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Oct 03, 2009 at 12:11am IST

UK Sikh policeman gets £10K over turban issue

London: A Sikh policeman ordered to remove his turban to do riot training was on Thursday awarded £10,000 compensation by an employment tribunal.

Policeman Gurmeal Singh claimed religious and racial discrimination after being told he must take off his turban to don a helmet to do the course.

The officer, who joined Greater Manchester Police in 2004, is a practising Sikh born into a Sikh family and it is against his religion to remove his turban in public or modify it.

HURT: Gurmeal Singh, 31-year-old father-of-two, felt humiliated after remarks about his religious headgear.

On Thursday, after a three-week hearing in Manchester, he was awarded £3,500 for indirect discrimination and £6,500 for harassment after suffering psychological damage, injury to feelings and personal injury, the tribunal ruled.

In a meeting with one sergeant to discuss the riot training he was asked, "Can you not take that thing off...this is what you signed up for".

The 31-year-old father-of-two was also asked about modifying his religious headwear and told the tribunal he feared he would be made to look like a comic character from the TV sit com Only Fools and Horses, where in one episode Del Boy Trotter tries to sell 200 "crash turbans" for fashion-conscious motorbike-riding Sikhs in Peckham - the motorcycle helmets had cloth wrapped around them.

Singh said he suffered panic attacks, stress and palpitations and had to go off sick from work over the issue during a long-running dispute with his employers.

The tribunal rejected 13 of his 15 allegations.

But the panel found he suffered a single case of indirect racial and religious discrimination, after he was included on a group email on February 8 2008, telling officers riot training was mandatory and he would therefore have to remove his turban.

Singh had already told superiors he was unhappy about the situation because of his religion.

Two months later he had the "unpleasant" meeting with his sergeant and went off sick the next day. The tribunal heard the two officers were on good terms and this was a "one-off disagreement" but the panel ruled the meeting amounted to harassment.

Singh is still employed by Greater Manchester Police, on "recuperative duties".

He was also awarded payment for loss of earnings of £1,914.15 including interest on the award and the total amount he will receive is £12,636.54.

Outside the hearing he said, "I'm looking to return to work and see how GMP accommodate me. The sort of case I brought forward was long-term issues which I'm hoping will be resolved and I can only hope GMP can accommodate me."

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The officer will be donating 10 per cent of the award to charitable causes.

It became clear during the hearing that there was confusion within the force, which has three Sikh officers, out of nearly 13,000 staff, about the policy for turbans.

The officer had reluctantly removed his turban for one riot course in 2006.

But when the matter of further training came up in 2008 he told superiors he was unhappy about removing it.

One officer said to him he had been in the Army with a Sikh man and he had "no problem" removing his turban in private to put a helmet on.

Singh was told at various points he would not have to do the training, then by others that it had become mandatory.

Part of the successful claim was because Greater Manchester Police conceded there was a "lack of clarity" over what to do with Sikh officers wearing turbans.

Awarding the compensation to Singh, Judge Murray Creed, chairman of the tribunal panel added, "He is now back at work and he is undergoing a period of rehabilitation as far as the police service is concerned.

"This is not a case where the respondent can be said to have acted in a high handed manner.

"The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) should amend its police uniform and equipment policy to take into account the racial and religious requirement of Sikh officers."

Jag Brar, the solicitor to Gurmeal Singh, said, "The case was particularly disturbing because it related to allegations of discrimination and victimisation of a Sikh officer's right to wear his turban as part of his identity as a Sikh during the course of his employment.

"This was a blatant disregard for officers from the Sikh religion who wear a turban as part of their identity.

"It is shocking to learn that the GMP have failed to acknowledge the most basic and fundamental aspects of the Sikh religion.

"It is a landmark decision in favour of all turban-wearing Sikhs within national police services."

Mr Brar added he would now approach the Police Federation to help pay for Mr Singh's legal bill for the tribunal.

Julia Rogers, Assistant Chief Officer at Greater Manchester Police, said, "We felt we acted in the officer's best interests, but accept the findings from this tribunal and have already updated the policies this relates to.

"We welcome the introduction of the newly formed British Police Sikh Association and will be looking to work closely with them via Acpo, in an effort to resolve any ongoing issues."

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