Eye witness: Fewer white faces, more CCTV cameras

Oldham: fear remains in the aftermath of last May's riots
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The Independent Online

'The English are different now. Those who came back to us were tentative. They don't say as much but they worry about the signals they send out now. They keep to their own. They fear for what might happen again."

'The English are different now. Those who came back to us were tentative. They don't say as much but they worry about the signals they send out now. They keep to their own. They fear for what might happen again."

Khalid Hussain, an intelligent, 29-year-old second generation Pakistani, is talking about the white people who visit his video shop on Oldham's Wellington Road. They are a minority group in Gloddick, the mainly Asian district where he lives, but in the past they passed the time, falling into easy conversation with him as they browsed.

Then, in May, came the maelstrom of the Oldham riots, a ferocious brick barrage on his windows, and afterwards the sense that his trade, as it returned gradually, was becoming more monocultural. "It dawned on me slowly that I was seeing 20 per cent fewer white faces returning," he says. "And there was this reticence among those who did – they weren't inclined to linger in public."

The make-up of his custom is not likely to be found in the pages of analysis of independent reviews which come out on Tuesday, nearly six months after riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley. The reports will dissect what caused the disturbances and why the towns scarred by them had segregated their schools and council estates on ethnic lines.

Oldham couldn't wait six months for the official guidelines on peaceful co-existence which its review will offer, so it is finding its own way. In doing so it has retreated into a security culture brought on, understandably perhaps, by a siege mentality.

CCTV cameras have gone up around Gloddick and Mr Hussain has new shutters front and back, with grilles on his back windows and doors for good measure. Since 11 September his two brothers sit with him in the shop "for added protection" until he closes at 11pm.

Last May, cleaning up in the aftermath and a driving rain, he was damning about the feudal territorialism of community leaders in Gloddick. "Some of the people who profess to speak for us can barely read, let alone communicate with the tearaways," he said, repairing a ransacked garage and the shattered windows of his upstairs flat. Little seems to have changed since. "It's the same uneducated people who are running the area," he said last week. "Ask them why football training at the new community centre is too expensive for the layabouts in this community to afford. There's no common sense."

Riaz Ahmad, mayor and a local JP whose home was firebombed in May, despaired of Asian youth six months ago. "[I see] the same white youths before the court but once they turn 21 or 22 they don't seem to come again," he said then. "The Asian youths are still before me at 24 and 25. They don't seem to be maturing."

Last week he confirmed, sadly, that he felt his views still hold good: "Nothing's moved on, I'm afraid. We can only hope it will."

There are a few sparks of hope: some testify to a refreshingly different feel to local education, a sense of "people realising that if there're funds available, they're for all of us". As Bernard Phillips, head teacher at the Breeze Hill school, puts it: "White primary schools are talking to Asian secondaries. Nobody will ever say it has come out of the riots but [it] must."

The town is braced to be told of its failings this week but is dreading the unsettling effects of the publicity that must come. "We've had a calm term – just a few minor incidents connected to 11 September," says Mr Phillips.

"May 26 disturbed some good relationships [so] we hope that the report is written sensitively. We're slowly moving on in our own way and just want this to help us."

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