Shyam Bhatia in London
Indians have been wondering about the identity of the blue-turbaned man with the striped tie and pink pocket handkerchief seen last Sunday on the royal barge — Spirit of Chartwell — with Queen Elizabeth ll, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and other leading members of the British royal family.
The mystery has now been solved with the shocking discovery that the previously unidentified man, Harbinder Singh Rana, is a convicted sex offender who was sentenced to four years in jail after being convicted of five counts of indecent assault, 11 counts of assault causing bodily harm and one count of attempted assault. When he was put on trial in 1986 members of the jury heard how he pretended to be a doctor before entering his victims’ homes, giving them injections and subjecting them to internal examinations.
The public uncovering of Rana’s identity, who lives in Walsall northwest of Birmingham, is an enormous embarrassment for the British royal family after the hugely successful Diamond Jubilee celebrations to mark the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.
An honorary director of the Anglo-Sikh heritage Trail, a project of the Maharaja Dalip Singh Centenary Trust, 52-year-old Rana, is originally from Jasso Majara village in Nawanshahr. His 86-year-old father is still alive and lives with him in the UK.
His mother died last year.
Members of the Sikh community in the UK remember him accompanying Prince Charles on a visit to Ropar in 2006. He has met Charles on several other occasions and was pictured standing next to him during the 1999 unveiling of a statue of Dalip Singh and it was the prince’s office who invited him to participate in last Sunday’s exclusive celebrations.
Asked about Rana’s past, a spokeswoman for Prince Charles told The Tribune, “We weren’t aware of his convictions. He was invited as a leading member of the Sikh community and someone who has done a lot of charitable work.”
News of Rana’s shameful past has provoked outraged reactions from British MPs concerned about the royal family’s security, as well as from experts specialising in the protection of rape victims.
Labour MP Steve McCabe from Birmingham, “It is an astonishing situation in terms of security. I’m flabbergasted. There should be a police investigation into how this was allowed to happen. Who the prince wants to entertain in private is his concern, but this was a public event. Questions need to be answered.
“I should like to know who thought he was an appropriate guest for an event involving so many women. Whoever was in charge of vetting Prince Charles’ guest list needs to start earning money.”
Rana’s presence among the British royals before and during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations has also been criticised by Dr Kate Cook from the Manchester-based Trafford Rape Crisis, which deals with all forms of sexual assault.
“At the very least it is extremely disappointing that someone like him has been allowed to mingle at such a high profile and prestigious event as this”, says Dr Cook. “There are lots of people who would have deemed it a great honour and the fact that he has been let on will be very frightening for his victims. Imagine how horrified you would be if you saw your attacker standing alongside the Queen.
“Pretending to be a doctor in order to have access to women is very deliberate, it is not like he couldn’t help himself. Women find this sort of attack very frightening. It can often take an extraordinarily long time, sometimes many years, for them to get over it.”
Rana himself has said he had not been previously asked about his sex crimes, nor did he know if he had been security vetted before the event. “I was given the invitation and I attended. The fact that the Prince of Wales invited me clearly shows what I have done for the community since then.”
During his 1986 trial Rana claimed he was the victim of mistaken identity. He subsequently told the Daily Mirror newspaper, “It was very circumstantial. It is an area I have switched off from my life and got on with it.”