Remembering Seni Lewis: 10 Years On

Seni Lewis passed away on the August Bank Holiday Weekend of 2010. He was 23.

10 years after his death, we remember Seni Lewis as the adventurous, academic, athletic and caring young man that he was. We celebrate the achievements that have been made under his name thanks to the hard-work of those who loved him.

Seni’s mother, Aji Lewis, describes her son’s love of sport. “He loved basketball, football, boxing; he was quite health conscious. He had lots of friends and was very popular at school. He had a pretty face; the girls liked him.”

Aji recalls a memory of a family holiday in Florida, when Seni was a young boy. On the trip, Seni volunteered to hold a snake and went jet skiing. “Seni was an adventurer.”

“We asked him not to go out too far but he’d gone anyway. We he came back, he had a look that said he knew that he was in trouble. He asked me, ‘Mum, how far is Cuba?’ I said, ‘Cuba?’”

Seni had jet-skied out so far because he had thought that he could get to Cuba. “I suppose on a map Cuba looks near to Florida” Aji laughs as she tells the story now.

Proudly, Aji recounts how Seni always stood up for the marginalised: “he hated bullies.”

There was an occasion when Aji received a phone call from Seni’s school. It transpired that the headmaster was calling Aji to tell her how her son had defended the younger boys from the school bully. The headteacher had said: “I’ll have to have Seni come and work in my office,” and informed Aji that Seni had received handshakes on his way to the headmaster’s office after the incident.

As a young adult, Seni excelled in academia. He had studied IT at Kingston University and by the age of 23, Seni already had a degree and a masters.

Seni was aiming to go to America to study for his PhD.

Under Seni’s name immense achievements continue to be made.

In 2018, Seni’s Law was passed in the UK. Aji describes this as “a miracle.”

Seni’s Law affects mental health units, though Aji hopes that this will go further. The law mandates police officers to wear body cameras should they be called to a mental health ward.

There has to be a trainer in these units, who is responsible for the agency and contracted staff being properly skilled in de-escalation techniques.

“The idea is to get away from restraint as much as possible,” Aji explains. “and to not call the police at the slightest commotion. The police have no right to be in a mental institution.”

Anytime there is a restraint made in a unit, under Seni’s Law, a report now has to be made about the event.

The aim of the law is to make mental health units safer for patients. Aji does not want anybody to go through what she went through in losing Seni.

“Seni died, but I don’t want it to be in vain. He died and other people were saved; that’s what I would like.”

Seni’s Law received cross-party support. It received the Queen’s Assent in a matter of days. It is only the second labour MP private party bill to become law in 22 years.

What an immense achievement.

Aji Lewis now speaks to NHS staff and police officers about Seni’s death and the risks of restraint.

She proclaims: “in order for me and my family to heal, to move forward and to fight for justice, we had to forgive. I will never forget; but it is by God’s grace that I am able to forgive.”

Seni Lewis: an adventurer, an athlete, an academic and an achiever in every sense of the word. We remember him.

Mentally Yours: Seni’s Law

The Mental Health Units Use of Force Bill – also known as Seni’s Law – requires mental health inpatient units to comply with requirements around use of force policies, training and data collection. The law came into force after years of campaigning, following the death of Seni Lewis. This week Yvette chats to Seni’s mother, Aji Lewis, about why the law is needed and what it means for the future of policing and mental health inpatient services.

Parents of man who died after police restraint challenge delay over Seni’s law (The Guardian)

Aji and Conrad Lewis are urging mental health minister to ensure 2018 act takes effect

Ajibola Lewis

The parents of a young black man who died after being restrained in a mental health hospital are asking why a law passed in his name almost two years ago has not yet been enacted by the government.

Aji and Conrad Lewis, alongside other campaigners, have signed a letter to the mental health minister, Nadine Dorries, calling for the government to set a commencement date for the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018.

