field’ syndrome, as it were?
PROF. COULTHARD: That is right. Surely you must have a view on it, especially if your husband has commented upon it too. I think these sort of views are very pertinent.
OLGA: No, I just thought I was efficient, that is all. I would not say I was too efficient because you can never be too efficient anyway. That is my general viewpoint, you cannot be too competent because it is a contradiction in terms, is it not? Yes, I thought of myself as an efficient and competent manager and worker but I would not use ‘too competent’ because I do not think that can actually be said.
PROF. COULTHARD: That was the last of my questions. I am going to hand back now to the Deputy chair.
OLGA: Can I just express one concern. In the objectives of RCAS – which the staff actually signed up to – was ‘service when you need it’ and ‘the client is at the centre of our service’. I want to relate that to the Mrs. Cooper case because when they say ‘Oh, it was not a real emergency’, etc., you know, we only had very few real emergencies. But the whole notion was that if somebody needed assistance of any kind, you resolved the problem; you do not walk away from that problem. It may be that you resolve the problem from within the Control Centre or you go out and we had a motto for it, ‘If you are in doubt, you go out’. They did not do that and they never apologised to Mrs. Cooper for not doing it. So for them to say that they did not understand and they did not know, it was not true. They knew exactly what they were doing.
MR. BOBBITT: On behalf of the Panel, I have to thank you. I think there are some issues that are, you know, not as clear as we may wish them to be, but certainly the way that you presented that evidence to us will help us to determine the truth in all of this.
Olga Abacha and Alison McKane exit.
VII Bad Apples In The Barrel
THE WHITE UNION BRANCH SECRETARY CANNOT RECALL UNLEARNING RACISM AND HAS TROUBLE JUSTIFYING AN APOLOGY.
Lady Westley comes in and takes her seat. Prof. Coulthard takes over as chair.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. The second half of the evening is for the evidence that is going to be submitted by the unions. I am now going to hand over the floor to the unions and ask Rick Jeffreys to introduce this evening’s evidence.
Rick Jeffreys takes the witness seat.
RICK: Thanks, Chair. Hi, I am Rick Jeffreys. I am Branch Secretary of Rashomon SOLIDAR. As Branch Secretary I am an elected lay official of the union. The job of Branch Secretary entails organising meetings of the branch, representing the branch in negotiations with the employer and within the wider union, and also some individual representation.
My first recollection of involvement with the disciplinary case of Doreen Escher and Serena Erit is of a visit to the SOLIDAR office about six months after the incident. The disciplinary hearing was due to commence on the following Monday, and I was asked to request a postponement of the hearing, which I did, sending the letter on that day. I was next aware of events around the case about ten days later, when Otis visited the office with Doreen and Serena and I learned they were to be dismissed. That lunchtime I wrote to Annabel Pasanjo, Assistant Director of Special Housing Services expressing outrage at this decision and demanding that the dismissal be set aside and a fair hearing be convened. Annabel Pasanjo replied to my letter agreeing to establish a fresh disciplinary hearing to rehear the case. As you will be aware, the second disciplinary hearing also recommended dismissal. I subsequently handled the appeal against dismissal, together with Otis Adebayo. And the outcome of the appeal was, as you have heard, that both employees were offered reinstatement.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. The Panel has obviously considered a few points that they want to raise. I am going to start with Lady Westley. With her trade union background, she is obviously the person among us who has the expertise to delve under, if you like, some of the things we have heard this evening. So Lady Westley.
LADY WESTLEY: Rick, I must ask you, would you see yourself as a racist?
RICK: Well, I come from a political point of view that thinks that white people brought up in a racist society cannot possibly claim to have escaped the influences of that society. Saying that, I also want to think that I am an anti-racist. I do not think it is meaningful to say of a white person they are a non-racist, but I think it is not only possible but a duty to try to be an anti-racist. I hope that answers the question.
LADY WESTLEY: In being anti-racist what steps did you take to unlearn the racism that you were conditioned by? Did you, yourself, participate in any training, either that given by the Council or that given by the union?
RICK: That given by the Council, yes.
LADY WESTLEY: Did you feel you learned anything? Is there any way you can describe how you, yourself, have changed?
RICK: It is hard to unpick what changes one, because I have also now got years of experience of representation work and of actually, sort of, dealing with the consequences of racism. But somewhere in all of that I think, yes, I must have changed.
LADY WESTLEY: I really need some help here. Is there any material way in which you changed – something you will not do now because you have had training that you did before you had training?
RICK: Speaking for myself, personally, I cannot think that there were things that I had not already unlearned.
LADY WESTLEY: I would just like to get an example from you of how you, as a union person, or as a white person, have changed in any one single thing when you had that training?
RICK: Well, in that case I do not think I can answer that now, sitting here now. If I had plenty of time, I think maybe I could but I do not think I can.
LADY WESTLEY: Let me say what I am trying to get at. Lots of people will say that they take up cases of racism. I want to understand if in the trade union they actually understand what racism is, and how to handle it. Because institutional racism is something that people like me have fought for years to get employers to understand, what it is about. They would always tell you there are a couple of bad eggs in the barrel, bad apples. And it is thanks to the Lawrence Inquiry that we have now established beyond reasonable doubt that this country is institutionally racist.
LADY WESTLEY: Now in order not to be, you have to unlearn. A whole process of unlearning has to be gone through. I know that local authorities spend money on training. I am trying to find out whether this training has had any effect at all or whether the black people who complain of institutional racism come up against what I see as a sort of brick wall, and I really want to know. I am not casting aspersions on you.
RICK: I understand.
LADY WESTLEY: But you see, if you cannot have the authority that you work for take notice of what you say, you need, in my opinion, the union that you pay your dues to, to stand up and be counted.
LADY WESTLEY: Thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: That completes the Panel’s questioning, certainly at this stage. There is, of course, a right of any other party to ask theirs, and I will now hand over to the representative of the workers. If you could state your name and what role you perform at the moment, please.
Marnie Jobson approaches.
MS. JOBSON: Of course. Thank you very much. My name is Marnie Jobson and I am a civil rights organiser from the United States. I am here representing the Campaign for Justice. Would you prefer that I call you Rick or Mr. Jeffreys?
RICK: I think you can call me Rick.
MS. JOBSON: Rick. Fine. I am Marnie. I would like to ask some questions now that get into somewhat more controversial territory. You may have trouble with a number of these. – If someone made a generalisation that Nigerians eat out of trash bins and wipe their arses – excuse my language, please – with corn cobs, you would consider that a racist stereotype, would you not?
RICK: Hypothetically, yes, of course.
MS. JOBSON: If someone referred to Otis Adebayo as a beige savage, you would also consider that as racist.
RICK: Again, hypothetically, yes, of course.
MS. JOBSON: If someone said that a person being Nigerian must mean that they know how to sue because ‘Nigerians know how to sue’, that would be a racist stereotype, wouldn’t it?
RICK: Again, answering hypothetically, yes, of course.
MS. JOBSON: If someone stereotyped West Indian women as being single parents and living off the government, this would be a racist stereotype, would it not?
RICK: I refer the honourable member to the answer I just gave, yes, hypothetically, of course.
MS. JOBSON: You are aware that a series of people, honest and honourable workers, have made it clear that these comments were made by Olga Abacha and the management of RCAS. Are you aware of that?
