Family of suspected race killing victim mourn 'bright, loving son'

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The Independent Online

The family of an Asian man stabbed to death in a suspected racist attack at the weekend spoke yesterday of a "loving son whose future held promise".

Shezan Umarji, 20, was assaulted in a brawl between about 40 white and Asian youths - some armed with knives, bottles and bats - in Preston, Lancashire, in the early hours of Saturday last week.

Mr Umarji, a bank worker and university student, may have been caught up as an innocent bystander as there is no evidence that he was actively involved in the fighting. His death occurred on the same day as another suspected racist attack, in which an Asian taxi driver was murdered. Both cases come days away from the first anniversary of the racist murder of Anthony Walker, an 18-year-old student from Merseyside.

The Umarji family described the loss of their son, "the life and soul of the party", in a statement.

It read: "Shezan was a loving son who was bright, lively and intelligent. He loved life to the full and he was really enjoying studying for his business degree. He loved the challenge of the work and his future held out such promise. He showed that promise when he won a scholarship to Hutton Grammar School. He really enjoyed school and we know he was very popular with other pupils and with the teachers.

"Now Shezan has been taken from us in the cruellest possible way. His death has devastated us and his brothers and sisters who all loved the brother who was always the life and soul of the party. We all have happy memories of him, of his kindness, his smile and his pleasing nature. He never caused us or anybody else the slightest trouble."

They also stressed that they were seeking justice.

Detectives said racial abuse was heard during the disturbance, and are determining if it was caused by racial tensions. Detective Superintendent Graham Gardner said: "The extent of the abuse, who said it and who it was directed at is by no means clear. Nonetheless, racist abuse was used and therefore I have declared it as a racial investigation."

Three people remained in custody after being arrested in connection with the death, two on suspicion of murder, the other of violent disorder.

Mr Umarji's death follows a revised Home Office crime statistics report which revealed that Preston was England's worst region for racist incidents. Police recorded more racist incidents per head of population there last year than anywhere else, including cases where the victim was white. There were 500 recorded racist incidents in Preston in 2004-05, equivalent to 3.82 per 1,000 population. In four out of five cases, the victim was Asian and the perpetrator white.

Superintendent Peter White, from Lancashire Police, said: "While the numbers may appear high, it is important to put that into the context of the need for us to encourage minority groups to report incidents and crime committed against them. We have worked hard to make ourselves accessible and I feel that this figure is a positive indicator that our vulnerable communities have the confidence in us to act on their concerns."

Police are also investigating the death of Mohammed Pervaiz, 41, killed in Huddersfield on the same day. The married father of three died from head injuries after he was attacked by at least six people. Racist language was also believed to be used towards the victim in this incident. Five people, four male and one female, all aged between 16 and 19, are in custody.