The act, known as Seni’s law after their son, Olaseni, was introduced as a private member’s bill by the Labour MP Steve Reed. It requires mental healthcare providers to keep records of the use of force, and to train staff in de-escalation techniques to help reduce the use of restraint.

It is also intended to improve transparency and accountability, with every mental health unit having to publish its policy on the use of restraint, keep a record of occasions on which it is used, and designate one person who is responsible for implementing the policy. Police officers who attend mental health settings will have to wear body cameras.Advertisement

Olaseni, who was 23, died in 2010 soon after he was subjected to what an inquest described as “disproportionate and unreasonable” restraint at Bethlem Royal hospital in London involving 11 police officers.

His mother said at the time the law was passed: “It took us years of struggle to find out what happened to Seni: the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal hospital, where, instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him.

“We welcome the law in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”

The letter to Dorries, calling on her to enact the legislation urgently, has also been signed by several charity leaders, including Paul Farmer of the mental health charity Mind and Emma Thomas of YoungMinds.

Reed, who was a backbench MP when he brought in the private member’s bill and is now the shadow communities secretary, said: “The legislation I introduced to tackle dangerous restraint used disproportionately against young black men has been in place for 20 months, but it still hasn’t come into force.

“The government simply needs to set a commencement date, something that usually takes just weeks. We can’t wait any longer. Either this legislation matters to the government or it doesn’t. Ministers must bring Seni’s law into force without further delay.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Mental health services will continue to expand further and faster thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the NHS long-term [plan].

“The government was fully supportive throughout the passage of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act and is committed to publishing statutory guidance on the act for consultation as soon as possible.”

The Failures in the Mental Health System That Shackle Victims With Police Brutality (Justice Rapport)

Olivia Davin and Harry Robinson

“Police brutality is like a revolting chain that continues to go round and round in circles and there’s no end to it.” – Kedisha Brown-Burrell.

Seni Lewis was left lifeless after being crushed by 11 police officers. For 45 minutes, the recent masters graduate was pushed on to his stomach and restrained with two pairs of handcuffs, one arm held under his chin, the other arm twisted behind his back. His legs shackled by two leg braces. Seni was beaten three times with a baton while his brain was starved of oxygen. He was left “limp” and “braindead”; the police officers thought he was faking it. This was against police practice. The hospital staff had watched on as the life was drained from Seni’s body.

Kingsley Burrell lay braindead on life support. His face had been smothered for two hours by a blanket. His family could see taser marks all over his body as they went to switch off his life support machine. Just hours before, Kingsley had written ‘they’re going to kill me’ in a notepad that his sister, Kedisha, had given him. His forehead was covered in lumps. His lips were bulging, they had burst. The handcuffs he was wearing had been tightened to such an extent that you could see the flesh around his wrists. This was against police practice. The hospital staff had watched on as the life was drained from Kingsley’s body.

In August 2010, Seni Lewis had voluntarily admitted himself to Bethlem Royal Hospital seeking help after feeling restless and agitated. In March 2011, Kingsley Burrell had voluntarily phoned the police in Birmingham for help after he felt that there was a threat to his life whilst he was out with his son. When Seni asked if he could leave Bethlem, 11 policemen were called to restrain him. When Kingsley asked if he could leave police presence, he was detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 for “smelling of weed”.

Two men, both innocent, both full of potential, both voluntarily putting themselves in custodial positions. Both died in police custody. Neither of them had any prior history of mental health issues before these incidents.

‘Excessive, disproportionate and unreasonable restraint and force’ would be deemed the cause of both Seni and Kingsley’s deaths.

It took Kedisha Brown-Burrell, Kingsley’s sister, three years to get an inquest into Kingsley’s death. It took Aji Lewis, Seni’s mother, seven.

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Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni to his friends and family, admitted himself into Bethlem Royal Hospital and was lethally restrained when he rightfully asked to leave. (Source: The Lewis Family)

In 2019, PC Paul Adey was sacked for dishonesty at a misconduct hearing after it was concluded that he had previously lied about not seeing a blanket smothering Kingsley’s face. In 2017, it was concluded that the force the police used on Seni resulted in his death – however, no police officer has been prosecuted for the murder of Seni or Kingsley. In fact, there has not been a single homocide prosecution of a police officer for over 30 years.

