Justice at last for Bijan Ebrahimi, victim of institutional racism
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday December 20 2017
The Guardian reports that Avon and Somerset police officers failed to protect a disabled Iranian refugee during a seven-year campaign of hate waged by his neighbours.
Bijan Ebrahimi was murdered on July 14, 2013 by his neighbour Lee James, who punched him and kicked him to death before setting fire to his body outside his house in Bristol. Now, a report prepared by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reveals that police officers might have been biased against Mr Ebrahimi and failed to protect him.
A total of seventeen officers and staff were interviewed, and IPCC Commissioner Williams determined to refer the files concerning three police officers, a control room supervisor, a call taker and a police community support officer to the Crown Prosecution Service, for consideration of offences of misconduct in public office. In addition, Commissioner Williams determined to refer the offence of perverting the course of justice for consideration against the police community support officer.
Mr Ebrahimi, 44, was born in Iran in 1969 and lived there during his formative years. His parents both died when he was a young man and he was their full time carer for some time before their death. He had moved to a new neighbourhood in Bristol after his previous home was set on fire by his neighbours.
The report prepared by the IPCC reveals that Mr Ebrahimi was a vulnerable man, whose first language was not English and who was subject to numerous unfounded allegations against him. Every time, he turned to the police for help right up to the point of his brutal murder. Mr Ebrahimi’s final call to a police officer occurred just one hour before his murder.
Between 2007 and 2013, Mr Ebrahimi experienced a number of issues with neighbours, who repeatedly accused him of being a paedophile and threatened to kill him. On one occasion, Mr James saw Mr Ebrahimi filming him and his children as they were walking around the estate, and believed him to be a paedophile. However, the IPCC report revealed that Ebrahimi told police officers that he had taken the photographs as evidence that Mr James was drinking in the public areas of the estate, whilst in charge of children. He said that this was a regular occurrence, which resulted in “a mess”.
Indeed, the report reads, “There was evidence, not least from Mr James himself, of Mr Ebrahimi taking a great deal of trouble over the appearance of his flat, by cultivating plants and flowers in pots outside. He plainly considered the behaviour of Mr James and his associates, drinking in the public areas and discarding cans, to be anti-social behaviour, with which many people may agree. It was possible, even likely that as a result of previous complaints, and he had been advised to take photographs or video to evidence this behaviour.”
In the days before his death, Ebrahimi called the police to say his neighbour Lee James had barged into his home and attacked him by punching him in the face. Rather than arresting Mr James, the police officers handcuffed Mr Ebrahimi, who was escorted into the police car before a crowd of cheering neighbours.
A neighbour said that she saw Mr James stood by the washing line and heard him shout either “I’ll f*****g kill you” or “I’ll f*****g get you” towards Mr Ebrahimi. She saw that both female police officers were present but neither reacted or did anything in response to these shouted threats. The IPCC also found that one of the officers, PC Helen Harris, approached Mr James and told him “off the record I would have done the same thing”. She also told him that they were going to arrest Mr Ebrahimi for breach of the peace.
The IPCC noted that by arresting Mr Ebrahimi and not Mr James, PC Harris and PC Winter undoubtedly “discriminated” between them. Indeed, the officers could have been in no doubt about the danger that Mr Ebrahimi was in, having heard the remarks about “firebombing” him out and Mr Ebrahimi being labelled as a “paedophile”. PS Hill’s remark that the “pitch fork and burning torch brigade are after him”, provided an indication of how serious they knew the situation to be. However, instead of protecting Mr Ebrahimi, they mistreated him, humiliated him, and even intimidated him before releasing him back “without any meaningful risk assessment”.
The evidence from CCTV in the Custody Suite showed PC Harris’ treatment of Mr Ebrahimi to have been rude and unprofessional, including striking him on the back of his hand with the folded sheets of paper, an action which can only be described as indicative of contempt.
Mr David McCallum, independent chair of the review process, accused Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset police officers of institutional racism, intended as “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”.
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) places an obligation on the state not to take life, except in very limited and defined circumstances, and to take reasonable steps to protect life where there is a real and immediate risk. If there is an indication that a death may be the result of police action, or failure to act, Article 2 requires there to be an independent and effective investigation to determine the circumstances and causes of the death.
However, the IPCC found that “from the outset, there were serious breaches of Avon and Somerset Constabulary hate crime policy.”
Two men, beat manager PC Kevin Duffy, and community support officer Andrew Passmore, were both jailed over how they dealt with Ebrahimi after being found guilty of misconduct in a public office. They and two other constables, Leanne Winter, 38, and Helen Harris, 40, who arrested Ebrahimi, have been dismissed from the force.
In all, 18 police staff and officers, including sergeants and inspectors, face disciplinary proceedings.
James was jailed for life and will serve a minimum of 18 years after admitting murdering Mr Ebrahimi. Stephen Norley, a man who helped James setting Ebrahimi’s body on fire, was jailed for four years.
Avon and Somerset chief constable Andy Marsh apologised to Ebrahimi’s family and said: “We failed him in his hour of need and I am unreservedly sorry for the pain his family have suffered.”
Marsh said measures and new ways of working had been introduced, including a new call handling systems, services designed to identify and protect vulnerable people and leadership programmes.