RICK: I don’t think that is a question I can answer, for legal reasons.
MS. JOBSON: Are you under the impression that workers have the view that she has said these things?
RICK: I think again that, for legal reasons, I am best not answering that question.
MS. JOBSON: If I said to you that workers who are both honest and honourable had said these things, would you think that that was true or untrue?
RICK: I think I am going to hold my ground here and say that, for legal reasons, that is a question I can’t answer. Sorry.
MS. JOBSON: It is true that the settlement between SOLIDAR and Olga Abacha has been contentious, is it not?
RICK: I think that the settlement was notoriously controversial is a matter of public record and knowledge and that I am safe in saying yes to that.
MS. JOBSON: We are back on the grounds of questions that you can answer. I would just like to read a bit of a quote from the apology that SOLIDAR made to Olga Abacha: ‘Those leaflets contained serious and defamatory allegations about you. They suggested without firm foundation that you brought the discipline proceedings for malicious and vindictive reasons and that you had treated staff in a racist manner. Having considered this matter carefully, SOLIDAR wishes to make clear that it accepts the allegations made against you were untrue. In particular SOLIDAR accepts that you are not a racist and these leaflets were unjustified and should never have been circulated. We apologise to you for the injury and distress that these allegations have caused you both personally and professionally.’ Is that a correct quotation, to your recollection, from the apology to Olga Abacha.
RICK: I think it is, yes.
MS. JOBSON: You can understand, can’t you, why black and Asian workers – particularly black and Asian workers – would be angry that SOLIDAR declared that Olga Abacha was not a racist, can’t you?
RICK: All I can say is that SOLIDAR was threatened with legal action for defamation and subsequently apologised for the defamatory statements made on our behalf and paid compensation to the complainant, Olga Abacha. This decision was not taken lightly. At the prompting of the Rashomon party and others, including members of the National Executive, SOLIDAR spent seven weeks determining how to respond to the threatened action. The advice was persuasive, and I believe SOLIDAR was right to act upon it.
MS. JOBSON: Again, hypothetically, a group of white lawyers determine that they have for legal reasons to say that a manager who has been victimising workers over a period of years, is not a racist, and that they know better than the black and Asian workers who have been suffering under racism for years. It is understandable to you how that situation would infuriate people, is it not?
RICK: I really can’t comment further on the settlement or defamation action, I am sorry, for legal reasons.
MS. JOBSON: I am not asking about the law. I am not asking about the apology itself. I am asking about how the people feel. It is understandable that they feel angry about this, isn’t it?
RICK: I really don’t think that I can comment about the settlement of a defamation case any further than I already have.
MS. JOBSON: Hypothetically, black and Asian workers who experience what they believe to be racism from a white manager would likely know better if that person is a racist than lawyers from Central London, wouldn’t they?
RICK: I don’t want not to answer some of these questions, but I think, in the light of the clear instructions I have been given by the union, I can’t comment further. Although you are asking me hypothetical questions, you are really asking me to comment on the settlement of the defamation action; and I really can’t do that. I have got quite clear instructions about that, and I am sorry.
MS. JOBSON: There is no reason to apologise. You can understand why black and Asian workers and anti-racist white workers would feel that this settlement was undermining their struggle against racism. Isn’t that true?
RICK: I think I can’t answer that question, on the basis of the instructions that I have been given.
MS. JOBSON: Is it true that sometimes lawyers give bad advice, including very bad advice?
RICK: Well, I think that’s a hypothetical generalisation that everyone could agree with.
MS. JOBSON: For black and Asian workers to see their dues money go to the settlement with Olga Abacha, to a person that they believe is racist, it is understandable for people to be angry about that, is it not?
RICK: Again, I really can’t comment on the settlement in the defamation case.
MS. JOBSON: It is the practice of the union and its legal team whereby if a case proceeds to be less than 50% likely to succeed at the next level or in court, it will not be pursued. It is true, isn’t it, that your chances of winning are, in part, determined by how and also of course whether you decide to fight.
RICK: Yes. That is tautologically true, yes.
MS. JOBSON: If you make the decision not to fight, you have a 100% chance of losing.
RICK: Again, that is tautologically true, yes.
MS. JOBSON: Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that are the hardest to understand, I find. Because sometimes it is a question of principle, isn’t it, to fight?
RICK: Well, sometimes it’s a pragmatic question as well, and sometimes you reflect the views of the members of the union. A union is a democratic organisation and endeavours, I hope, to act in accordance with the wishes of the members.
MS. JOBSON: Sometimes leaders have to be pushed to fight. Is that not true?
RICK: I think that’s a fairly well established principle in the history of the labour and trade union movement.
MS. JOBSON: And it takes courage to fight, does it not?
RICK: Yes. It can take courage for all sorts of things.
MS. JOBSON: You are aware that often people and organisations, and also governments, say one thing and do another, aren’t you?
RICK: If I were not, I would be the only one in the room.
MS. JOBSON: Do you think that words that are unacted on maintain the same meaning as words that are acted on, for instance in regard to proclamations about institutional racism?
RICK: I think, as a general rule, deeds are rather more important than words.
MS. JOBSON: And workers have a right to demand that leaders, and this would be true of yourself, of Otis Adebayo, even Betty Forrester, that they be what they seem, that their words and deeds correspond. Yes?
RICK: I think it’s perfectly proper and appropriate to have those expectations of your elected representatives in a trade union. But I think that if anyone holds those beliefs of a chief executive, then, frankly, that is very foolish because these people are the people who run the local state system. What on earth do you expect them to do? This is a racist, sexist society riven with class oppression. I think it is up to us. I think it is up to the workers in the community, to achieve change and progress. I don’t think that anyone should put their faith in management to do that for us.
MS. JOBSON: My question isn’t one of faith exactly. Should we hold, should the worker, should the community hold public leaders, including the CEO, the chief executive officer of Rashomon, to their words or should they be allowed to lie with impunity?
RICK: I think we should hold all people who have power to account. If you look at what Tony Benn says, he says that if he ever meets anyone with power, he says to them, ‘Where do you get the power, who are they, and how can I sack you.’ That is the question you should always ask anyone who has power.
MS. JOBSON: Thank you very much, Rick, and thank you, Panel.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. It is quarter-past. I was going to stop the questioning at quarter-past – you obviously pre-empted me – because the hot food is available. Before people rush up though, I think we ought to allow the Chair to go first! So we will adjourn the meeting for 15 minutes while people can get their food. Bring it back to your chairs and we will continue.
VIII Wait Your Turn
AN ELDERLY BLACK MAN FINDS HIMSELF IN A FAMILIAR PRECARIOUS SITUATION.
Edozie Felton enters in a wheelchair and moves around searching for something. His wheelchair gets stuck. He presses his pendant. The voice of Samantha Paddington answers from off-stage.
SAMANTHA: Rashomon Community Alarms Service, Samantha speaking. Mr. Felton, what can I do for you?
EDOZIE: What I want to say before I start is you can call me Edozie. I don’t want to bother you, but I wonder if you could help me?
SAMANTHA: Yes, Edozie, of course. That’s what we’re here for. I’m Samantha. What is the problem?
EDOZIE: All of a sudden, I don’t know how it happened, I can’t move anymore.
SAMANTHA: O dear, what do you mean?