Kedisha said: “The system just never delivers for us. We as a family and as a community don’t have any faith in justice system whatsoever.

“We’ve been traumatised for far too long. We have post-natal depression because of us hearing about what is going on in society on a daily, yearly basis. Even with George Floyd I was like: ‘no, not another fallen solider under the state’.”

The inquests showed that the police abused their power in both cases and the mental health system failed to protect these two men – like it has failed to protect countless others.

Speaking of the way the police officers defended themselves in their respective inquests, both women had this to say:

Aji: “During the inquest, it was obvious that the police were ‘coached’, because they more or less all said similar things using the same words. It was difficult to discern the truth.

“When Seni walked out of Mawdsley Hospital, before going to Bethlem, we experienced some good police practice. They deescalated the situation and Seni was relaxed. This is what police practice should be.”

Kedisha: “There was plain, blank face lying and no remorse whatsoever in the court room. No, no you weren’t doing your job. You abused your powers; that’s exactly what they did.

“We always see a chain of coverups. It was all lies. They lied non-stop. They don’t know how to tell the truth when it comes to deaths in police custody.”

INQUEST casework and monitoring reports that the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental-health related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.

There have been 164 deaths in police custody in the last 20 years. 8% of these deaths are black. This is disproportionately high as black people make up just 3% of the UK’s population.

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Kingsley Burrell died of a cardiac arrest in 2011 after he was arrested by the police officers that he himself rang for help. (Source: The Burrell Family)

Aji believes the mental health system and the police are institutionally racist. “They think all black men are Superman,” she said, talking of how the 11 police officers piled onto her son. “Incredulous”.

In 2018, Aji Lewis and her local MP Steve Reed passed the Mental Health Units Use of Force Act, widely and eponymously known as ‘Seni’s Law’.

The act increases much needed oversight and management of the use of force in mental health units. There now has to be designated trainers to submit information and statistics about their mental health unit to the Department of Health each year. The legislation also improves regulations to reduce the levels of force used whilst handling patients.

There will also be improved arrangements between the police and mental health units, including the police wearing body cameras when they come into the hospital, as a consequence of Seni’s Law. Seni’s mother says the law is important for preventing anymore grief coming from the mental health system. “We don’t want any other family to lose a loved one like we lost Seni; in appalling, appalling conditions,” she said. “There was a complete lack of accountability.”

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The Lewis family after the passing of Seni’s Law in the House of Commons. (Source: The Lewis Family)

Kedisha is working on a private prosecution case for Kingsley. She is also hoping to film a reconstructed documentation of Kingsley’s death to help educate society on police brutality and the failures of our mental health units.

The similarities between the death of Kingsley and the death of Seni are frightening – it implies an institutional problem with the UK’s mental health units, police brutality and race. These are not isolated incidents. These cases consist of the same failures in our mental health system that unjustly sends a family into disrepair.

Reflecting on the campaign for change and the need to reform a system that has failed so many, Aji eloquently quotes Nelson Mandela:

“No single person can liberate a country; you can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”

Don’t be the spectator; the hospital staff who watched on and did nothing. Don’t shy away and stay silent about a crucial flaw in our society.

Be the collective.

For more information on the topic explore the information on the UFFC and INQUEST websites.

“My son died begging police to let him breathe right here in the UK” (The Mirror)

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/my-son-died-begging-cops-22149180

Horrific footage of George Floyd’s death sent a shiver down the spine of one British mum.

Aji Lewis could not bear to watch a clip showing a US police officer kneeling on George’s neck as the 46-year-old gasped: “I can’t breathe.”

For Aji, 70, the words would be too painful to hear – because it was exactly what her son said as he pleaded with cops for his life.

