Bengalis suffer a daily diet of racial abuse

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AZAD ALI still bears a scar where a baseball bat cracked his nose and blackened his eyes. He was in his pizza shop in Camden, north London, when four youths - two white and two black - burst in, hurling abuse and wielding the bat.

The perpetrators were never arrested. Mr Ali says he gave up pursuing the case after police officers asked him whether he had provoked the attack. 'All I had done was walk past these youths when I went to deliver a pizza,' he said.

The ferocity of the attack shocked him; but at 21 he has become numb to verbal abuse, which he has suffered since he and his family arrived from Bangladesh 19 years ago.

'If you grow up here, you have to live with it. I have had policemen call me 'Paki' before,' he said.

In nearby Harrington House, Shamorth Ali, 65, described how on two occasions his flat windows have been smashed by white youths, yelling racist taunts. A year ago they put a fire cracker through his letter box. He has lived in the area for 30 years and believes racial violence and abuse has become worse in the last few years.

In Drummond Street, just a short walk away, Mohammed Shohel, a 25-year-old shopkeeper, described how on 28 April last year, two Asian men burst into his foodstore, fleeing white youths wielding sticks.

The Asian men hid in an upstairs room, while the white youths began to threaten Mr Shohel and smash his shop. The incident triggered a running battle in the street between the white youths and young Asian men. And although police and prosecution accepted that it was the white men who 'went looking for trouble', it was the Asian men who were put in the dock this week, charged with causing grievous bodily harm and violent disorder. All charges arising out of the incident against the white men were dismissed by Highbury Corner Magistrates last November.

To the largely Bengali and Bangladeshi communities, the move appeared to add insult to injury. Their complaint was not that members of their community were investigated - one of the white men had been stabbed and suffered a fractured skull. They were unhappy that they appeared to be taking all the blame for an incident not of their own making.

But yesterday they said that some of their faith in the justice system had been restored after the Asian men had been acquitted of all charges.

After the verdicts, Mr Ali said: 'I'm pleased with the jury's verdict, but it's a shame the police and prosecution didn't see it the same way, so that they needn't have gone through the ordeal of this trial.'

(Photograph omitted)