EDOZIE: What I mean is, it’s the chair. It just doesn’t want to move any more. I really don’t want to hold you back from someone who needs help, like a fall or – well, any major incident. Then I would wait for my turn. So if and when you can send someone to help me out?
SAMANTHA: Yes, I have the keyholders up on the screen now. We will try contacting them for you. Are you alright? Not hurt yourself?
EDOZIE: No. I’m just stuck.
SAMANTHA: Edozie, please hold for a moment while I’ll try to get someone to go out to you.
EDOZIE: This is what I have been doing until now. Thank you so much, dear.
IX A Point Of Principle
A WHITE WORKER WONDERS WHY SHE FIRST ESCAPED DISCIPLINE AND THEN NOT – BUT WAS MADE REDUNDANT BEFORE ANY ACTION WAS TAKEN.
The full panel but Paul Bobbitt reconvenes. A Sikh man stands up.
PROF. COULTHARD: It is nearly thirty-five past and we have had a longer than planned break, partly because the food was so enticing. I think, or am I just speaking for myself, it was absolutely wonderful food and I will allow a full hour to hear more evidence. Before we start, just a couple of things that ought to be noted. The very first thing, Paul is attending a rather urgent call and has asked me to start without him. He will join us again shortly. Secondly, and I don’t know if the Sikh gentleman is present. You were leaving. Carl, can you give our Sikh gentleman a mike.
THE SONG ON WESTERN MEDICINE
Sung by the Sikh gentleman to Banghra music.
Somebody here was unhappy that, as black people
A white woman is representing us, but that is her thing.
This is not a personal attack and don’t misunderstand me.
What I wanted to say is that racism in Great Britain
And the United States, and in fact the entire white world,
Has been alive for thirty years and nothing has changed.
How many more inquiries will there be
Before racism is removed from society;
When Western doctors treat a calamity,
They address symptoms; so does this inquiry
While the roots of racism grow free.
Sitting here I am reminded of the Scarman Report
Into what was the cause of the Brixton riots.
This was years ago but what seems important to me
Is that racism is still alive and well in this country
This Inquiry has been going on for seven months,
As if somehow its length makes it more relevant.
How many more inquiries will there be
Before racism is removed from society;
When Western doctors treat a calamity,
They address symptoms; so does this inquiry
While the seeds of racism sprout free.
Somebody remarked to me that…
PROF. COULTHARD: No.
SIKH: What I am saying is this.
PROF. COULTHARD: Wait a minute. You are absolutely right and that is …
SIKH: All I am – I am not criticising.
PROF. COULTHARD: I am overruling now. I am overruling. Can I have silence. I don’t usually have to shout but I am overruling. Can you please turn off your mike. You have made some very important statements and they have been noted, but I think you ought to be told, quite clearly, that the struggle against racism has not been going on for 30 years; it has been going on for 500 and more years, and some of us might argue for thousands of years.
SIKH: I know but I have only been aware of 30 years of racism. I hope this isn’t just a long line of public inquiries which do nothing. That is what I am saying. This is the key issue. There is a long list of public inquiries. Will it actually change anything?
PROF. COULTHARD: It looks as if one will have to use the gavel. Silence, please! I think we have heard enough. We have heard enough and I am going to give the floor over to Samantha and please do not return to the last speaker. Is Ms. Paddington in the room?
Samantha Paddington takes the witness seat.
PROF. COULTHARD: Then I will ask Lady Westley to open, please.
SAMANTHA: I am not sure who is going to start. I am Sam Paddington.
LADY WESTLEY: Thanks, Sam. I will be very quick. I want you to tell me who carried out the first investigation on you?
SAMANTHA: My line manager, Emily Jackson, two days after the event – it might have been the very next day, I am not sure – asked me to account for what happened with the client and my response. I believe Olga then asked me to meet with her and Olga asked me to bring along a representative, which I did.
LADY WESTLEY: Who was that?
SAMANTHA: Do you know, I can’t remember.
LADY WESTLEY: Was that the meeting that you had with Olga and with Annabel Pasanjo?
SAMANTHA: Yes, yes. I think Rick came with me.
LADY WESTLEY: So the investigation was done by Olga and Annabel Pasanjo? SAMANTHA: Yes.
LADY WESTLEY: Following that, what happened?
SAMANTHA: It was just before the bank holiday. Olga called me into her room and said that she wanted to put my mind at rest; that she had investigated the situation and that she had come to the conclusion that I had done nothing wrong, but that her one reservation was that I could have been more proactive - I should have been quicker in my response to the client. However, she said that she had listened to the tapes and she had heard me speak to the client when I got there. She said that I had to be proud with the way I dealt with it. As far as I was concerned that was the end of the matter. I said ‘Olga, you’re going to put this in writing, aren’t you?’ because the meeting sort of came out of the blue. She didn’t ask me to bring anybody with me. It was just ‘Sam, I want to see you.’ And she said she would, but I never got anything in writing.
LADY WESTLEY: And what happened subsequent to that?
SAMANTHA: I thought that was the end of the matter and then I got a letter from Queenette Dalston saying that she needed to ask some more questions about the incident and that I could bring somebody along with me.
LADY WESTLEY: Did she ever explain to you why she was reopening the case?
LADY WESTLEY: No explanation whatsoever?
SAMANTHA: No. She just needed to ask some more questions.
LADY WESTLEY: Thanks.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed. Warren has a question, I understand.
MR. MITCHELL: When finally you took a redundancy package and the rest, was there any reference in that package that the outstanding disciplinary matters against you would be scrubbed, because I believe you signed a confidentiality agreement, didn’t you?
SAMANTHA: That is right. No, there is nothing to say that they were scrubbed, no. In fact, as far as I know…
MR. MITCHELL: They are still on the record?
MR. MITCHELL: Are you working now?
SAMANTHA: No. No, I am not working now, no.
MR. MITCHELL: Is that the reason, because …
SAMANTHA: That’s one of the reasons. There is lots of work out there, but I have lost confidence. I did have a part-time job at Covent Garden with fruit and figures and it didn’t work out, I am afraid.
MR. MITCHELL: Why was that?
SAMANTHA: It was a totally different job. I didn’t need references. I was filling in, but I just couldn’t cope so…
MR. MITCHELL: But you had spent a career caring for vulnerable people and the rest; that’s where your interest lies, isn’t it?
SAMANTHA: It is. It is, yes.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you very much.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much, Samantha, for agreeing to come. Thank you very much indeed.
SAMANTHA: But I hope you will also consider the colleagues who I stood by, otherwise it will all be in vain.
PROF. COULTHARD: Your point was not only noted by the stenographer, but I can tell you it was noted deeply by all Panel members because actually it was a point of principle, and it is points of principle which we hold with a great respect. Thank you.
Samantha Paddington leaves the witness seat to look after Edozie Felton still stuck in his wheelchair.
SAMANTHA: Edozie, hi, I’m sorry. I’m Samantha from Rashomon Community Alarms. I’m so sorry, you’ve got to wait for such a long time but --
EDOZIE: That’s alright. Something can crop up and you may not have had any knowledge of it when you spoke to me. After all, at the end of the day, you could have somebody who would have been on the floor for about, say, two, three, four or ten hours and you have instances like that, don’t you. So, at the end of the day, you had to look for somebody who needed help and you did that.