Olaseni, 23, was pinned down by 11 officers after being sectioned at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, South London, in 2010.

His brain was starved of oxygen and his life support had to be switched off a few days later.

Seni with his late gran Ivy Taylor. She died three years after the pain of losing him (Image: Aji Lewis)

Olaseni, known as Seni, is among more than 180 people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities who died following contact with police in Britain since 1990.

Research from the charity Inquest showed force or restraint was used twice as often compared to non-BAME deaths. But no police officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter in any of the cases.

Mum-of-three Aji said: “I can’t watch the George Floyd video, because he is saying the same thing as Seni said: ‘I can’t breathe’.

“This is not something which just happens in America. The fact police officers can kill and get away with it speaks volumes.”

George Floyd repeatedly said ‘I can’t breathe’ as a police officer knelt on his neck

US cop Derek Chauvin is charged with second degree murder over George’s death in Minneapolis. Three colleagues also face charges.

His death sparked global protests. But Aji says few people are aware police brutality is also a UK issue.

Horrifyingly, she only learned the full circumstances surrounding Seni through a journalist.

It took seven years for an inquest jury to conclude “excessive force” was used on the IT student. The jury also ruled the force was “disproportionate and unreasonable”.

Six cops were cleared of gross misconduct. None faced a criminal probe.

Aji went on: “The visit from the journalist began a 10-year nightmare which we are still walking through. Imagine how it made me feel.

“They held Seni face down, hands shackled with two sets of handcuffs and his legs in two sets of restraints.

“They held him over 45 minutes until he went limp. Then, instead of treating him as a medical emergency, they simply walked away. They believed he was faking it.

“They left our son on the floor of a locked room, all but dead. We struggle to comprehend he died simply because police and medical staff failed in their duty to treat him as a human being.

“It might be more of a deterrent if police were genuinely concerned about facing charges. They pretend there isn’t institutional racism in the police, but we all know it’s there.

“Police need to admit mistakes. Officers need to be prosecuted.”

Sean Rigg was held face down in the prone position by officers for seven minutes in 2008(Image: Hickman & Rose Solicitors/PA)

The story is all too familiar to the family of London musician Sean Rigg, 40. He was suffering from a psychotic episode when he was held face down in the prone position by officers for seven minutes in 2008. He died of a cardiac arrest at Brixton police station.

Four years later, an inquest jury ruled the force used was “unsuitable”.

Five officers were cleared of misconduct. Sean’s sister Marcia, 56, said: “After the misconduct case, I said, ‘Police have a licence to kill’. There is no accountability for any wrongdoing so it sends a message officers can act with impunity. Deaths continue unnecessarily.

“No family should have to fight to find out why their loved one died at the hands of the State. It’s draining.”

The list of tragedies goes on.

Joy Gardner died after an immigration raid in Crouch End, North London, in 1993 (Image: PA)

Jamaican student Joy Gardner, 40, died after an immigration raid in Crouch End, North London, in 1993.

She was restrained with handcuffs and leather straps and gagged with 13ft of adhesive tape around her head.

Three officers were charged with manslaughter. None were convicted.

Roger Sylvester died after being restrained in Tottenham and again in hospital
Kingsley Burrell was left face down with a blanket over his head (Image: PA)

New restraint law is a fitting legacy for Seni Lewis (The Guardian)

That the mental health units (use of force) bill became law today is fantastic news for patients and staff in mental health units across the country. This legislation aims to reduce the widespread use of distressing and potentially dangerous restraint against both children and adults, which results in thousands of injuries every year and is linked to dozens of deaths.

Aside from the physical damage, it can also have a devastating impact on patients’ psychological wellbeing, retraumatising those who have experienced violence and abuse. The act, also known as Seni’s law after Seni Lewis, who died after being excessively restrained by police officers while a patient in a mental health hospital (Report, 7 February 2017), will improve accountability in mental health units.

