Attorney General’s Letter to Disability Hate Crime Network re Bijan Ebrahimi case

This is the letter I received (on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network) from the Attorney General, in which he explains his reasons not to refer the sentences imposed on those involved with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi to the Court of Appeal.

I’m glad it’s a comprehensive reply, but I’m sorry the sentences were not referred. I’ve thought a lot about this case over the last few weeks, and have a few observations. One is, as I’ve said before, that we need good quality perpetrator analysis of disability hate crime offenders to understand motivation better. Secondly, I would advocate FBI style information on the crimes and offenders being more readily available – locations, ethnicities, etc etc. This would enable potential victims to conduct their own risk analysis of situations more readily. Perhaps it would even lead to better intelligence led policing.

Most importantly, however, I think that this case should lead to a major police reform whereby if a police force considers that it may have failed a murder victim and refers itself to the IPCC after death it should then have the murder investigation removed from it. This would mean that the investigation could be more wide-ranging. In the Avon and Somerset case the police force stated that it could find no evidence that the crime was motivated by disability hatred. If it had found such evidence, of course, that would have damned the force yet further. So it had a direct interest in not looking for such evidence – if it was there. That meant it did not ask for Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act to be applied either for race or disability hatred which would have led to longer sentences. So I think in future cases a neighbouring force should take over the ensuing investigation to look for all evidence that might show evidence of the police not doing their job properly before the murder and missing repeated harassment. One to ponder.

LETTER FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL – DATED 3 JANUARY 2014

Dear Ms Quarmby

Thank you for your email on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network asking the Attorney General to review the sentences imposed on Lee James and Stephen Norley. James pleaded guilty to the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.

The Attorney General has carefully considered the sentences imposed and has decided not to refer either sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient because he does not think the Court would increase the sentences.

As you may know, the Attorney General has the power to refer sentences imposed in the Crown Court for certain offences to the Court of Appeal if he considers they are unduly lenient. It is then for the Court of Appeal to determine whether the sentence is unduly lenient and, if so, whether to increase it. The Court of Appeal will not interfere with a sentence unless it is outside the range of sentences it was reasonable for the judge to have passed.

The Court of Appeal’s review of a sentence is based on the material which was before the sentencing judge and the Attorney General has to take that into account when he reviews a sentence. In other words he has to look at the basis on which the case was presented to the court below. In this case the prosecution made it clear that there was no evidence that the offenders were motivated by hostility towards Mr Ebrahimi’s race or disability when the offence was committed. The prosecution did not consider there was any evidence in this case that the false accusation against Mr Ebrahimi that he was a paedophile was related to his disability. There was therefore no basis on which to argue that the offences ought to have been treated as hate crime.

The sentencing judge did find that this was a vigilante crime characterised by bullying and victimisation and he increased the sentences to take account of that, and other aggravating factors. The Attorney General concluded that the judge approached the sentencing exercise properly and took all relevant factors into account.

I hope this helps to explain why the Attorney General decided that it would not be appropriate to refer these sentences to the Court of Appeal.

Yours sincerely

Correspondence Unit

Guest blog by Anne Novis about BIjan Ebrahimi’s murder

I’m delighted to be able to publish a blog here by my friend and indefatigable disability rights campaigner, Anne Novis. As I’ve said elsewhere, Anne’s work in so many areas, but particularly in raising the murder of Albert Adams, as long ago as 2005, is key in the campaign against disability hate crime. She has also been crucial, along with Stephen Brookes and other co-ordinators, in developing and maintaining the Disability Hate Crime Network.

Here’s Anne’s thoughts on this latest murder. 

A life less valid – When is a hate crime not a hate crime?

By Anne Novis MBE 

It seems that a hate crime is now not defined by the perception of the victim, his or her family or communities, as it should be in law. No matter how many times a victim has reported each and every time they are harassed, abused and attacked due to race and disability, or being perceived as ‘different’.

 

As has been highlighted by the case of Mr Bijan Ebrahimi, murdered by one man (assisted by one more), following years of abuse and hostility by many others who lived near him in various homes.

