David Wilkes, Daily Mail (London), June 16, 2008
A police force spent £100,000 on a failed attempt to find protective headgear that fits over Sikh officers’ turbans.
West Midlands Police started its search after one Sikh constable decided he wanted to join the counter-terrorist Operational Support Unit.
The man, thought to be in his mid-20s, was refused a place because he was unable to fit the necessary helmet and respirator over his turban and beard, both of which are requirements for strict adherents to his faith.
According to a police source, the unnamed constable claimed he was being discriminated against and was then assigned the task—while on full pay—of sourcing new equipment that would fit.
A helmet and respirator would be needed for certain counter terrorist operations to guard against possible chemical and biological weapons.
The officer contacted manufacturers across the world to see if they could adapt their gear but after 18 months his search ended in vain and he was restored to regular duties.
A few weeks later he is said to have gone on long-term sick leave suffering from stress.
The source, who estimated the total cost of the failed project, including the officer’s wages, at £100,000, said: ‘This was a shocking waste of taxpayers’ cash.’
West Midlands Police today defended the decision to spend the reported £100,000, calling the figure a “gross exaggeration”.
A spokeswoman said: “West Midlands Police is a diverse organisation, which both serves and recruits from a diverse community.
“No Sikh officer has applied and been turned down from joining the Operational Support Unit because of faith issues.
“However, it has been identified that for some members of the Sikh faith, the removal of the turban to wear a helmet and the wearing of a respirator could be problematic.
“As an employer committed to equality and diversity, we are working to try and find a solution to what is a national issue. This worthwhile work continues.”
Turbans consist of around 15ft of cloth wound around the head.
Sikh men wear them to cover their hair, which they leave uncut in accordance with their religion. They often wear their long beards rolled up.
As well as being a sign of spirituality, the turban is also a symbol of Sikh identity and of courage.
Dr Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said: ‘It is mandatory for adult Sikh men to wear the turban, but there is a dilemma in some areas such as this where the police say wearing the helmet and respirator is absolutely necessary. The officer in question has approached me for advice.
‘He wants to be a good Sikh role model and is very sincere in feeling that he should be allowed to wear the turban at all times.’
Sikh soldiers serving in the British Army refused to wear helmets during the First and Second World Wars.
They fought with their turbans on, several receiving the Victoria Cross for acts of gallantry.
Former West Midlands Police Chief Superintendent John Mellor said the West Midlands scheme was a case of ‘health and safety gone mad’.
He said: ‘If this officer wishes to be in the OSU at his own risk, he should be able to carry out his training and his duties without the protective equipment.
‘If they are going to insist on these precautions, then spending taxpayers’ money looking for a way to get around their own rules is totally ridiculous.’
A force spokesman said: ‘No Sikh officer has applied and been “turned down” from joining the Operational Support Unit because of faith issues.
‘However, it has been identified that for some members of the Sikh faith, the removal of the turban to wear a helmet and the wearing of a respirator could be problematic.
‘As an employer committed to equality and diversity, we are working to try and find a solution to what is a national issue.’