Women and children, particularly girls, and people from black and minority ethnic groups, are at particular risk of restraint, and this law will help understand why this happens and guard against it.

Among other key measures, it will ensure staff are given training on the impact of trauma on patients’ mental health as well as on de-escalation techniques, so that restraint is only ever used as a last resort. Ultimately, Seni’s law is a testament to the commitment of Seni’s family, who have fought tirelessly for years to bring about change, alongside his MP Steve Reed, who brought this bill to parliament.

We have been delighted to support them and this important piece of legislation, and will work to ensure it leaves the best possible legacy, so that mental health units are the caring, therapeutic environments they should be for all patients.

Jemima Olchawski
Chief executive, Agenda
Deborah Coles
Director, INQUEST
Paul Farmer
Chief executive, Mind
Emma Thomas
Chief executive, YoungMinds
Carolyne Willow
Director, Article 39
Mark Winstanley
CEO, Rethink Mental Illness
Ben Higgins
Chief executive, BILD
Mark Lever
Chief executive, NAS

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/01/new-restraint-law-is-a-fitting-legacy-for-seni-lewis

Family celebrate lasting legacy as ‘Seni’s Law’ receives Royal Assent (INQUEST)

1 November 2018

Today the Mental Health (Use of Force) Bill has received Royal Assent in Parliament, eight years after the death of Seni Lewis for whom it is intended as a lasting legacy. Known as Seni’s Law, the Bill will increase protections and oversight on use of force in mental health settings.

The Private Members Bill brought by Steve Reed MP is named after Olaseni ‘Seni’ Lewis, a 23 year old IT graduate who died as a result of prolonged restraint by police officers whilst a voluntary inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Croydon in 2010.

Steve Reed MP has worked closely with the family of Seni Lewis, who are constituents of Croydon North. He worked on this Bill with the family’s lawyer Raju Bhatt, INQUEST, and a coalition of NGOs including Agenda , Article 39, Mind, Rethink and YoungMinds.

Throughout its passage in Parliament and the Lords the Bill has received cross party support. It also led the Minister Jackie Doyle Price to make commitments to consider the issue of the lack of independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings.

In 2017 an inquest jury unanimously condemned the actions of police and healthcare staff who watched on as Seni was restrained by 11 police officers. The inquest found the force used was excessive, disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death. His family have welcomed the Bill as an opportunity to prevent further deaths.

On 30 October 1998, David ‘Rocky’ Bennett died following excessive restraint in a mental health unit. A public inquiry into his death recommended formal recording of the use of restraint, consideration of racial and gender discrimination, and improved training and oversight. At long last, the Royal Assent of this Bill will create a statutory duty to ensure many of the recommendations of the inquiry into this death 20 years ago are belatedly enacted.

Aji Lewis, mother of Seni Lewis said: “When Seni became ill, we took him to hospital which we thought was the best place for him. We shall always bear the cross of knowing that, instead of the help and care he needed, Seni met with his death.

It took us years of struggle to find out what happened to Seni: the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital where, instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him; and the brute force with which the police held Seni in a prolonged restraint which they knew to be dangerous, a restraint that was maintained until Seni was dead for all intents and purposes.

We don’t want anyone else to go through what our son went through. That is why we have supported this initiative by Steve Reed MP which has culminated today in Seni’s Law. We welcome it in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “Seni Lewis was failed by the very people that were meant to keep him safe and died a violent death after excessive restraint. The Lewis family have fought tirelessly for eight years to ensure that no one else dies in such horrific circumstances. They have been the driving force behind this bill.

High levels of restraint are routinely used behind the closed walls of secure settings inflicting physical and psychological harms and the ever-present risk of death. Disproportionately restraint is used against people from black and minority ethnic groups, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities and autism. We hope the protections of this bill and greater scrutiny and oversight will drive the cultural change and practice needed, end the abusive use of force and ensure those in crisis are treated with dignity and respect.

