Police say race may be motive in murder of man who campaigned against 'Nazis'

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The Independent Online

Police investigating the death of a man who may have been killed by racists have said that they were disappointed by the response of the public.

Northumbria Police had promised community leaders on Tyneside an exhaustive investigation into the murder of Lee Phipps, a photographer who had highlighted race-hate crimes.

Mr Phipps, 31, whose mother has Somalian roots, was found stabbed to death on a doorstep in South Shields, South Tyneside, on Thursday afternoon, after leaving the home he shared with her to photograph the snow-covered Cleadon Hills.

His previous actions against racists in the area have included photographing a gang which allegedly gave Nazi salutes to his mother three years ago. He was taken to hospital after they attacked him.

Detective Superintendent Steve Wade, who is leading the investigation, said the public response so far left him "disappointed".

"We know there were people in the area at the time and it is vital they come forward, whether or not they think they saw anything suspicious. We do not know the motive for his attack [but] because of previous reported racist incidents, this is a line of inquiry we will vigorously pursue," he said.

A camera and cash were found on Mr Phipps' body, leading police to discount robbery as a motive.

Assistant Chief Constable Kevin Mathieson said: "Officers from South Tyneside met with community leaders to assure them that a very full and thorough investigation is under way."

Mr Phipps' mother, Barbara Yusuf-Porter, has become a high-profile campaigner against racism and threatened to sue Northumbria Police for failing to investigate her allegations of a long-running race-hate campaign against her family. She sought legal advice against the force in early 2004 after installing reinforced doors and a £5,000 CCTV camera system in her home.

Detectives said her complaints, which were also pursued by her son, whose complexion was white, led them to believe the murder may have been racially motivated.

Mr Phipps left his home at around 3.45pm on Thursday. His mother spoke with him by mobile phone at around 4.25pm when he said he would be home in around half an hour. When he had not returned by 7.20pm she reported him missing. Two hours before that, he had been found slumped on an elderly woman's doorstep in an upmarket housing estate by a man walking his dog. His injuries included a fatal stab wound to the heart. Mr Phipps was badly cut and bruised after chasing and trying to photograph alleged racists in 2003. "They shouted 'Paki' and did Hitler salutes outside the house," Mr Phipps said at the time. "We are used to name-calling, but I've never been assaulted before."

Mrs Yusuf-Porter, 53, has set up an internet support group, South Tyneside Against Racism, for people who have suffered racial harassment.