SAMANTHA: You need to go to the bathroom? I’m sorry, I couldn’t get anyone to go out to you.
EDOZIE: By the time you come here, it could have been dealt with. In fact, a lot of the keyholders do not like the idea to come out, we all know that. Many times there were confusions between them and some of the residents and... Well, it is part of their job, so do it, I say.
SAMANTHA: Let me take you to the bathroom.
EDOZIE: Unless you are the type that pokes your nose into people’s affairs you are never going to know. That’s why, now I have the opportunity to ask you what was happening... I was just - this stupid thing, you know.
Samantha Paddington leaves with Edozie Felton.
X Pick Me That Apple At The Top Of The Tree
A BLACK MANAGER EXPLORES THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASKING FOR AN APPLE AND BEING INSTRUCTED TO GET ONE.
Queenette Dalston takes the witness stand.
PROF. COULTHARD: Welcome, Queenette. I hope you do not mind me calling you Queenette?
QUEENETTE: No, I do not.
Paul Bobbit takes his seat on the panel.
PROF. COULTHARD: I will have to put my apologies in because I have to be in another part of London in half an hour. So I have asked our Deputy Chair, Paul Bobbitt, to take the Chair. Thank you very much for attending. I am sorry I have to leave now.
Prof. Mike Coulthard leaves.
MR. BOBBITT: Thanks very much indeed. We have conducted the Public Inquiry on the basis that we had identified four particular groups of people who had registered an interest. The four groups were: obviously, the users, being the first group; the workers, being the second group; the trade unions, being the third group; and the management, being the fourth group. And I think, there will be quite some interesting ways of looking at the same issue. I do not know if you have ever seen the piece of paper where you draw an ‘M’ on it and then you look at it from all sides and say,‘What do you see?’ You say,‘It is either an E, it is W or it is an M’. The Panel have said ‘We are here to search for the truth behind this’. But sometimes, if two different people see something and both of them are convinced that was how it was, you cannot get at one truth. Fine, that is how we will have to make the report at the end of the day. So those are my opening remarks in that sense. Are you comfortable with that?
QUEENETTE: Yes. Thank you.
LADY WESTLEY: Can I ask you a question? It seemed to me that the immediate people around you were three white women.
QUEENETTE: No, Olga is white, Emily is black and Barbara was white. Of the three managers who managed the RCAS service, Olga reported directly to me and Olga is white. Barbara and Emily reported to Olga. Emily is black and Barbara is white. My manager was Annabel Pasanjo. She is mixed race.
LADY WESTLEY: Moving on from that, have you ever felt or taken issue with anyone on the subject of race?
QUEENETTE: In terms of my own experience, my personal experience, yes, I have.
LADY WESTLEY: Taken a complaint?
QUEENETTE: I have taken issues up myself. I worked for another council where they did not want me to come in because I was a black manager and I had to go there and work in that atmosphere for 18 months. I know what it feels like.
LADY WESTLEY: How did you feel that Olga dealt with you?
QUEENETTE: I think Olga was very professional with me. How she was behind my back is another thing, but in front of me, if I said to Olga, ‘Climb out that window, climb that tree over there and pick me that apple at the top of the tree and bring it back to me by 5 o’clock tonight’, that apple will be with me by 5 o’clock tonight. She might not have climbed the tree herself and she may have moaned about it by habit. She has never given me any reasons to take issue with her, either personally or professionally.
LADY WESTLEY: There has been quite a bit of time given by the Panel to the Serena and Doreen situation. We were told that when managers came in in the morning they would look at what happened over night. They would read the notice board or listen to the telephone call recordings.
LADY WESTLEY: So did anybody, as far as you know, pick up that this woman was left for these many hours before there was a complaint?
QUEENETTE: Not that I am aware of. The first I heard about the complaint was when I was told by Olga that she had received a written complaint.
LADY WESTLEY: When are the recordings looked at?
QUEENETTE: The recordings are looked at periodically. We look at them for quality control, we look at them for training. If there is a complaint, we would definitely look at that specific one.
LADY WESTLEY: So you would not have looked at the print-out of the calls until you received the complaint?
QUEENETTE: That is right.
LADY WESTLEY: And that works?
MR. MITCHELL: Not from the users’ point of view.
QUEENETTE: We are not perfect.
LADY WESTLEY: The point was that managers did not have a routine way in which they picked up problems which happened over the weekend. Just seeing that is terrifying. My husband has to press one himself and I was really upset by that.
MR. BOBBITT: If we can move on to the next case, keeping in mind some of the things that have just been said. This is the investigation into Edozie Felton. Let me just ask a number of questions on this. Can I ask by whom this was brought to your attention?
QUEENETTE: By whom? The way it came about, as far as I remember, was that during the disciplinary or appeal of Doreen and Serena, Otis Adebayo, who was representing them, said something about ‘... and there has been another case. Something happened yesterday.’ Annabel Pasanjo told Olga to find out what it was that happened and that is how we became aware of Edozie Felton’s case.
MR. BOBBITT: Olga was then instructed to carry out the investigation.
QUEENETTE: That is right.
MR. BOBBITT: And report back to you and Annabel.
QUEENETTE: That is right. But without the prior knowledge of senior management, Olga delegated the investigation to Emily Jackson. Having read her report, both Annabel and myself concluded that the investigation was not carried out properly. Annabel Pasanjo then instructed Olga to carry out the investigation personally but Olga went on long-term sick leave. I had no choice but to carry out this investigation myself.
MR. BOBBITT: From the Panel’s point of view, what we are confused about here is the responsibility of management. It would appear that you did not accept Emily doing the investigation when it was Olga’s responsibility. As you said, in climbing the tree and getting the apple, she might not do it herself, but you would have got the apple. I suppose that same analogy could be placed on this. She was given the responsibility to do it. She gave it to Emily to do and she gave you back the results.
QUEENETTE: She was told to do it. She was not told to delegate it. She was told to do it. Barbara and Emily are on the same grade. Barbara had not even been interviewed because Emily did not feel able to interview Barbara. If I remember rightly the only criticism in that outcome was of Samantha’s actions.
MR. BOBBITT: That is right.
QUEENETTE: Having carried out the investigation myself, I found that Barbara, Samantha and Tracy all... I brought charges against all three of them. You cannot deal with a service user in the way that Barbara, Samantha and Tracy had dealt with a customer, and not have some sort of sanction.
MR. BOBBITT: So they were all disciplined.
QUEENETTE: They were not disciplined. Charges were brought against them, but it did not go to a disciplinary because the section then got disbanded.
LADY WESTLEY: I must clear this little bit up and I promise you that it is strictly not about you as a person; it is about management. I want to understand it. Was Olga’s action in delegating responsibility to Emily seen by you, as managers, as needing disciplinary action? Was that particular point, that she failed to do a job and gave it to someone else, a disciplinary matter?
QUEENETTE: I hear you, but it is not that simple. The answer is not a simple ‘yes or no?’ – we should have disciplined her for delegating. It is not that simple.
MR. BOBBITT: What we are trying to get at is the thinking.
QUEENETTE: If you ask someone to do something, there is an expectation that they will do it. If they deviate from that expectation and you try to discipline them for it, they will say, ‘You only asked me. You did not actually instruct me.’ In our business, we are very careful about instructions and this is why, when we had the meeting – me, Annabel and Olga – Annabel instructed her – not asked her or told her, but instructed her.