This important step is not the end but the beginning. INQUEST, alongside bereaved families, will continue to work to ensure the guidance and changes arising from Seni’s Law leave the best possible legacy. There is more work to be done, but this is a momentous move in the right direction.”

Steve Reed MP, who tabled the Bill, said: “This new law will save lives and gives mental health patients in the UK some of the best protection in the world from abusive restraint. INQUEST’s support and advice has been critical in getting this change.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS
For further information please contact on 020 7263 1111 or lucymckay@inquest.org.uk

Read the full Mental Health (Use of Force) Bill here. For more information on the Bill go to: senis-law.com or Steve Reed MP’s website.

If enacted changes the Bill would make include:

  • Increased oversight and management of use of force in mental health units;
  • Improved regulation to reduce levels of force used;
  • Improved arrangements between police and mental health units, including requiring police to wear body cameras when attending these units;

INQUEST has worked on numerous disturbing cases of deaths following restraint in mental health settings, and involving the police. Currently there is no robust monitoring of incidents of force in mental health units, despite evidence which suggests there is disproportionate use against black and minority ethnic communities, women and children, young people, and people with learning disabilities.

Read more about INQUEST’s long held concerns about the disproportionate use of force in mental health settings, in this article in Progress Magazine: Restraint and race: it’s time we listened to the evidence.

Met officers who wrongly arrested black man put through misconduct hearings (The Guardian)

Four police officers who wrongly arrested a black man for stealing a bicycle in London when told that the suspect was white have been put through misconduct hearings.

An inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission twice overturned earlier decisions by the Metropolitan police that no investigation was necessary.

The original incident occurred in Leather Lane, central London, in February 2016 when three male police officers and a female officer were working early in the evening on a plain clothes anti-cycle-theft operation in Camden.

They were alerted that a white man wearing a light green jacket and blue jeans had stolen a silver bike in the area.

Despite the thief standing near a group of bike couriers chatting after work, the officers instead grabbed 47-year-old Andrew Okorodudu, who is black, and was wearing a grey jacket, when he joined the group on his white bike.

The officers threw him to the ground, according to his lawyers Hodge Jones & Allen, who supported him in bringing the complaint. Okorodudu was restrained with handcuffs as the thief watched and then rode off on the stolen bike.

The IPCC report criticised the Metropolitan police officers for apparently ignoring the ethnicity of the suspect in the detailed description given to them over police radio and acting with unconscious bias.

Okorodudu suffered injuries to his head, legs, knees and wrists and needed medical treatment. He eventually received a four-figure compensation settlement from the police.

Joanna Bennett, the lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Okorodudu, said: “Despite all the initiatives and training to stamp out racial bias, it clearly still exists within the police force. Despite the obvious description of the suspect as white, the first officer on the scene instead immediately targets a black man and then uses excessive force to arrest him.

“What is equally concerning is that the police’s own investigation concluded that the officers had done nothing wrong. It was only when the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] reviewed the evidence and issued a directive for a misconduct hearing that they were called to task over their behaviour.”

The officers maintained that they did not hear the description of the ethnicity of the suspect. Their claim, it was said, was undermined by records in their notebooks that included that the suspect was white.

At the misconduct hearing in November last year three of the officers were told they had no case to answer, but one officer was criticised for failing to obtain an IC code (ethnicity) which contributed to unconscious bias.

A spokesperson for the IOPC, which was formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said: “Mr Okorodudu complained to the Metropolitan police over his arrest in February 2016. After being unhappy about the outcome of two investigations into his complaint he appealed to the IOPC, which we upheld.

“In August 2017 we directed the Metropolitan police to hold misconduct meetings for four officers, following which one officer received management advice.”

Freemasons are blocking reform, says Police Federation leader (The Guardian)

Reform in policing is being blocked by members of the Freemasons, and their influence in the service is thwarting the progress of women and people from black and minority ethnic communities, the leader of rank-and-file officers has said.

Steve White, who steps down on Monday after three years as chair of the Police Federation, told the Guardian he was concerned about the continued influence of Freemasons.

