Hunt for girls after killing of gay man

Police say 62-year-old may have been victim of homophobic attack

A gay man who was attacked by two teenage girls and a young man in a suspected homophobic assault in central London has died.

Ian Baynham, 62, suffered severe brain damage after being punched and kicked to the ground after remonstrating with a group who had shouted homophobic abuse.

The attack took place on 25 September and he died of severe head injuries nearly two weeks later on Tuesday evening. Doctors switched off his life support machine.

Mr Baynham, from Beckenham, south-east London, had been walking through Trafalgar Square, a short distance from the city's gay district of Soho, with a 30-year-old male friend when he was attacked shortly before 11pm.

The pair were on their way to a night out in the West End when a woman shouted homophobic abuse at them.

Mr Baynham went to speak to the woman when he was set upon by her male friend, who punched him in the face. The woman and another female teenager then stamped on his head as he lay on the ground, according to witnesses. During the attack Mr Baynham's friend attempted to restrain one of the women. But she fled after passers by intervened on the assumption that she was being attacked.

The Metropolitan Police has said it wants to trace three young people, including two young girls who were caught on CCTV, seen in the area.

They want the public to help them identify the two white girls who may have been sitting in the square with a dark-skinned male youth earlier that evening. Detectives said the three, aged between 16 and 20 and thought to be from London, are suspected of shouting verbal abuse at other people as well.

Detective Chief Inspector Clive Heys, who is leading the investigation, said: "This type of attack is very rare. Normally in these sorts of cases we are looking for young males but in this case two of the three suspects are female. It is also rare that this should happen in central London."

The attack is the fourth homophobic murder in the capital in the past year. In July, 79-year-old Edward Highwood was murdered at his home in Greenwich, south-east London. Neighbours and friends feared he was targeted because he was gay.

Gerry Edwards, 59, was stabbed to death at his flat in Bromley, south-east London, in March. His partner also suffered stab wounds.

In November 2008, David Cooper, 28, was beaten to death at his flat in, Woolwich, south-east London. He had been drinking in Soho the night before his murder.

In recent years homophobic attacks have increased in London as well as nationally. The Metropolitan Police saw an increase of 13 per cent in homophobic offences in the latest financial year compared with the previous 12 months. There were 985 recorded offences in 2007-08 and 1,113 in 2008-09.

Nationally there were 820 people charged with homophobic offences in 2006-07. This increased to 1,173 in 2007-08.

In July, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, highlighted his concerns over the increasing number of homophobic crimes in the capital. He said the force's response to such crimes was "light years" ahead of what it was in the past, and victims were more willing to report offences.

Gary Nunn, a spokesman for the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall, described the incident as "disturbing". "A lot of people perceive London to be a very tolerant place when it comes to gay people, but are surprised that these violent crimes are taking place on our streets today."