By John Pring Disability News Service December 21st 2017
A disabled refugee who was murdered after years of racist harassment and abuse was repeatedly failed by a police force and his local authority, according to a long-awaited review into the events that led to his death.
The review by the Safer Bristol Partnership found that both Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset police were guilty of institutional racism and discrimination in the way they dealt with years of complaints by Bijan Ebrahimi.
But disabled campaigners have also raised concerns at the failure of the council and police to recognise Ebrahimi as a victim of disability hate crime.
Ebrahimi was murdered on 14 July 2013, but the report found that he had been the victim of years of racially-motivated offending after coming to the UK from Iran as a refugee in 2000.
Although there are repeated references in the report to Ebrahimi’s “vulnerability”, the review “uncovered no evidence to indicate that any of [the] victimisation was motivated by his disability”.
But it did point out – following concerns raised by disability hate crime campaigners in the aftermath of his murder – that he was “a disabled man wrongly labelled by some local members of the community as a paedophile”.
The report says: “There have been a number of recent cases documented in which disabled men have been similarly labelled, targeted and even murdered because of such labels.”
The review also points out that an inquiry into disability-related harassment by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in 2011, “made a number of findings that resonate with this review”, including the tendency of public bodies to “respond to individual incidents rather than patterns of behaviour and to focus on victims’ behaviour and suggest restrictions to their lives rather than deal with perpetrators”.
The review’s publication comes two months after the conviction of a man for the brutal murder of another disabled refugee in Bristol.
Friends of Kamil Ahmad told Disability News Service in October that, like Ebrahimi, he had repeatedly told police officers that he was being threatened and racially abused.
Ahmad’s murder in July 2016 took place little more than a mile away from the Brislington area of the city where Ebrahimi had been murdered three years earlier.
The review into the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi says that both the council and police force appear to have given little consideration to “the context of his life in Bristol as a single Iranian man living alone with a number of specific difficulties in relation to disability, speech and language and health”.
The council had decided that he did not fulfil the “threshold criteria” to be viewed as a “vulnerable tenant”, which, the review concludes, could have “been important in highlighting Mr Ebrahimi’s circumstances and what was required to address them”.
Among the review’s 14 recommendations, it calls on the council to undertake an “immediate review” of its tenants who have “multiple, complex needs” to ensure their needs are being met.
It also says the council should change its “vulnerable tenants policy” so that “the qualifying threshold criteria definition of a vulnerable tenant does not exclude those who are able to ‘live independently’”, and draw up a new policy for “accurately assessing existing and new tenants for vulnerability”.
The council said afterwards that these recommendations had already been implemented, while it was “currently trialling a new approach to assessing vulnerability for new tenants” and was “continuing to monitor our approach to vulnerability to ensure that we meet the needs of our tenants”.
The review says that Ebrahimi was the victim of “a pattern of repeated harassment, assault and criminal damage, some of it serious and much of it racially aggravated” from 2005 until his murder, and that he made at least 44 allegations to the police, many of which were wrongly not recorded as crimes.
He also made many allegations to the council and other agencies in the city.
The review found that he “suffered real injuries, his property was repeatedly damaged and he has been observed to be in real distress and fear as a result of this victimisation”.
Ebrahimi had repeatedly asked police officers for help and protection in the three days leading up to his murder, following an unprovoked attack and further threats.
But instead of providing protection, police officers arrested him – twice – and refused his further appeals for help, after he told them he was being threatened by some of his neighbours, who wrongly claimed he was a paedophile.
Shortly after his final phone call to police, Ebrahimi was beaten and kicked to death, and his body set alight, by 24-year-old Lee James, who lived just a few doors away in Capgrave Crescent, on the edge of Bristol.
The review concludes that there was little evidence of “purposeful commitment” to investigate the victimisation Ebrahimi had experienced over the years, by the council or police force, or to “bring anyone to account for having perpetrated it or bring it to a halt”.
It says that he was “repeatedly targeted for racist abuse and victimisation by some members of the public, that this was repeatedly reported to Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council and that representatives of both organisations repeatedly sided with his abusers.
“The more incidents that were reported, the more ingrained this pattern of responses became right up to Mr Ebrahimi’s death,” it adds.
And it concludes that there is evidence of “both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism on the part of Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Constabulary”.
Bristol and South West Disabled People Against Cuts (BSWDPAC) said the review showed “a systemic failure by both Bristol City Council and the police to give due recognition to the intersection of disablism and racism, both in their own institutions and in dealing with perpetrators of hate crime”.
A BSWDPAC spokesman said: “Despite the patterns identified in hate crime research, disabled people, refugees and asylum seekers subjected to violence and abuse are often labelled as ‘unreliable’, or as perpetrators of crime themselves.
“As a consequence, victims, often those that experience mental distress, are not listened to or believed.
“Rather than be supported, victims are often portrayed as ‘other’ and the context of their lives, distress and trauma is ignored and invalidated.
“Despite Bijan Ebrahimi’s attempts to be heard as a victim of racist abuse, he was wrongly labelled as ‘the primary problem’ with police making reference to Bijan ‘suffering from a mental health problem’.
“As Dr Sarah Carr identifies in a recent report, ‘victims may not describe or recognise their experience as a disability/mental health related ‘hate crime’, and professionals may not classify or recognise it as such.’
“We would urge the council and police to take action that learns from such research, and to truly include disabled people, refugees and asylum-seekers in addressing hate crime.”
Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and the author of Scapegoat, a pioneering investigation into disability hate crime, who has written about the death of Bijan Ebrahimi, also raised concerns about the failure to recognise the disability hate crime aspects of Bijan Ebrahimi’s ordeal.
She said: “I welcome the multi-agency review and its finding that institutional racism was a key factor in the harassment and violence that Bijan Ebrahimi suffered and it is also good that the unconscious bias that may have motivated some of the attacks around Bijan’s disability was also briefly hinted at in the report.”
But she said she was disappointed that the report did not go further than this, given that the kind of false accusations of paedophilia made against Ebrahimi “are so damaging” and are often made against disabled men.
The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, who was only elected in May 2016 – becoming the first mayor of black African-Caribbean descent of a European city – said the council accepted all the review’s findings.
He said: “We appreciate that no amount of lessons learned or changes in practice can possibly mitigate the impact this had on Bijan and his family.
“However, we assure the family and the public that every effort will continue to be made, building on the considerable work that has already been completed by the council as part of the Safer Bristol Partnership, to further identify how we need to change and improve.
“We are committed to working with the family and other partners to achieve this objective in memory of Bijan.”
The publication of the review was delayed by nearly four years to avoid prejudicing criminal trials, and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which published its findings in July