LADY WESTLEY: Using the protocols, was she given a verbal warning about that? That is all. Just say yes or no.
QUEENETTE: No. There was not time to.
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you very much indeed. I am going to have to close the meeting for today.
Queenette Dalston exits. Warren Mitchell joins her.
THE STENOGRAPHER: Excuse me, can I make a quick speech?
MR. BOBBITT: I am afraid you can make your quick speech next week.
THE STENOGRAPHER: Well, I mean, next week. I might have to write it down because it is all in my head.
MR. BOBBITT: Write it down. I am trying to be fair to everybody. It is late and we have to end. Thank you very much indeed.
XI Not Born Speaking English
AN ELDERLY WHITE GENTLEMAN REFLECTS ON IMMIGRATION AND LANGUAGE.
Harry Davis enters.
HARRY: Last July I fell and went into hospital; I had low blood pressure. I was promised a pendant to hang round my neck. Five months later the officer came to put the pendant up and, as he put it on the wall, it all fell to bits. So he had to take it away. It has still not arrived. When I asked recently, people started getting quite upset and rude. I have met many pensioners and all have the same type of issues with regard to the Community Alarm Service. To some extent it is subjective, but when people start raising the question of language and quality of use of language, many elderly people left school at 13-14, were educated during the war – or during a war, I don’t even say which war we are talking of now. So I think it is unreasonable, the terms in which people get treated.
THE SONG OF BEING ENGLISH BORN
Sung by Harry Davis to a March.
In our sheltered housing scheme we have two Greek ladies
Whose first language is Greek and have not spoken in English
And find it perhaps very difficult to pull the cord,
And people shouting down the phone
‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about’,
They did point out the fact that
They weren’t born speaking English.
I am sure none of us were born speaking English,
But they weren’t English born.
Unlike many people who have chemotherapy,
Their hair falls out; my teeth fall out.
So I find when I am speaking over the phone,
People don’t always find it easy to understand
Whilst it is not racist, one doesn’t need to be told
‘Why don’t you go and get new teeth?’
I did point out the fact that
I wasn’t born speaking English.
I am sure none of us were born speaking English,
But I wasn’t English born.
One lady had low blood pressure, and dizziness.
That isn’t the best possible time to speak,
So one isn’t necessarily complaining about the staff,
But there was continual repetition of saying,
‘Why can’t you speak proper English?’
She did point out the fact that
She wasn’t born speaking English.
I am sure none of us were born speaking English,
But she WAS English born.
Harry Davis leaves.
XII The White Blind Spot
A MIXED-RACED SHOP STEWARD EXPLORES WHAT IT MEANS FOR A SOCIETY TO BE MULTI-RACIAL AND WHY COMMUNITY AND WORKERS NEED TO UNITE.
The panel but Warren Mitchell reconvenes. Otis Adebayo takes the witness seat.
PROF. COULTHARD: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I would like this to be the last public session where we will in fact be hearing from witnesses. It has been specifically reserved and organised for the hearing of evidence from Mr. Otis Adebayo of the Campaign for Justice, and from Ms. Betty Forrester, the chief executive of Rashomon Council. So if it goes on, it goes on, but I am quite determined that we should hear the whole evidence this evening. Without any further words from me, I will hand the floor to Mr. Otis Adebayo.
Warren Mitchell enters and takes his seat on the panel.
OTIS: Good evening. My name is Otis Adebayo. My name, like everything else in my life, is inseparable from the history of race and racism in Britain. My role in this important Public Inquiry, like my unjust dismissal from employment with Rashomon Council for exposing racism, is merely one recent chapter in the struggle for justice of the black and Asian communities of Britain. Racist incidents of one kind or another are still regular and frequent occurrences in the lives of black and Asian people in Britain. Yet even white people who do see themselves as strong opponents of racism have difficulty seeing these incidents for what they are. We have seen in this inquiry a clear example of the ‘white blind spot’ at work. To me as a black union activist this is an entirely unsatisfactory situation. It means that every integrated workplace, and therefore every union, is actually divided by race on an ongoing basis by the ‘white blind spot’, by a combination of white ignorance and silence that is itself a form of racism, even if in a largely passive form.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you, Otis. It was a statement for justice and against injustice that is clothed, if you like, with the language of the real experience of black people. In the report the Panel will have to come to grips with the definitional aspects. I would like to know, from your perspective, Otis, how do you define ‘institutional racism’?
OTIS: The best way to describe ‘institutional racism’ is from the experiences we have gone through. I see institutional racism being when you have a policy in practice that when a black person raises racial discrimination, it is turned on its head and seen as an act of harassment, whereas a white racist manager is allowed to make complaints and they are acted upon. That is the way I can explain it from what I have experienced as a shop steward, but also as a black member of staff.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you. I found that quite refreshing because it is an experientially based definition. I will ask Paul to lead the substantive questioning.
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you. I want to turn to some of the criticisms that you have made in your statement of the union. Would you like to add any more to that?
OTIS: Sure. I fought every case you have a 50% chance of winning. I think they think you need to have an 80% chance. As a worker or as a black person, if you feel that you have got a cause, you must fight it. You might lose, but you try to win. The worst thing for any person is not to fight at all. Most of my cases I have lost in reality, but those people happen to walk out of there with something. I want to win.
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much, Paul. Warren.
MR. MITCHELL: We heard black workers give evidence of their disgruntlement with the union. One worker said in her statement, ‘We wanted to set up a black workers’ union but Otis would not approve of it’. Would you tell me why?
OTIS: Being in a union is about solidarity, unity and strength. I think setting up a black union is a sign of defeat. You isolate yourself and the whole workforce is divided. As a black worker, I should be able to join any union I like and expect to be treated with respect. Like everyone else, I want to be part of a collective and not isolated.
MR. MITCHELL: Let me go on now and refer to some of the comments we have heard regarding the demonstrations and activities that the Campaign for Justice organised. They have been criticised for causing riot in the streets, and many members of the management will not come before us because they feel intimidated. Do you feel that you have had any alternative but to go on the streets and demand an inquiry?
OTIS: The answer to that is no. Do you think this Inquiry would have happened if we sat and wrote a memo? – It has come about because of what we did, the demonstrations and the petitions, including the leaflets and the thousands of people who got involved.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you. The parties have an opportunity now to say what they wish, to question or whatever. I will ask the union first.
Rick Jeffreys stands up.
RICK: SOLIDAR is not going to cross-examine Otis because we stand shoulder to shoulder with Otis against Rashomon Council on his unfair dismissal.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you. I now ask Alison from the management side.
MS. McKANE: Chair, you did say that the statement very clearly set out the views that Otis had from his personal experiences. They clearly came from the heart and were sincerely meant. I do not propose to ask any further questions, however, that is not the same as saying that everything contained within that submission is agreed by the Council, nor indeed by the managers. They have different views and different experiences.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much. I thank Otis. I think he needs thanking from all of us. His name is woven throughout this whole Inquiry.
Otis Adebayo leaves the witness stand.
XIII Where Does the Buck Stop
THE WHITE CHIEF EXECUTIVE SPEAKS ON DELEGATED AUTHORITY AND THE ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY.
