I cannot shake your hand, sir. I'm a Muslim and you're a man
A Muslim woman police officer has sparked a new debate by refusing to shake hands with Britain's most senior police chief for religious reasons. The incident happened at a passing-out parade where Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair was inspecting a line-up of 200 recruits.
In addition to refusing a traditional congratulatory handshake from Sir Ian, the WPC - who wore a traditional Muslim hijab headscarf - also declined to be photographed with him as she did not want the picture used for 'propaganda purposes'. The woman had earlier insisted that it was contrary to her religious teaching for her to touch a man.
Now The Mail on Sunday has learned that her gesture has sparked top-level discussions at Scotland Yard. Some officers argue that her attitude towards men might impede her ability to detain offenders.
However, it is clear that she is happy to come into contact with men, just not shake their hand or kiss them. An inquiry has now been launched and the unidentified WPC - described as 'a non-Asian Muslim' - could face the sack if it is considered that her strict religious beliefs prevent her performing as an effective police officer.
However, senior commanders are worried that dismissing her would deepen the atmosphere of mistrust between the police and the Muslim community.
The incident happened at Imber Court, Scotland Yard's sports and conference centre at Thames Ditton in South West London, when the 200 recruits attended a passing-out parade having completed their 18 weeks' basic training.
A senior police source said: "Before Sir Ian arrived she told her training supervisor that she was not going to shake his hand because it was against her religion. "She also said she did not want her picture taken with the commissioner because they would only use it for propaganda. "Sir Ian was informed on his arrival of the officer's request.
This has never happened before and he was bloody furious. But he agreed to go along with it so as not to cause a scene. "He went out and shook the hand of every single new recruit apart from her. It was very obvious and very embarrassing.
"There was a great deal of discussion about it afterwards. People were asking how the hell is she going to make an arrest if she refuses to touch men." Having completed her 18 weeks' initial training, the WPC has now been assigned to a West London police station as a beat bobby. Like all newly qualified officers, she will remain on probation for two years to satisfy her superiors that she is suitable for the job.
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said of the Imber Court incident on December 21 that normally the police would have refused a request not to shake Sir Ian's hand. "It was only granted by members of training staff out of a desire to minimise any disruption to other people's enjoyment and to ensure the smooth running of what is one of the most important events in an officer's career,' she said. "The commissioner did question the validity of this request and the matter is being looked at by the MPS."
The spokeswoman added that the officer has completed all basic training, including the safety course 'which requires recruits to come into physical contact with each other regardless of gender'.
Asked about the officer's ability to make an arrest, she said: "There is a standard between personal and professional life. A passing-out parade is a personal event. You are not fulfilling a professional duty there."
Scotland Yard has allowed Muslim WPCs to wear an adaptation of the hijab since 2001. But, despite a vigorous recruitment campaign, there are still only around 300 Muslims among the Met's 35,000 officers and fewer than 20 are women.
The incident is the latest in a series of 'political correctness' and race-related rows under Sir Ian's command at the Met.
Last October, at the height of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, PC Alexander Basha, 24, was moved from Diplomatic Protection Group duties at the Israeli Embassy because he feared his Lebanese relatives could be targeted if he was seen on TV.
In June 2005 Sir Ian was judged to have 'hung out to dry' three white detectives - who were accused of rudely mispronouncing "Shi'ites' - to prove his anti-racist credentials.
An employment tribunal said that while he was deputy commissioner in charge of discipline and diversity he had prejudiced disciplinary proceedings against the men because he wanted to make an example of them.