White took charge with the government threatening to take over the federation if it did not reform after a string of scandals and controversies.

Critics of the Freemasons say the organisation is secretive and serves the interests of its members over the interests of the public. The Masons deny this saying they uphold values in keeping with public service and high morals.”

White told the Guardian: “What people do in their private lives is a matter for them. When it becomes an issue is when it affects their work. There have been occasions when colleagues of mine have suspected that Freemasons have been an obstacle to reform.

“We need to make sure that people are making decisions for the right reasons and there is a need for future continuing cultural reform in the Fed, which should be reflective of the makeup of policing.”

One previous Metropolitan police commissioner, the late Sir Kenneth Newman, opposed the presence of Masons in the police.

White would not name names, but did not deny that some key figures in local Police Federation branches were Masons.

White said: “It’s about trust and confidence. There are people who feel that being a Freemason and a police officer is not necessarily a good idea. I find it odd that there are pockets of the organisation where a significant number of representatives are Freemasons.”

The Masons deny any clash or reason police officers should not be members of their organisation.

Mike Baker, spokesman for the United Grand Lodge, said: “Why would there be a clash? It’s the same as saying there would be a clash between anyone in a membership organisation and in a public service.

“We are parallel organisations, we fit into these organisations and have high moral principles and values.”

Baker said Freemasonry was open to all, the only requirement being “faith in a supreme being”. He said there were a number of police officers who were Masons and police lodges, such as the Manor of St James, set up for Scotland Yard officers, and Sine Favore, set up in 2010 by Police Federation members. One of those was the Met officer John Tully, who went on to be chair of the federation and, after retirement from policing, is an administrator at the United Grand Lodge of England.

Masons in the police have been accused of covering up for fellow members and favouring them for promotion over more talented, non-Mason officers.

White said: “Some female representatives were concerned about Freemason influence in the Fed. The culture is something that can either discourage or encourage people from the ethnic minorities or women from being part of an organisation.”

The federation has passed new rules on how it runs itself, aimed at ending the fact that its key senior officials are all white, and predominantly male.

White said he hoped the new rules would lead to an end to old white men dominating the federation: “The new regulations will mean Freemasons leading to an old boys’ network will be much less likely in the future.”

White came to be chair of the Police Federation after Theresa May went to its 2014 conference and ripped into it. The federation had to decide whether it would adopt a package of 36 reforms, with May, who was then home secretary, threatening that if it failed to do so, it would be taken over by the government and forced to. The Metropolitan police federation was the only local body in the organisation, which represents rank-and-file officers, not to back a package of reforms.

In 2014 federation members felt the body that represented them was failing them and was distant.

White said the organisation had been turned around during his time in office: “We have gone from being almost irrelevant to being the trusted voice of the frontline and the service. I think we had an organisation that shouted and bawled about everything, which became irrelevant to members and risked being wound up.”

White beat the Met officer Will Riches to the chairmanship via a coin toss, after the two candidates won the same number of votes. White, who had served as a firearms officer in Avon and Somerset, came into office promising to end a culture of drinking by federation officials using members’ money.

White said more reform of policing was needed: “There should be future radical reform of the police. The 43 forces need to operate more as a single entity. We have to break down the political barriers caused by PCCs [police and crime commissioners].”

White has written a paper advocating a national body to drive through reforms and impose them on forces if necessary: “We need a new governance board at a national level to drive reforms to policing and make sure it happens.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for ethics and integrity, the chief constable Martin Jelley, said: “While we recognise that there has been concern in the past around serving officers also being Freemasons, it is clear that concern over real or perceived threat to impartiality of this has decreased. Regular external scrutiny of the police service by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has not raised this as an issue of concern.

“Strict guidelines require officers to declare anything which might be deemed a conflict of interest in their force’s register of interests. If convincing evidence ever came to light which clearly showed that Freemasonry was adversely affecting the integrity of the police service then we would take appropriate action.”