PROF. COULTHARD: Now, I would like to ask Betty, and I understand she has a representative, to come forward. Betty Forrester is the Chief Executive of the Borough.
Betty Forrester and Alison McKane take the witness stand.
I see there is a camera flashing at the top.
A SPEAKER: Is that OK?
PROF. COULTHARD: No. Unless, in fact, you have requested the permission of the person you taking a shot of, it isn’t OK. We have a ruling that there are no cameras and no videos, unless you are requesting that and it is approved.
A SPEAKER: It is just that it is such a distance away. Does anybody object now to my taking a picture?
BETTY: Yes, I object.
PROF. COULTHARD: There is an objection and at the moment it is the managers who are giving evidence, so I have to bow to the managers’ position. Thank you very much. Betty, the very first question has to do with people who have gone through tremendous pain and anguish as a result of their experiences, either directly working with RCAS or in a relationship which we would see as being essential to the working of RCAS. Much of that pain and much of that anxiety, if proven – and it is our job to prove it – indeed, let us say that we have proven that there is tremendous, overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence of individual grief caused by individual acts of racism or by a culture of racism. So what can you do now? What can you do to redress that situation?
BETTY: First of all, can I say that I have been struck by the strength of feeling from those which I have heard. I am also very conscious of the fact that there is a lot of pain all round. It seems to me that there are very strong feelings on both sides and mutual allegations of bullying and harassment. I have great sympathy with anybody in that position.
PROF. COULTHARD: I think we all do, but the force of my question was one-sided. My questions were about racism. Black workers and black managers have experience of this pain. I am concentrating on that side. I do not need an answer which balances off one with the other.
BETTY: I understand that I have a responsibility for everyone who works for the Council. Therefore, I do need to meet that balance, and I think it is only fair that I should do so. In terms of what I might do now if I was faced with a unit which was equally unhappy, which I have to say I have not been, my feeling is that it might be helpful to do some facilitation, some team building and some mediation processes. In terms of redress, there are two types. One is human, where I think it is important for people to apologise. I think that is a mark of respect in that situation, and that would be my personal instinct. In terms of any legal redress, then I think I actually need to ask Alison to answer that.
MS. McKANE: The terms of reference of the Inquiry clearly are to investigate how the unit responded to allegations of racism and racial discrimination within the unit. I think Betty has answered the questions as best she can. In terms of any individuals, I think that is quite difficult for her to answer here and now. If you want to rephrase the question --
PROF. COULTHARD: No, I do not want to rephrase the question. I understand that Betty was not here during that period and, obviously, cannot comment. However, what we do understand is that the Chief Executive Officer of an organisation takes responsibility for that organisation past and present. That is the role of a chief executive officer if there is an on-going set of issues. Before I go to the other groups I want to ask Paul if he has any questions?
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you, Chair. Ms. Forrester, we have been told on a number of occasions that there were two letters sent to you from RCAS staff which you did not reply to yourself and which you passed on to the appropriate member of staff to deal with. Can you tell us how you actually kept yourself informed about what was the outcome of those two letters?
BETTY: If I can set the context of that. The procedures which I was required to follow are essentially to delegate responsibility, so that all such complaints are to be looked at by the head of Human Resources and by the director of the department concerned. I did not personally follow-up or monitor what was then done. It is not normal for me to do so. If you take into account that in the course of a week I get a pile of written material which is something like 6 ft high, you will understand why it is not normal.
MR. BOBBITT: Thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: Lady Westley.
LADY WESTLEY: Ms. Forrester, I wonder if you think that the use of language plays an important part in your or any equal opportunities policy?
BETTY: I do. It is an area where you can easily make unconscious mistakes. Often they are communication problems – things which are intended in one way and taken in another because of different backgrounds and different languages – which actually cause a lot of the pain and a lot of the problems. I think we need to learn each other’s language.
LADY WESTLEY: Did you say ‘a lot of pain’?
BETTY: Yes, I would say ‘a lot of pain’. From my own experience, for example, of being called ‘a girl’ when you are approaching 40, that can be painful. There are all sorts of examples like that.
LADY WESTLEY: How would you react to an allegation that you used the term ‘coloured’ when referring to staff? You should know that that is something which the black community has rejected.
BETTY: I now know that. What happened was that at a staff conference, which involved about a thousand staff, I raised the issue of institutional racism. I said that I, clearly, did not have personal experience of that, and I would need to learn about it. In the course of that, I did use that word…
LADY WESTLEY: What word?
BETTY: I do not wish to repeat it because I now know it is offensive. I do not intend to use it again. Clearly, the audience reaction told me immediately that I had caused offence, and I immediately apologised and said that I have learnt an important lesson. The reaction from the audience, who could see me on a large screen – they could see my face close up – was that they clearly believed that I honestly was apologising and there was spontaneous applause from 99% of people in that hall. I felt very humbled by that. I think that is a very good illustration of how you do make mistakes when you are well-intentioned and try to raise the issue publicly. I think it is important that we take some risks of that type if we are actually to learn and move on from that.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much indeed, Lady Westley. Warren.
MR. MITCHELL: I do feel that users, vulnerable older people and children, have ultimately suffered from policies of the council over the years. I know you will tell me it is a political decision but why, when the Council faces certain fundamental problems, do they curtail services such as Day Centres and children’s play groups first?
BETTY: Those facilities need millions of pounds of repairs as a result of being neglected over a very lengthy period. The fact is that we are not allowed to spend money that we do not have. I am sorry that it is a political decision at the end of the day which areas they choose to cut. It is also, in many respects, a legal decision. There are a number of types of service which we are legally required to provide. There are others where it is desirable that we provide them but we are not legally bound to do so. Many of the areas which you have referred to are not legally required.
MR. MITCHELL: Thank you.
PROF. COULTHARD: The panel has finished its questioning. We have two groups who will be asking their own questions. Without any further ado, I am going to give the floor to the workers’ group to begin their questioning.
MS. JOBSON: Good evening. I am perhaps less familiar than the average person with the council system in England, but others might share a confusion coming out of your previous testimony. Who is overall in-charge of the management of Rashomon Council?
BETTY: The Council is run by the Councillors and they are elected to do so, to set the procedures and the policies. The officers’ task is to advise them in coming to those decisions and also to do our level best to ensure that they are implemented appropriately.
MS. JOBSON: In terms of the management, who is the top person in-charge?
BETTY: I cannot go beyond what I have just said. The leader of the Council is the Leader. I am the head of the paid service, which means in terms of the implementation role that is the function of the officers, I am the person who is over the whole of the service.
MS. JOBSON: So when they say ‘Chief Executive’, it has a meaning?
BETTY: Clearly it has a meaning.
MS. JOBSON: Is that meaning that you are overseeing the management of the running and functions of the service?
BETTY: It means that there is a system of delegation of procedures, and it is part of my role to make sure that those are appropriate and abided by. It does not mean that I am responsible directly for everything that is done, because there is a clear set of delegations which are agreed by Councillors once a year at the annual meeting of the Council.
MS. JOBSON: But if I were to ask the question where does the point of accountability begin, where does the buck stop in the management, who is the person who the buck stops at?
BETTY: That depends on the particular issue and the scheme of delegation. The delegation sets accountabilities and responsibilities at different levels for different types of decision.
MS. JOBSON: With the title of ‘Chief Executive’, do you see yourself as being ultimately responsible for the question of whether or not equal opportunity is functioning in the borough?
