BY DUNCAN ROBERTSON AND COLIN FERNANDEZ DAILY MAIL (London)
LONDON — A Muslim police officer given bacon and wine as a 'Secret Santa' gift decided to treat it as a harmless if tasteless joke. But a non-Muslim colleague failed to show the same level of tolerance.
The officer who supplied the gift, 26-year-old PC Rob Murrie, was reported to his superiors for racism.
And PC Murrie subsequently came under such pressure that he felt he had no option but to resign from the Bedfordshire force.
Yesterday the target of the joke, 31-year-old Arshad Mahmood, said he still regarded PC Murrie as 'a good officer and a good friend', while Muslim community leaders accused police chiefs of 'overreacting' to the incident at Luton police station.
The Bedfordshire force has come under intense criticism for its failure to recruit ethnic minority groups despite Luton being one of the most multi-racial areas in Britain. That was one of the reasons why it was rated last year as the worst force in the country.
PC Mahmood, who joined the force in September 2005, said that about 18 of his colleagues had decided to join in the 'Secret Santa' - where each member of a group is allocated the name of another to supply with an anonymous gift.
'We opened our presents in the canteen at breakfast time on Christmas Day. The gifts were chosen depending on the person's personality, and cost about £10.' One officer received a bus pass and a timetable because he lived so close to the police station that he did not need a car.
Others received intentionally ' boring' presents such as a Parker pen and a pair of socks.
'When I pulled my present out I did not realise that I had been given a bottle of wine,' added PC Mahmood, a married father of one. 'As a nondrinker I thought it was a luxury bottle of orange juice or something.
'Everyone was joking, but I thought the packet of bacon was a bit below the belt. Judging from the reaction of everyone else they thought it was a bit below the belt as well.
'But it was not meant in a malicious way, just a bit of banter.' In Islam, wine and bacon are both forbidden. Even for a believer to handle them is frowned on by many Muslim scholars.
Despite PC Mahmood's robust view of the matter, his superiors were less than amused.
'I was called into a meeting with my sergeant, who said she was disgusted by what happened,' he said.
'I told her I knew it was meant as a joke and did not want to make a formal complaint. I just took it on the chin. But someone else in the room must have thought it was a racist incident, and reported it.'
Mr Murrie, who lives in a village near Bedford, said: 'The police force has been my home for six years and now I pay the ultimate price. I had no choice but to resign because of the political implications and negative impact on the force if it ever became public.
'I would never have given him the present if I knew the consequences. I suppose it's like giving condoms to a Catholic. I think society has gone far too politically correct, but the force has to make decisions acting within that climate.
'I'm going abroad for a while to think about what I am going to do with the rest of my life.'
Shishu Miah, general secretary of the Bedford Jamee Mosque, said: 'I do not condone what he did but the officer clearly made an error of judgment and should be forgiven.'