 

Let me list what we know happened to Bijan, a disabled Iranian man with mental health and physical impairments, bear in mind there is much we do not know yet;

 

Between 2008 and 2011 he reported harassment 14 times to police

Verbally racially abuse

Physically assaulted by people in a shared house

House broken into

Hot water thrown on his chest and feet

Threatened with hostility and death

Property and possessions vandalised

Driven out of his previous home by an arson attack

Mobbed by up to twenty people hurling abuse, threats and calling him names

Arrested when he called police for help

Falsely accused of being a paedophile

Beaten to death

His body doused with white spirit and set alight.

 

His family believe he was picked on as he lived alone, was disabled, vulnerable, and because “he was different”.

In a statement, the family said in one “callous act of unimaginable hatred” its entire world had been taken. …..we are gravely concerned that the actions of those men may have been made possible by the failures of the police and others to protect Bijan.

So as a disability campaigner and activist on disability hate crime for nearly two decades, knowing how hard myself and others have worked to raise awareness, improve reporting to police, changing the way police and legislation promotes justice for disabled people myself and others expected the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to recognise this case as hate crime from the outset.

 

Why? First because the police have already admitted they let this man down by their actions and poor responses to his experiences, the family had made it clear they saw this murder linked to all the other hate crime Bijan had experienced, and lastly because we have evidenced that many disabled men get falsely accused as being paedophiles as part of a campaign of hate and horror against their victims.

 

As Katharine Quarmby, a journalist, friend and coordinator of the Disability Hate crime Network stated in one of her blogs:

 

‘In just over one year, in fact, I found five such killings related to false sexual offence charges, including paedophilia. These included that of Sean Miles, who was stripped, stabbed and drowned after being accused of being a paedophile. Steven Hoskin was similarly accused, tortured, targeted and murdered by so-called friends, who dragged him around on a dog leash before pulling him to a railway viaduct and pushing him off. Now Bijan Ebrahimi takes his place on that sad list of murders – a grim pattern of disabled men falsely accused of sexual crimes they didn’t commit, and then killed with overwhelming cruelty by a lynch mob.’

 

Katherine and I had worked together on a groundbreaking report called ‘Getting away with Murder: disabled peoples’ experiences of hate crime’, we had also worked with others, advising the Equality and Human Rights Commission on its inquiry into disability related hostility.

 

Its report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, published in 2011, had stated that the false allegation of pedophilia against disabled people was a clear and present danger to their lives.

 

I have also produced reports cataloging over 70 murders of disabled people and hundred of attacks as evidence for this inquiry.

 

Through my own experience, work with victims of disability hate crime, and disabled peoples organisations I know any excuse is used to validate abusing, attacking and murdering a disabled person just because they are perceived as different.

 

From before birth, the abortion of disabled a foetus up to 40 weeks of pregnancy, to segregated education, euthanasia, assisted suicide, so called ‘Mercy killings’, the killing and segregation of disabled people has been justified for centuries and contributes to the attitudes disabled people face these days in society.

 

Add to this the current political and media stances about disabled people being a burden on the state, unsustainable, fraudsters and non tax payers we are facing vitriol and scapegoating for all the problems at this time.

 

In the media and in interviews about the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi interviewers have asked ‘Is it reasonable to expect at this time of financial cuts to be able to support and protect disabled people?’

 

My answer is absolutely Yes! for if we cannot support those in society who need support and protection what does that say about us as individuals and as a nation?

 

How much money does it take to do your job properly as a police officer, housing officer, MP, or judge?

 

No extra money at all for in this case, as in many others, it’s the poor responses to reports of hostility by disabled people to these agencies that can lead to deaths and a life of fear and abuse.

 

So the term used by the Nazi’s about disabled people having ‘ a life less valid’ echoes down the years as we face yet again the lack of justice for a disabled person who faced years of harassment, abuse and hostility before he was brutally murdered.

 

As for hate crime, I ask as many must do at this time, if Bijan’s experiences and murder cannot be recognized as a result of hate crime by the CPS and court, what can?

 

How much more evidence does anyone need to understand the lived experience of victims of hate crimes?

 

Shame on all the people who let this man down, who abused, harassed and murdered him, shame on the UK justice system for allowing such an injustice to occur and shame on those who try to ‘excuse’ such crimes by stating he was partially at fault due to making so many complaints which is what the prosecution used as a defence and shame on those who think it is unreasonable to expect such a victim to be protected.

