10 December 2002

Controversial tattoo
ruled admissible

Hendon Police College made history on this day in 2002, by agreeing to admit a former punk with a tattoo that had previously been deemed offensive and inadmissible. The decision was greeted with dismay in some quarters, as this report, from the Independent, clearly shows…

Metropolitan Police HQ


A former punk rocker has been admitted to Hendon Police College despite having a tattoo on his forehead that says ‘F*** THE POLICE’.

Stephen Ballion, 29, acquired the tattoo as a teenager and says that he has since changed his views about the police service.

Police regulations allow tattoos, providing they do not cause offence or undermine the dignity of the constable. They must not display ‘unacceptable attitudes towards women, minority groups or any other section of the community’ or be considered ‘rude, lewd, crude, racist, sexist, sectarian, homophobic, violent or intimidating’.

The Metropolitan Police say the decision to admit Mr Ballion had been a difficult one. ‘We took a long look at ourselves,’ said a spokesman. ‘In the end, we decided that if we are serious about broadening our social base –which we are – then we should demonstrate a robust commitment to diversity in recruitment.’

He added that there were mitigating circumstances in the case of Mr Ballion. Although the tattoo could be construed as aggressive and offensive, it is clearly directed at the police service itself, and is therefore unlikely to be seen as threatening by members of the public. In addition, the tattoo contains the letter ‘F’ and three asterisks, rather than spelling out the expletive in full. The tattoo is not visible when a helmet is worn.

Mr Ballion was present at the press conference. He said that he had been criticized for the tattoo from the moment he had it done. Half the criticism came from people who were offended and half from those who thought the asterisks were a ‘cop out’. When asked if he still liked punk music, he replied that his taste had moved on and he now preferred gangsta rap.

Detective Inspector Philip Long, a senior officer at Hendon, said the inscription on the tattoo was also the title of a hit by the leading rap artistes NWA. This, he argued, ‘could prove invaluable in forming a bridge between the police and those hard-to-reach communities that we are trying hard to reach.’

Sir Robert McCormack, former Chief Constable of the Met, said that he was ‘flabbergasted’ by the decision to allow Ballion to join.

‘The tattoo is clearly offensive,’ he said. ‘In my opinion it clearly undermines the dignity of not only the prospective constable, but the police service as a whole. And let’s not forget that the police are a minority group themselves.’

Picture: PA

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