Latvian father of four critically ill after racist stabbing by gang of 20 teenagers

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The Independent Online

A Latvian father who had moved to Britain to earn money for his four young children is critically ill after a racist knife attack.

A Latvian father who had moved to Britain to earn money for his four young children is critically ill after a racist knife attack.

Sergejs Pacejs, 38, is on a life-support machine in Manchester because two weeks ago he was attacked by a gang of up to 20 teenagers and stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Police believe he was targeted because he was overheard speaking Russian. Latvia's Foreign Minister has told the British Embassy of his country's revulsion at the attack.

Mr Pacejs, a former chef in the Latvian army, had been in Greater Manchester for just two weeks, seeking a steady income that would help him provide for three sons and a daughter in Latvia.

Latvia's indignation over the attack has been compounded because a journalist from the Brussels bureau of the country's respected news agency, Diena, says that she was subjected to verbal abuse from two young girls at the scene of the stabbing, in Pendleton, Salford.

The Latvian Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks, said: "The incident is shocking. The European Union should draw up a list of cities and countries where [such] things have happened so they can be avoided by people travelling within the EU to work." He indicated that he had lodged his protests with the ambassador, Andrew Tesoriere.

Mr Pacejs' mother arrived in the UK yesterday to be near her critically ill son in North Manchester Hospital, and to issue her own plea for help in the pursuit of the attackers. Speaking through an interpreter she said: "There are fights everywhere but for someone to do something like this; they cannot be human."

Mr Pacejs, who left school at the age of 17, joined the army, married and had four children. But his marriage failed and he was left to provide for the children; boys, aged nine, 13 and 14 and a girl aged 16.

He left the army to work as a carpenter in a sawmill but followed the route of many of his countrymen in 1999, when he travelled to the UK and found casual seasonal work at a vegetable factory in Boston, Lincolnshire. After he returned to Latvia, he found work hard to come by: employment is available in Riga but not in small towns, and that includes Rezekne, in the south-east of the country, where his family lives.

He re-entered the UK on 17 November and, with his new partner, Galina Tepcova, had established a small network of friends from his country. Ms Tepcova, 21, works in a shop in the area.

On the night of 3 December, he had left a friend's house at 11.15pm with Ms Tepcova and another friend when the youths attacked them. All three suffered stab wounds. Detectives believe that a hackney cab driver may have witnessed the attack as he slowed to manouevre around another car.

Greater Manchester Police confirmed the attack was being treated as racially motivated.

In an unlinked attack 25 hours later, a 26-year-old Czech man in Salford's Lower Broughton district was beaten unconscious.

Latvia's conviction that Greater Manchester may be the source of racist sentiment was strengthened by the experience of a reporter, Sanita Jemberg, who said two girls, aged 10 or 12, racially abused her.

"I don't think it was because of the way I am dressed and I don't look different from other people on the street so it must have been because of my accent," she said. "The attack on this man has caused a great deal of anger in my country."

Salford's council leader John Merry said: "I'm sorry the Foreign Minister chose to say what he said, but I can understand his reaction if it came in the heat of the moment."

Hazel Blears, the Labour MP for Salford and a Home Office minister, has also rejected Mr Pabriks' suggestion that a "blacklist" should be created but she described the recent attacks as "completely unacceptable".