Victims challenge rising racism

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A west London council has given support to a scheme to combat racial harassment with a grant enabling fieldworkers to act as watchdogs on problem estates.

The initiative by Hounslow, to identify racially-motivated attackers and provide intelligence to police and community workers, is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain.

The three new workers, all victims of racial harassment, will live next door to the three targeted estates - Ivybridge estate in Isleworth, Heston Farm, Heston and Highfields estate in Feltham. They have been issued with mobile phones and alarms for protection.

They will also provide support for victims and education for residents on how to work towards racial harmony.

The scheme is the brainchild of the Hounslow Monitoring Project, which says attacks have risen by 48 per cent during the past two years and by 110 per cent on the worst afflicted housing estates.

Suresh Grover, the founder and coordinator of the project, is shocked by the rapid rise in incidents. He fears a return of the race violence which erupted in Southall in the 1970s and the creation of 'ghost' estates deserted by terrified victims of racial abuse.

'White groups are using racial attacks as a sport. It's a return to what they called 'Paki-bashing' in the 70s. We need a strong, supportive structure because attacks are becoming more and more violent. We have also got more and more victims leaving estates because of racial harassment and soon they will be no-go areas.'

He is aware that the men are risking their lives. The council, which has funded the scheme with a grant of pounds 16,500, offered them anonymity which they refused, saying they wished to make their presence as public as possible.

One of their main tasks will be to locate incidents of racial harassment and summon help immediately. They have no special powers of arrest or detention and will rely on prompt responses from the police and community workers.

Mr Grover said the worst case of racial harassment he had dealt with involved a man, his wife and three sons who ran a post office near the Highfields estate. They were Kenyan Muslims and were subjected to years of abuse.

'The father ended up in a psychiatric hospital after a nervous breakdown. The psychiatrist's report said the racial harassment was the cause. He's half the man he was two years ago when I knew him.'

According to his figures, between 18 and 20 per cent of harassment cases across the borough are violent.

Chief Superintendent Stuart Carpenter, of Hounslow Police, backed the new scheme but said his figures were different from those issued by the project.

'We support any efforts to eradicate racial harassment. It is a corrosive evil and we feel very strongly about it. I am not discrediting the figures from the project, but ours are not quite as alarmist.

'We know that there is a significant under-reporting of incidents and that is one problem we are dealing with. We want people to feel safe to report these things.'

Mr Grover said most victims were of South Asian origin and between 40 and 45 per cent were single parents, who made easy targets. 'They have attacked all sections of our community including, recently, the Somalians who have moved here, the Chinese, everybody,' he said.

The field workers will operate at night and at weekends and will also be available via the project's emergency line. They speak Hindi, Ebu, Swahili, Punjabi and English.

(Photograph omitted)