Racial hatred that led to a 'legalised lynching'

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The Independent Online
IT TOOK just three months of courting before Laura Williams, a 17-year-old Welsh girl, and Mahmood Mattan, a Somali merchant seaman, were wed.

The year was 1945 and from the start the couple were vilified by their neighbours in Cardiff's Tiger Bay area and forced to live apart. She was abused as a "black man's whore", he was hated for being an immigrant, and there were only three families who would speak to them.

"[Mahmood] was the best thing that happened to me in my life. He made me feel like a queen," recalled Mrs Mattan, now 68 and suffering from cancer. "People already called me names because I came from the Valleys. When I married Mahmood I was told I had brought shame on the community."

The couple had two children, but within seven years she was made a widow after a court convicted her 29-year-old husband of slashing the throat of a shopkeeper, and stealing pounds 100.

He stood little chance in his trial. The jury was out for only 90 minutes, during which time the defence barrister was heard to call his client a "semi-civilised savage". Mr Mattan was hanged seven weeks later.

Yesterday, after 46 years of campaigning, the courts were forced to quash the conviction.

Mrs Mattan's MP, Rhodri Morgan, yesterday described the affair as "an outrageous act of racial discrimination" and the "nearest thing to a legalised lynching you could get".

He went on: "The case also forces us in south Wales to rethink our somewhat complacent attitudes about Cardiff's history as a cosmopolitan melting pot where blacks and whites lived happily together in Tiger Bay."

Remembering the days leading up to the execution, Mrs Mattan, said: "I visited Mahmood every day in prison and took the children along as well. The NSPCC told me not to - but he wanted to see his sons. We believed the police would get the person who killed Miss Volpert right until the end. Because of this, I never said goodbye to Mahmood. The day before the execution we talked with the children. The next day I arrived at Cardiff prison, where there was a notice on the prison gates that the execution had taken place."

Mr Mattan's case was the first to be referred to the Court of Appeal by the newly formed Criminal Cases Review Commission. The commission has already referred the case of Derek Bentley, hanged in 1953 for the murder of a policeman, to the courts, and is due to decide on James Hanratty, who was hanged 35 years ago for the A6 murder, in about a month.

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