Race attacks - all day, every day for six years

Bullets, bricks and knives have failed to drive out Mal Hussain, report Dominic Midgley and Saeed Shah
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The Independent Online
Mal Hussain's Mini Mart looks more like an RUC police station in Belfast than a convenience store in a quiet university city. Grilles cover the windows to protect them from petrol bombs and the assortment of bricks and lumps of concrete regularly thrown at them. Entry is via a heavy wooden door with four small squares of reinforced glass, one of which still bears the hole from the occasion in 1993 when a bullet passed through it, just missing Mr Hussain's head, and razor-wire skirts the first-floor level to prevent people climbing into the upstairs flat.

Where the main shop window should be there is only a wall of brick. For this is the Ryelands estate in Lancaster, Lancashire's answer to Fifties Alabama.

If the Stephen Lawrence saga has educated a generation in the ugly truth about race relations in an ethnically diverse part of south London, then the story of Mal Hussain tells us how a monstrous minority in an almost exclusively white community can systematically attempt to run a "Paki bastard" out of town.

Since moving to Lancaster in June 1991, Mr Hussain, 42, and his white partner, Linda Livingstone, reckon they have called the police three or four times a day for nearly six years. "We have called the police literally thousands of times," Mr Hussain said.

In that time, no fewer than 29 local people have been convicted of crimes against him, four of them only the week before last. But Mr Hussain describes these prosecutions as "a drop in the ocean".

He criticises the police for not giving him adequate protection, claiming they have not responded to 999 calls on a number of occasions, and he intends to sue Lancaster City Council, in what could prove a landmark case, for failing to evict his tormentors under its racial harassment guidelines. And next Friday the National Assembly Against Racism is to petition Downing Street on his behalf. "I have a right to live here without being persecuted every day just for being Asian," he said.

The Ryelands estate is a bleak development of around 500 forbidding council houses on the outskirts of Lancaster. Mr Hussain's ordeal began on his very first day as a shopkeeper there in June 1991. His first customer set the pattern for what was to follow by greeting him with the words: "Get out of your chair, you f--ing black monkey, and give me 20 Berkeley." His persecution continued that same day with the arrival of two more menacing locals, one of them ostentatiously toying with a flick-knife.

"One claimed he was 'King of Ryelands' and said they wanted protection money," Mr Hussain recalled. "He said I would have to pay them pounds 100 a week each. He claimed there had once been a black family on the Ryelands but they had bombed them out."

It was after an incident later that day that Mr Hussain made the first of his thousands of calls to the local police. He paid the price for his fearless approach that very night, however, when every window in his property was smashed. From then on the harassment has been seemingly incessant. His van was vandalised repeatedly and graffiti were daubed on his walls so frequently that eradicating them became akin to painting the Forth Bridge.

He could expect to be abused and stoned whenever he walked the Rottweiler and German Shepherd he bought for protection. And on 28 October, 1991, petrol was poured over his garage door and then set alight. Matters came to a head the day before Guy Fawkes Day, known locally as Mischief Night, which also happens to be Mr Hussain's birthday. It is a date he has come to dread.

The offensive began in the early evening when a petrol-soaked mattress was pushed through his door and the shutter pulled down. Throughout the night he was kept awake with chants of "Burn Saddam Hussein" and "Burn the Paki c---".

Next day, an exhausted Mr Hussain was provoked into assaulting two local men, injuring one so badly that he was arrested and charged with four counts of causing grievous bodily harm. He was acquitted on all counts at Preston Crown Court in November 1992, but on his return to the estate the harassment continued with renewed vigour.

At the beginning of 1995 he was advised to keep a diary of the incidents and today it runs to hundreds of pages of typed and handwritten entries.

The council agreed to install a security camera in a bid to identify his abusers and it was a video of an attack on 5 May last year that helped secure the convictions of George Routledge, 30; Colin Clark, 39; and two youths.

The two men were fined pounds 180 each for threatening and abusive behaviour and bound overfor a year. Both youths were fined pounds 100.

To this day, some white neighbours on the estate claim that Mr Hussain has an "attitude problem" and allege that his complaints are part of a plot to persuade the council to buy him out. "Look at Pat Pearson," said one, "she's black but she never has any trouble."

Unfortunately for Mr Hussain's detractors, that couldn't be farther from the truth. The bedroom window of Mrs Pearson's 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, has been put through so often in the 10 years they have spent on the estate that the glass has been replaced by shatter-proof plastic. Racist graffiti have been sprayed on the side wall of the house, on the garden shed and even on the gate.

"But we haven't had it half as bad as Mal has had it," said Mrs Pearson's white husband, Tony.

Reacting to Mr Hussain's criticisms, Chief Inspector David Thornton of Lancaster police said that he was "satisfied" with the conduct of his force and claimed that Mr Hussain's estimate of 3,000 calls to police is "an exaggeration".

Councillor Ian Barker, chair of Lancaster City Council's housing policy committee, said: "We have always endeavoured to do our best, though we have not managed to put an end to the racist behaviour directed at Mr Hussain."

None of this is much consolation to the man in the middle of the storm, however. "These people have damaged me," he said. "I have been treated for stress and my counsellor told me, 'Mr Hussain, you are living in a war zone and it is going to take a very long time to recover from what you have been through'."