Two former policemen are suing the West Midlands force in a case which also raises the spectre of racism, reports Roger Pearson.

A major civil action against the police is set to go to the High Court.

Two former Metropolitan police officers, who were shot when on undercover duty, are suing the West Midlands force for negligence. The two men, known as Martin and Philip, allege that they did not receive the backup to which they were entitled.

The case has also raised the spectre of racism as it is claimed that the two men were overlooked for a gallantry award because they are black.

Martin and Philip, who have instructed David Speker, a partner at Kingsley Napley, had been seconded to the West Midlands force on an undercover drug operation. They were posing as buyers in a bid to trap a network of suspected crack cocaine dealers.

However, the operation went seriously wrong and the unarmed men, both in their mid-30s and each with 14 years' service, were invalided out of the police as a result of the severe gunshot wounds they received in the shoot-out in Birmingham in 1994.

The negligence claim against the West Midlands police is being backed by the Metropolitan Police Federation and valued at in excess of £50,000 for each man.

Although their writ makes no mention of racism, the allegation has already been publicly raised and it is one which could well be aired in court.

Despite their heroism and the injuries they received in the shooting, Martin and Philip were not recommended for the George Medal, an award which is often made following incidents of this nature. They were not even commended by the West Midlands chief constable after the incident.

This lack of recognition has led to the Metropolitan Police Federation taking the unprecedented step of calling a press conference over the matter. Its chairman, Michael Bennett, said that he thought the actions of the two men fitted the criteria to make them eligible for the George Medal. He said that if it was not racism then it was a major "case of hypocrisy".