Local community leaders and politicians have reacted with disgust and anger at the news that the council’s ethics committee for the next year is to be chaired by David Osland, the former senior police officer who once advised colleagues in the Met who worked on the Stephen Lawrence murder case to consider suing the Lawrence family.
One community leader in the borough spoke about being “uncomfortable about this appointment”.
“It further demonstrates the sheer arrogance and poor judgement for public feelings of the council leader Mike Fisher who appointed Councillor Osland to this post,” they said.
Another prominent figure in the community asked, “How can anyone have any faith in a process if they bring a complaint to the council if the man in charge of a so-called ‘ethics committee’ has been linked to institutional racism in the police force?”
David Osland retired from the police in 1994, the same year that he was first elected to Croydon Town Hall as a councillor for Coulsdon West. Since then, he has consistently polled more votes than all other candidates for election in that ward, including Gavin Barwell when Croydon Central’s current MP was merely a tyro local councillor.
Before Osland retired from the force, he had risen to the third highest rank in the Met, and in April 1993 Osland was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for south-east London, including Eltham, when one of the most notorious hate crimes in recent history happened, the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence.
As the BBC reported 15 years ago, Osland’s conduct around the Lawrence case came in for widespread condemnation for his attitudes.
Osland said publicly that his patience was “wearing thin” with Doreen and Neville Lawrence after their son was killed.
It was in a 1997 interview with his local newspaper, the Croydon Advertiser, that Osland caused widespread offence when he suggested that the officers involved in the investigation should sue the teenager’s bereaved parents over public criticisms they had made of the police effort to find the killers. Osland has never apologised for the remarks made in that interview.
When the Police Complaints Authority criticised the murder inquiry, Osland said, “The Metropolitan Police has let them down, but there comes a time when enough is enough.
“I’ve made it quite clear on a number of occasions that in 3 Area we let down the Lawrence family and I am prepared to apologise for that,” Osland said over the police’s failure to catch the killers, though perhaps pointedly not apologising for the manner in which the investigation dealt with the victim’s family and its legal team.
Years later, when the official McPherson Inquiry into the police’s conduct in the Stephen Lawrence case was published, Osland came in for special criticism: “Mr Osland should not be surprised that some who heard his evidence might regard this as another example of institutional racism at work”, the report said.
It was not until January last year that two men were finally convicted for the crime.
Undeterred by Osland’s history in such a sensitive area of public affairs, last week Mike Fisher, the £53,000 per year part-time leader of the Conservatives who control Croydon Council, decided to confirm Osland as the chair of the borough’s ethics committee for the coming year.
According to Croydon Council, the ethics committee “is responsible for promoting and developing standards of conduct and ethical governance across the council”.
The council’s own figures suggest that 40 per cent of the borough’s population is BME, black or minority ethnic.
Patricia Hay-Justice, a councillor for Addiscombe ward, is one of those who questions whether Osland is an appropriate person for such an important role.
“I understand the purpose of an ethics committee is to protect the dignity, rights, safety and well-being of individuals,” she said.
“I, and many people, have not forgotten Councillor Osland’s connection with Stephen Lawrence – how he coldly dismissed the family’s desperate plea for their rights, dignity and well-being to be respected after the brutal stabbing of their loved one. He has never apologised for his outrageous remarks and poor acumen in this case.
“I feel deeply uncomfortable about this appointment. It further demonstrates the sheer arrogance and poor judgement for public feelings of the council leader Mike Fisher who appointed Councillor Osland to this post,” Hay-Justice said.
Another community figure, who asked not to be identified, described the appointment as “an insult to everyone in Croydon”.
Osland, who at one time collected more than £35,000 a year in allowances from the council in addition to his generous police pension, will receive an additional allowance for chairing the ethics committee. Last year, the council paid him £22,746 for his part-time duties as a councillor.
“There’s only two ways you can look at an appointment like this,” our source said. “Either it has been made in blind ignorance of Osland’s role in the Lawrence case. Or it has been done in the full knowledge of that role with the intention to insult the people of Croydon.
“Either way, whoever made the appointment should be thoroughly ashamed. Should they even still be in their job?
“How can anyone have any faith in a process if they bring a complaint to the council if the man in charge of a so-called ‘ethics committee’ has been linked to institutional racism in the police force?”
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