Despite a well-documented campaign of racial harassment, leading to 46 separate criminal convictions of the perpetrators, no one has been evicted from the Ryelands council estate in Lancaster, where Mal Hussain and Linda Livingstone run a minimarket.
But in the first clear High Court ruling of its kind, a judge has decided that their civil action against Lancaster City Council should go ahead. Judge Wolton QC overruled a lower-ranking judge on 15 July who supported a move by the council to have the case struck out. Unless the latest ruling, handed down on Thursday, can be successfully challenged in the Court of Appeal, the case, backed by the National Assembly Against Racism, is set to become a cause celebre for campaigners against racism.
Nine people were convicted in July of crimes related to the petrol bombing of the shop. They included five juveniles who were sentenced to a total of 24 years and a seven year sentence against 38-year-old Craig Wareing.A number of the offenders are council tenants.
Mr Hussain, 43, is the only black person on the estate. He and Ms Livingstone, 49, sunk their savings into the store, fulfilling their ambition of owning their own business in a quiet city an easy distance from the Lake District and Lancashire's holiday resorts. But the shop has become a fortress under siege. The couple's persecutors have daubed graffiti, thrown bricks and petrol bombs and issued death threats, Mr Hussain said. "We have had gangs outside chanting `If you want the Paki out clap your hands. If you want the Paki dead thump the seat'."
Mr Hussain said yesterday: "Since moving to Rylands estate in June 1991 we have been subjected to continuous racist attacks, racial violence, racial abuse and racial harassment and intimidation. Nothing has been done to protect us."
Ms Livingstone said: "I set great store on law and order. I thought if we went to the council they would do something about it. If they are saying they have done everything they can, why have they tried to stop the case coming to court?"
Leo Jasper, vice-chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: "If those who have stood by while Mal and Linda suffered are not force to pay a price, then every local authority and every police force will know that they can turn a blind eye to racial harassment."
Clive Romain, of the couple's solicitors, Bindman & Partners, said: "This is a very welcome and even historic ruling.
"Up to now the law has been unclear. Now the High Court has ruled that local authorities can be liable as landlords for acts of nuisance including racial harassment when they fail to take action against the perpetrators."Reuse content