Surgeon says he was 'racially triaged' at Manchester airport

Top surgeon says he was victim of ‘clear racial targeting’ when security staff insisted he go through full body scanner at Manchester airport

  • Professor Aali Sheen, 51, said he was the victim of ‘racial triaging’ at the airport
  • While at the airport for a skiing holiday, the surgeon got annoyed with security 
  • The surgeon said he was given a full body scan and white travellers were not
  • He got into a confrontation over the incident on April 3 at Manchester Airport
  • The Pakistani-heritage doctor previously wrote a book about suffering racism
  • Manchester Airport said their policies and procedures had all been followed 

A top surgeon has alleged he was the victim of ‘racial triaging’ at Manchester Airport security when he was asked to queue for the body scanner while a string of white travellers was waved through an archway metal detector.

Professor Aali Sheen, 51, said: ‘It was racist. It was clear racial triaging.’

Manchester Airport has investigated the allegations and concluded the doctor and his family were directed to the body scanner by its official to ‘adhere to the requisite ratio of body scanner and metal detector usage’ required by government policy. 

A spokesman said: ‘All policies and procedures…were followed.’

The married Pakistani-heritage consultant surgeon from Didsbury, who works at Manchester Royal Infirmary and is president of the British Hernia Society, described how he became involved in a confrontation with a security official in Terminal 1 on April 3 before a flight to Grenoble for a skiing trip for him and two of his three children.

Professor Aali Sheen (pictured), 51, a consultant surgeon, claims he was ‘racially triaged’ at Manchester Airport when he was given a full body scan while white travellers were not.

Prof Sheen says he had been queueing for two hours before finally reaching security for his 8am flight. 

He said a security official motioned him towards a queue at the body scanner even though the smaller archway metal detector was clear and available to use.

He described how he began to question the man after the official had told him ‘you need to go there’, directing him to the queue at the body scanner.

The surgeon said: ‘I said “why?” and he said “because we have a system”. 

‘I asked “what system is that?” 

‘I challenged him. I knew the reason. It was obvious. To me it was obvious.

‘He said “just do as you are told”. 

‘He was really rude to me and I said “don’t talk to me like that”. 

‘I told him he needed to give me a reason because why make someone, well, like me need to go through. 

‘He started arguing with me. I said to him “don’t talk back to me – I’m the customer. I know you are a security officer but I think you are being disrespectful to me”.

‘And then when I collected my bags and looked back I saw an obviously Muslim family and they were all going through the same scanner as me. 

‘They were being directed there by the same person. 

‘It was just wrong. At the same time other people, shall I say Anglo-Saxons, were being ushered through the small scanner.

‘It was racist. It was clear racial triaging. There was no need for me to go through that big scanner. 

‘There was no one there at the smaller scanner. I could have gone through there. I had to go through the big scanner. Why? 

‘It was clear racial targeting. I’m shocked. If I did that as a doctor, I would be struck off. I would lose my job.’

Raised on a south London council estate, British-born Prof Sheen has written a book, The Painted Surgeon, which chronicles his experiences of racism, including once being stopped as a ‘suspicious’ character by US immigration on his way to speak at a conference in San Francisco. 

His parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s.

Prof Sheen wrote an official complaint to Manchester Airport after he landed in Grenoble and airport officials in Manchester began an investigation. 

When he did not initially get a response, the medic contacted his MP, Withington representative Jeff Smith, who wrote to the airport, and officials promised to escalate the complaint.

A Manchester Airport spokesperson said they were ‘satisfied all policies and procedures’ had been followed during the incident flagged up by Prof Sheen. Pictured: Travellers queuing at Manchester Airport’s terminal 1

On May 27 the doctor received an official response from an airport official, who apologised for the delay and said: ‘I am sorry to learn, from what you described, that your experience while at our security search area fell below the standard we expect our customers to receive and I regret the inconvenience and distress caused.’

The official told Prof Sheen he appeared to accept he ‘voluntarily proceeded to enter the walk through metal detector which unfortunately goes against the rules and regulations that are set out for us by the UK Civil Aviation Authority’.

He added: ‘We must adhere to the requisite ratio of body scanner and metal detector usage which explains why there was a queue for the body scanner while the queue for the metal detector remained free. 

‘On that basis our security member was correct to ask you to move to the body scanner for a secondary check.’

A Manchester Airport spokesman said: ‘We take all allegations of racism incredibly seriously, and this matter was investigated fully in May when the passenger contacted our customer feedback team. 

‘We are satisfied all policies and procedures, which are set by government, were followed.’

The spokesman would not discuss the detail of procedures at security but it is understood body scanners are considered ‘primary scanning devices’ by government policy and so are used more frequently than other kinds of scanners, like archway metal detectors.

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