The row over Suella Braverman’s “rebuke” to Essex police for seizing racist golly dolls from a pub intensified yesterday after sources indicated the Home Office had apologised to the force over the episode.
Last weekend, rightwing newspapers were briefed that Braverman had reprimanded the force for removing the golly dolls and that the home secretary’s displeasure had been made “very plain to Essex police”. In truth, no attempt was made by Braverman to contact Essex police over their decision to remove several offensive dolls displayed in the White Hart Inn in Grays.
Senior officials from the Home Office’s communications unit have, according to sources, now contacted their Essex counterparts to apologise for the inaccurate and “frustrating” claims that the home secretary intervened.
“The Home Office has apologised to us,” said a source from Essex police. “We’ve had an acknowledgement from the Home Office that there hasn’t in fact been any reprimand. It’s been very frustrating, but we’re satisfied that our officers handled it [the investigation] correctly.”
The Home Office said the claims were “untrue”.
It is not the first time that Braverman has appeared to publicly scold a police force over alleged woke behaviour without first attempting to hear their account, prompting further concern among police chiefs over her suitability for the role of home secretary.
The Observer can reveal that the home secretary, or her office, recently rebuked both Sussex police and Leicestershire police over “culture war” issues without contacting them first.
Disquiet among senior police figures over Braverman’s competence as home secretary is growing alongside claims she is more preoccupied in being seen as “anti-woke” than tackling the biggest issues in policing like rooting out rogue police. On Friday, two serving Metropolitan police officers were dismissed over offensive messages they sent to colleagues in a WhatsApp group, including some about Katie Price’s disabled son, Harvey.
It is understood that a number of senior figures from several forces have raised objections to Braverman’s public criticism when officers were merely investigating crimes.
Another senior policing figure attacked Braverman for adopting what he described as a “schizophrenic” approach to law enforcement. “One moment we hear things in relation to offences against women or LGBTQ+ people being called appalling, then the next minute police are being called too woke when acting on issues to build trust in these communities,” the figure said. “It’s nonsense that somehow there is a choice between dealing with these so-called cultural issues and effective crime fighting, which requires trust and confidence.”
The comments arrive against a backdrop of rising hostility towards the “racist rhetoric” of Braverman. On Wednesday, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi branded Braverman “unfit” to be home secretary over her repeated racist slurs and desire to agitate culture wars.
The peer, the UK’s first South Asian cabinet minister, criticised the home secretary for “emboldening racists” when announcing policies on small boat crossings and grooming gangs. Warsi’s criticisms were backed up by a number of senior Conservatives who also condemned Braverman’s “racist rhetoric”, accusing her of becoming an electoral liability as she pursues her own leadership ambitions.
One former senior minister from Boris Johnson’s government told the Guardian they thought Braverman was a “real racist bigot”, adding that the “Conservative reputation on discrimination has dropped to a new low” under her tenure.
Braverman’s attempt to use the golly doll case as an example of free speech under attack appeared to backfire last week as more details of the case emerged. The pub’s landlady gave an interview in which she claimed the word “wog” was not racist, while a photograph of her husband in a T-shirt from the far-right group Britain First spread across social media. Both deny they are bigoted.
Last September Braverman accused Sussex police of “playing identity politics” after the force said it would not tolerate hateful comments about gender identity. The following month she criticised Leicestershire police after the force posted a tweet to encourage transgender people to report hate crime. Braverman accused the force of undermining public confidence in policing by running what she called a “politically correct” campaign.
The forces felt compelled to apologise, but sources at both told the Observer that neither Braverman nor anyone on her team made contact before the public rebukes. Concerns remain that no attempt was made to find out what was driving the crackdown on hate crime.
A spokesperson for Essex police said: “The investigation into a reported hate crime involving the White Hart pub in Grays is ongoing.
“We have said publicly that we had not had direct contact from the home secretary in relation to this investigation.
“We are not aware of the origin of this story and we have nothing additional to our previous comments [on the issue] and are focusing on our job protecting and serving Essex.”
A Home Office source, however, said the Home Office contacted Essex police on April 9 over the issue on behalf of the home secretary and her private office.