 

So now across the country the question has to be asked: when is a hate crime not a hate crime?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Attorney General, asking him to review sentences handed down in Ebrahimi case

Dear Mr Grieve, 

As co-ordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network we would like the Attorney General to review the sentences handed down today to Lee James and Steven Norley in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled Iranian man who was falsely accused of paedophila by a mob, and then burnt to death two days later in July 2013. 
 
James pleaded guilty to murder and was given a sentence of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was given four years. 
 
It is not thought that the police or the Crown Prosecution Service had asked the judge to enhance the sentence because of disability hostility, which would have meant that the judge could enhance Norley’s sentence under sec 146 of the CJA 2005 and James’s sentence under LASPO 2013 (the first of its kind). At any rate, the sentences are perceived by disabled people and other affected groups to be extremely low, given the overwhelming violence and sadism in the murder. 
 
The reason we believe that increasing the sentences is critically important is that Mr Ebrahimi was falsely accused of paedophilia, as have been a number of other disabled murder victims, a trend first highlighted by Katharine Quarmby in her book Scapegoat (2011) and then further identified and stressed in Hidden in Plain Sight, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in 2011. 
 
The report stated of the false accusation of paedophilia against disabled people that police should “recognise the high level of risk faced by disabled people who have been labelled as ‘paedophiles’. This was not done by Avon and Somerset Police – if it had been done Mr Ebrahimi would not have been returned to his flat after being threatened by a mob chanting ‘paedophile’. The report further stated that this false accusation was ‘used as a term for targeting a disabled person, sometimes with extreme violence’, as happened in the Ebrahimi case and in at least seven other prominent cases identified by Quarmby and the EHRC. As this is, therefore, a recognised form of disability hate crime we call on the Attorney General to consider enhancing these sentences as hate crimes. This would mean that the murder would be the first one to reach the 30 year starting point under LASPO for a murder motivated by hostility towards a victim’s disability. (The Disability Hate Crime Network worked with Paul Maynard MP and Kate Green MP, the Shadow Disability Minister, to help effect this reform.)
 
We hope that the Attorney General will urgently review these lamentably light sentences in the light of this evidence. 
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Co-ordinators, the Disability Hate Crime Network
Respond
 

Why Bijan Ebrahimi’s murder should cause the British legal system to ask itself some hard, hard, questions

An innocent Iranian, Bijan Ebrahimi, is dead, another name to add to the grim list of disabled people falsely accused of sexual crimes they didn’t commit- and then cruelly murdered. I grieve for him and his family. I share an Iranian heritage too, on my birth father’s side. (If you want to read about my own story, and how I came to live in the UK,  you can do so here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Water-Anglo-Iranian-Kindle-ebook/dp/B00E00BEZQ/ref=la_B004GH8LS6_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383565614&sr=1-4)

The Ebrahimi family, like so many others, have lived through the turbulent history of our country and Mr Ebrahimi is reported to have had refugee status in the UK. They – and Bijan, perhaps, in particular, as a disabled person, should have found solace and comfort in the UK, as I have done. Instead, their beloved Bijan is dead and he shouldn’t be. He needn’t have died. The British legal and social care system failed him, and I, as a campaigning journalist, will do my best over the next few months, to raise the profile of his case and try, as best I can, to bring some closure to the family who clearly loved him so much. At the Disability Hate Crime Network, on Facebook, co-ordinated by Stephen Brookes, Anne Novis, me and others, we will continue to follow the case and hold the criminal justice system to account. We will not forget Bijan Ebrahimi, and as a number of us hold advisory posts within the criminal justice system, we will do our best to make sure that what happened to him will be a wake-up call to our legal system.

I know, from my friend Anne Novis, whose seminal work in raising the false rape allegations against disabled murder victim, Albert Adams, kickstarted much of my research, that the Metropolitan Police Service is already looking at Bijan Ebrahimi’s case, and asking what lessons it should learn from it. Stephen Brookes and Ruth Bashall – both great disability rights campaigners –  are going to share their thoughts about the case at the College of Policing tomorrow. Let’s hope those lessons are spread far and wide – throughout the British legal system.