BETTY: Marnie, you have asked this question six times now. You are still going to get the same answer. There is a system of delegated responsibility, and it is very important that individuals are accountable for their particular responsibilities. I regard myself as having a general leadership role, one which I have endeavoured to fulfil in the various ways which I have set out in the evidence which has already been given. You can go on asking this question, but you are going to get the same answer.
PROF. COULTHARD: I think the point has been made and I had better make a ruling. I have allowed it to be asked six times simply because my understanding of the line of questioning was actually to determine the line of accountability. In other words, who is actually responsible? Who is accountable under the system of delegated authority? – which is the reply which has been given. That is fine, and we will accept that. Of course, that does point to – I think this is the inference of the question – a massive gap in the notion of delegated authority. If I ran my company like that, I would soon be bankrupt. There is a problem in terms of delegated authority and the ultimate responsibility.
MS. JOBSON: Who in management has the delegated responsibility of being ultimately in-charge of equal employment opportunities?
BETTY: Marnie, there is not a single person.
MS. JOBSON: Who are the people? I want some names.
BETTY: Again, it depends on the level at which you are speaking. Within a particular department, the overall responsibility for the management of that department and a whole list of specifically specified issues is delegated to the director of the particular department, but there are further delegations below that down to assistant director level and down to more junior management levels.
MS. JOBSON: Is there any area of equal employment opportunity that you are responsible for?
BETTY: As I said earlier, I have a leadership role, which is to try and help set the climate towards it. It is to try and ensure that the council gets the advice that is required. It is to try and ensure that appropriate systems are in place in order to pick up appropriate support systems. I cannot do all of that in detail. A lot of that needs to be designed and implemented by Human Resources, by the training unit and so forth.
MS. JOBSON: On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, how committed would you say you are to rooting out racism?
BETTY: Which is the highest?
MS. JOBSON: 10 would be the highest.
BETTY: I would put myself very high in that scale, I would be at the 9 or 10 level. I would add that it needs to be put in the wider context of equal opportunities and other diversity issues. Again, that is based partly on values and partly on practical experience.
MS. JOBSON: Ms. Forrester, if you were one woman in an area where it was all men, did you suffer feelings of sexism and sexual discrimination, or was there sexism and sexual discrimination?
BETTY: I think that there is reality in most of the equal opportunity issues. It is equally worrying to me that women are not represented proportionately at the top of most organisations in this country, as with people from ethnic minorities. Again, my experience is that black women, particularly, have particular difficulties.
PROF. COULTHARD: The question was addressed to you. The point you have made is quite true, but it was addressed to you, as to whether you have experienced any discrimination?
MS. JOBSON: Is there anything which you can say which you experienced, which you can say you believe was objectively and legitimately sexist?
BETTY: In a day-to-day sense, I experience, as most women experience, examples of that type. They are often too numerous to mention, frankly. Like most women, I have coping mechanisms and ways of trying to reduce the stress which that causes.
MS. JOBSON: But there are some things which are intolerable.
BETTY: There would be.
MS. JOBSON: And at that point you would try to get redress?
BETTY: I would try to cope with the situation. I don’t naturally reach for the rule book. I do, honestly, find that it is normally best to actually speak to the individuals and to try and get a personal mediation, because very often it is the case that people are doing things out of ignorance.
MS. JOBSON: But what if you had tried for years, and you were facing sexism, and it was not just your feelings about it but you were pretty certain that these were sexist comments, and you wanted it stopped and you got no action for years, would you then reach for the rule book?
BETTY: Yes. I would make a formal complaint. Very possibly, I would have done it before. Now you are talking to me as an individual.
MS. JOBSON: I am. So if your feelings of sexism can be, objectively, sexist mistreatment, are the feelings of black workers who experienced racism and felt that they had experienced racism in your world able to be objectively treated as racism?
BETTY: Of course they can and of course they should be. That is part of the reason for continuing to pursue this case and this Inquiry, because we do, genuinely, want to know what happened to try and improve on that situation. I think we are on the same side here.
MS. JOBSON: So if a group of workers came to you, both black and white, and said to you, in a plea: ‘Our complaint is that Olga Abacha and the management team have, over the last years, subjected officers in RCAS to differential treatment, racial discrimination and victimisation, and this has led to a climate in our section of intimidation, fear and institutional racism, and we have raised this matter over the past few years with the manager of the housing services subdivision, the assistant director of special housing services and the housing director, and they have failed in their responsibilities to take appropriate action and are therefore responsible for compounding the treatment we have suffered and still suffer’; doesn’t that say to you that perhaps you should evaluate the handling of the very proud equal opportunities policy and that it was not, perhaps, up to snuff?
BETTY: I took that very seriously and I made sure that it was passed on in the appropriate way to people who would look into it. I have described the process. I very promptly put that down in the proper way to the proper people who should look at it. The process was that if there was anything in it that needed to be pursued I would be notified.
MS. JOBSON: So from the silence that ensued, you deduced that the complaints were false?
BETTY: I had every reason to believe, because that is the basic system, that the complaint did not need to be taken further.
MS. JOBSON: Ms. Forrester, the complaint was never investigated. It was never investigated because redundancy packages came up. It was initially only offered to the people who signed the race discrimination complaint. They were told that they could accept redundancy on enhanced terms, but only if they dropped the complaint which they wrote to you of race discrimination. One of the workers did not even work in RCAS at the time, and she was offered it because she had signed the race discrimination complaint. Rather than investigate it, your Human Resources department wanted to bury it under the carpet, pretend it was not there and make it go away.
BETTY: You have not proved that that is the case.
MS. JOBSON: That is unbelievable! Unbelievable!! Does it take a panel to tell you that a situation is racist or can you judge that for yourself?
BETTY: I have to say that a lot of the testimony which has been put in front of me has not been made public previously. That is one of the clear benefits of the Inquiry. That is one of the reasons why the Council decided to set the Inquiry up, and why I support the Inquiry. Once I have had a chance to read all the testimony, then clearly I could come to some personal conclusions on it.
MS. JOBSON: I come to my last question, which incidentally I take as in line with the fact that there is great disappointment with the highest paid chief executive.
BETTY: That is not actually a fact.
MS. JOBSON: So it is a spurious rumour?
PROF. COULTHARD: Last question…
BETTY: If I may answer the question.
PROF. COULTHARD: There was a question before that.
MS. JOBSON: It was not a question.
PROF. COULTHARD: Oh, it was a statement?
BETTY: I do not think that a statement should go unchallenged.
MS. JOBSON: Betty, you reply to the statement, please.
BETTY: You are making a lot of generalised statements for which, frankly, you do not have a factual base. I do have a factual base in that I meet my staff every day and we have all types and sorts of feedback. That feedback does not agree with what you have just said. Therefore, I think you are factually wrong.
PROF. COULTHARD: We now come to the last question, please.
MS. JOBSON: Do you not think, given the whole sordid scandal that went on under your watch, with all the ways in which you have been discredited – I refer to the ‘leadership from the top’ idea, your talk about ‘equalities and diversities’ – taken together with the fact that black people are facing incredible discrimination and racism – that for the good of the borough you should resign?
