A POLICE force has been caught in a race row after launching a competition to name one of its horses after pioneers of a historic bus boycott.

Avon and Somerset Police had intended to rename a horse as part of the city’s 60th anniversary commemorations of the Bristol Bus Boycott.

But the competition, which has now been withdraw, sparked an angry backlash from the black community.

In a petition calling it to be scrapped, Black Think Tank UK wrote: "We reject police officers riding our black heroes!"

They labelled the competition, which was to rename trainee PH Brutus, as divisive, and warned it could put added strain on relations between the police and the black community.

A spokesperson said: "We know of no black hero that wanted to be ridden by a police officer."

Avon and Somerset Police have now apologised and said it did not intend to cause any offence.

Individuals and schools across the city had been invited to vote in the online poll, from September 11 for four weeks, choosing their favourite name.

They sought permission from the families of the pioneers to include names PH Hackett, PH Bailey, PH Henry, PH Prince, PH Audley, PH Singh, PH Barbara and PH Norman.

The petition stated: "Can you imagine the outrage and indignation that would erupt if the Montgomery police dared to disgrace the legacy of Rosa Parks by naming a police horse after her?"

It added: "By signing this petition and sharing it widely, we aim to send a message that true progress requires substantive change, not just symbolic gestures.

"We, the undersigned, believe in the importance of honouring black heroes and their contributions to society.

"However, we feel that naming a police horse after one of these heroes falls short of meaningful recognition in our culture.

"While gestures can be well-intentioned, we believe it is crucial to address the deeper issues of historic racial inequality in police-community relations."

The petition described the lack of cultural sensitivity displayed as "distressing."

The petition urged police to find a more appropriate and respectful tribute.

The peaceful boycott of 1963, began in response to the refusal of Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) to employ black people.

Its success is credited with leading to the creation of the 1976 Race Relations Act, now at the heart of the Equalities Act 2010, which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.

In response to the criticism, Chief Inspector Victoria Hayward Melen said: “Our intention had been to honour the pioneers’ achievements and be part of Bristol’s 60th anniversary celebrations marking this momentous civil rights moment.

"However, we are now aware that the competition has caused some distress within our communities, which was wholly unintentional. For this we are truly sorry.

“We are committed to being transparent and accountable to our communities, which means not shying away from admitting where we have got something wrong.

"One of our force values is learning, which means that we must listen to what our communities tell us about the decisions we make, how they impact on them and how we can work together going forward.

"Whilst in this situation we recognise that we haven’t got it right, we will take this as an opportunity to reflect and continue conversations with our communities which is so important as we work towards becoming an anti-racist police service.

“As part of our Race Matters work we’re currently consulting with our communities on changes to policies and procedures which aim to reduce disproportionality and build back the trust and confidence of people who have been harmed by years of traumatic interactions with the police.

"The learning and feedback we have taken from this situation has only strengthened our resolve and focus to do this work in collaboration with communities we serve.

“The Bristol Bus Boycott pioneers were striving for positive change and we will best honour their legacy by owning our mistakes and committing to a better future.”

A spokesperson for Curiosity UnLtd added: "We recognise that this renaming initiative has caused unintentional distress among some sections of our community; therefore, we unreservedly apologise.

"We have heard, listened and can announce that this horse renaming initiative has been withdrawn.

"Going forward we will be apologising to all the families.

"We will embrace the learnings and to work more closely with the community to co create better ways to honour the boycotts legacy."