South Yorkshire Police launch internal investigation into pensioner's racial discrimination claims

Joy Sulph-Johnson has complained about her treatment by South Yorkshire Police. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Joy Sulph-Johnson has complained about her treatment by South Yorkshire Police. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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Joy Sulph-Johnson used to bake Christmas cakes for South Yorkshire Police officers. Now she believes she has been a victim of racism by the same force. Chris Burn reports.

Joy Sulph-Johnson has a simple wish – she wants to return to living in her own home. Ever since January, the 75-year-old has been sleeping away from her property in Sheffield over fears she could be attacked.

But not only does she believe the police have failed to properly investigate her complaints about damage to her property and threatening behaviour towards her and her son from a criminal recently released from jail, she has also been subjected to a lengthy investigation herself after the same man alleged she had stolen money from him.

Meeting The Yorkshire Post in a Sheffield coffee shop, the quietly spoken Joy says has never been told the amount of money she was alleged to have taken or the precise offence she was being investigated for, despite being interviewed for several hours on two occasions by police officers and being told a file of evidence against her had gone to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Joy, whose parents were both police officers in Guyana and who moved to the UK in 1960, says she feels she has been treated differently than a white person of the same age would have been in the same circumstances.

“It is a very hard feeling for me to say it but I have to say it,” she says. “There has got to be something wrong there.”

In despair, she has contacted the media about the circumstances of the past few months. “Something has got to be done,” she says.

One day after The Yorkshire Post contacted South Yorkshire Police detailing the nature of Joy’s concerns and requesting a comment from the force, Joy says she received a call from an officer telling her the CPS was dropping any action against her.

Speaking over the phone, she says she struggled to speak to the police officer who rang her. “I just said, ‘Is that so?’,” she says. “I was angry and didn’t want to say anything to him.”

Joy is a former nurse who went on to work in children’s homes and also volunteered as an ‘appropriate adult’ in police interviews for 25 years. The role, which she began in 1986, involves accompanying vulnerable young people to police stations during questioning.

“I always tried to put the youngsters at ease and tell them to tell the truth,” she says. “I feel like I have been treated like a criminal myself now. I have never been in trouble before. I feel so sad.”

In 2007, she was given an award for her longstanding commitment to the scheme by the Supporting Voluntary Action charity in a ceremony involving former Home Secretary David Blunkett.

During the time Joy was an appropriate adult, she used to bake dozens of Christmas cakes each year to hand over to various services – including dropping in to each of the custody shifts across Sheffield with two cakes for each shift.

But Joy’s giving nature, which has seen her help hundreds of children over the years, indirectly led to the problems she has suffered in recent months.

One of the people she offered support to over the years since he was a child was in custody last year awaiting trial. He asked her to look after her bank card and send him money – which she agreed to once she had permission from the prison authorities, while also keeping receipts of the money she did withdraw.

But Joy says when he did receive a payment of £900 for a PPI claim in December, she decided not to tell him as she feared he may end up spending the money on drugs.

When he came out of jail in January, Joy says he accused her of stealing money from him.

On January 21, she reported to the police that he was ringing her and sending her abusive messages. The following day she decided to move out of her house as she did not feel safe.

Later that day, paint was thrown all over the front of her house, which was again reported to the police.

On January 25, she reported to the police she was being threatened in the street by the man, who she says warned he was going to “burn her out” of her house.

Joy says when an officer did eventually come out to see her the following month, police were slow to act in relation to her concerns despite her being assessed as a repeat vulnerable victim.

She says there was an apparent lack of action to speak to the man involved and that promises of various safeguarding measures, such as the provision of alarms and a fireproof letterbox, never materialised.

On February 20, almost a month after the first incident, Joy’s friend Dr Angie Heal, a former South Yorkshire Police civilian worker and now director of the Policy Partners Project, made a complaint on her behalf about the perceived lack of action in finding and speaking to the man involved.

On March 22, Joy was told a formal complaint had been made that she had stolen money from the man and was told she could be arrested if she failed to attend an interview under caution. An interview eventually took place at her house.

On April 14, Dr Heal was copied into an email from a police inspector which stated it was understood there would be “no further action” taken in the case against Joy. But just five days later, a police constable said while Ms Sulph-Johnson had given a “clear account” during interview, further enquiries were required to corroborate what she had said.

A second complaint was made on Joy’s behalf in May, setting out the impact it was having on her life and health. She says she has lost two stone in weight and has been suffering from heart problems.

The complaint also said: “Ms Sulph-Johnson has been deeply upset at her treatment by SYP in relation to this situation and considers she is being treated differently by SYP because she is black.”

On May 16, Joy was interviewed under caution for a second time and was informed on May 22 that a decision on whether to charge her would be made by the CPS.

But after The Yorkshire Post contacted South Yorkshire Police about the case two weeks ago, she was told the day afterwards the case against her was being dropped.

Joy says she is surprised at the amount of time and resource that appears to have gone into the case against her, given the extent of serious crime that has been taking place in Sheffield. There have been seven murders in the city since March.

She says she has also come forward as she is concerned that while she has people like Dr Heal able to represent her concerns, other people in similar situations who don’t have such connections would not know who to turn to and may not be taken seriously.

“A senior retired officer said to me, ‘I’m so ashamed, your treatment has been terrible’,” says Joy. “I just want to go home.”

Police launch internal investigation

South Yorkshire Police has launched an internal investigation into Joy Sulph-Johnson’s complaints.

Three police officers, a temporary inspector and two police constables have been named in a series of complaints about the way the issue has been handled. Five of the complaints relate to allegations of neglect or failure in duty, with one alleging discriminatory behaviour.

Police have informed Dr Heal they have determined the complaints are suitable to dealt with through a ‘Local Resolution’ process as they deem that the “conduct being complained about, even if proven, would not justify criminal or disciplinary proceeding”.

A spokesman for the force said: “We can acknowledge we have received a complaint from Ms Sulph-Johnson.”