BETTY: I think I picked up a situation – 90% of which happened before I came – where there had been serious lapses in the overall effort that was put in, where I have made a material difference in actually putting effort towards it, where that effort is beginning to pay off, and where what is actually needed is continuity over the next three years in order actually to see that to fruition. So no, I do not intend to resign.
PROF. COULTHARD: Okay. Thank you, Betty. It has been an exhilarating hearing and a long hearing, that demanded a lot of personal courage of the Chief Executive. She has sat here answering questions from the workers which were not easy. We do have now a few questions from the union. Yes, Rick.
RICK: You have said that it takes three to five years for things to change. What I want to know is how, when we get there, will we be measuring and monitoring that success? If you are right and five years from now this is a much better organisation and institutional racism has been successfully challenged, how will we all know? What will be different?
BETTY: I think there will be some very concrete things like, for example, a better representation of ethnic minorities through the labour force, including at the more senior grades. That should be very visible. I would expect to see a significant reduction in the number of complaints and grievance cases. I would expect to see a much improved staff morale with better retention, less turnover of staff and less sick leave of staff and so on. I would expect also to have a much freer and more open discussion around a lot of these issues with real opportunities to listen, and I would expect that all to be recognisable to the outside world. There was a stage when Rashomon was very much seen at the leading edge in boroughs, and I think what other boroughs think of you is quite important as another means of seeing where you are.
RICK: So we will see you back here in a couple of years.
PROF. COULTHARD: Before we close, I must say that this session has gone on a long time. I say again that all of that time has been spent with Betty Forrester, the Chief Executive Officer, in the hot seat. I thank you, Betty.
Betty Forrester, Alison McKane and Rick Jeffreys leave. So does Marnie Jobson.
XIV To The Memories Of Our Experiences
THE PANEL CONSIDERS THE EVIDENCE FROM DIFFERENT ANGLES WHILE THE STENOGRAPHER FEELS THEY MIGHT HAVE JUST MISSED THE ESSENTIAL FIGURE.
The panel members contemplate what they have heard while preparing to leave. The Stenographer also packs his things.
PROF. COULTHARD: Thank you very much for coming. I have to say, as the Chair and on behalf of the Panel, it seems a long time and we have heard some extremely interesting evidence and at times some very contradictory and conflicting evidence. Of course, it is our job to sort out what we can from that. – Any thoughts, Paul?
MR. BOBBITT: In terms of authority, we saw a complete breakdown on several levels. First of all, on the level of management within the unit itself. Secondly, in that the senior managers tended to turn a blind eye to what was going on. There was a kind of withdrawal of authority from the unit. As well as an undermining, if you like. That undermining was done as a result of the fact that the manager of the unit was seen by some to hold racial and racist views which needed to be challenged.
THE STENOGRAPHER: (out of the panel’s earshot) Sometimes you can look at an ‘M’ And from one aspect it looks like an ‘M’, But from another aspect it looks like an ‘E’. And yet from another one it looks a ‘W’. Listening to some of these things I think you are looking at a lot of ‘M’s’ here.
LADY WESTLEY: There was, indeed, a workers’ culture of resistance and rebellion. This was anchored into an experience of being black, by and large, within a hostile environment. It was an experience of being totally marginalised; not just by the management of RCAS, but by the management of Rashomon itself who took very little notice of the complaints that were being made. The racial culture was a culture that also extended to the unions. The unions, we found, tended also to turn a blind eye. This led to a position where we conclude that the shop steward had no choice but, in fact, to organise and help bring out, if you like, the kind of inequalities that actually existed within the unit.
THE STENOGRAPHER: (out of the panel’s earshot) Sometimes you can look at a ‘W’. And from one aspect it looks like a ‘W’. But from another aspect it looks like an ‘M’. And yet from another one it looks an ‘E’. Listening to some of these things I think you are looking at a lot of ‘W’s’ here.
MR. MITCHELL: Whether they are negatives or positives, the whole situation became, as we call it, cyclonic, and we all know what happens with cyclones. It was very, very destructive and indeed led to the inferior delivery of services. In fact, the people who suffered were the users. Irrespective of what was going on within the unit, at the end of the day, it was the elderly, it was the vulnerable, it was the disabled, it was the people who used the Community Alarms Service who suffered.
THE STENOGRAPHER: (out of the panel’s earshot) Sometimes you can look at an ‘E’. And from one aspect it looks like an ‘E’. But from another aspect it looks like a ‘W’. And yet from another one it looks an ‘M’. Listening to some of these things I think you are looking at a lot of ‘E’s’ here.
PROF. COULTHARD: There are many causes that led, ultimately, to this tragic tale that we call the RCAS story. Racism helped shape, if you like, the dynamic. It provided the ideological fuel for the resistance. It provided a way into consciousness amongst workers. It provided a way into understanding the power structures that existed within RCAS as well as within the local authority. But racism per se was not the only cause; it was one of the several other causes that we have outlined: a breakdown in authority, managerial cultures, individual attitudes, and so on. You have to look at it in terms of this whole context. Cyclonic it was; a cyclone raged through that unit.
THE SONG OF THE MISSING 3
Sung or more likely rapped by the Stenographer to a hiphop beat.
Sometimes you can look at ‘E-M-W’
And from one aspect it looks like a ‘mew’,
From another aspect it looks like a ‘wem’ [whim!]
Listening to the elderly, managers and workers,
Looking at all these ‘Es’ and ‘Ms’ and ‘Ws’,
You miss the ‘3’, that stares you right in the face.
While your aspects are letters and ‘3’ is a figure
Chalk and cheese might not be comparable
But we will have to look at a different aspect
To account for the figures that stop us being free.
The whole point of racism is economic;
It is a tool to keep us down, selling us out,
You have got to come face-to-face with the fact
That greedy little people are raping our area.
I shall give you fair warning, either you stop them,
Or you are going to have your revolution.
While your aspects are letters and ‘3’ is a figure
Chalk and cheese might not be comparable
But we might have to fight from a different angle
To get to the figures that stop us being free.
Minorities and vulnerable people are pushed,
Our services are trodden into the ground
We have to say to central government
Put money back into our boroughs,
Help us to build that kind of community
Which creeping privatisation has taken away.
While your aspects are letters and ‘3’ is a figure
Chalk and cheese might not be comparable
But we will have to act on a different number
To get the figures that will truly set us free.
During the Stenographer’s song, the panel members exit, one after the other, Prof Coulthard being last. Lights off. Darkness.
Then flashlights like press photography, and a spotlight as from a tv camera onto the Chair.
PROF. COULTHARD: One thing that this Inquiry has taught me, as the Chair, and all Panel members – and, I think, the four parties involved – is that it is possible. It is possible to do things consultatively. It is possible to do things democratically, in the real sense of that word. It is possible to do things together when, in fact, there is a common interest, and that common interest being to provide the best services we can possibly provide to the multicultural communities that live within our Borough, the Borough of Rashomon.
I do not want to say any more other than a thank you at this stage, a thank you to memory. This might sound a bit professorial to some, but it is to the memory of Stephen Lawrence, it is to the memories of people, white and black, who have struggled against institutional racism and have suffered, it is to the memory of all those people in this room, who are wedded to anti-racism, non-classism and wedded to forms of justice and equality. So it is a thank you to that that is within us, that we all know about, and that has informed us and will continue to inform us, in our struggle to rid ourselves of the racism and the inequalities that exist.