Race dominated the case - but only outside court

Leeds footballer's verdict: Prosecution
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The judges in both trials have insisted that racism played no part in the Leeds United case, but the family of the victim, Sarfraz Najeib, and the senior investigating officer were among those who remained convinced last night that it was a motivating factor.

It is the private view of Detective Chief Superintendent Eddie Hemsley that the element of biting – highly unusual in assault cases – marks it out from the many straightforward assault cases he has dealt with in a 25-year career.

Biting tends to occur when two people are grappling with each other but the deliberate action of Paul Clifford to walk back to his victim, kneel down and bite him on the cheek is exceptional and, Mr Hemsley believes, an indication of contempt for the victim, a "marking out of territory".

The argument may only ever be conjecture, since the sum total of evidence that race – not drink and camaraderie – motivated the attack was five words that Mr Najeib claimed to have heard before he was set upon: "Do you want some, Paki?" There is no evidence to suggest that the words were spoken by Woodgate or any of his group.

The alleged threat would never substantiate a criminal charge of racially aggravated assault, even though West Yorkshire Police records show the crime as racially motivated, because its victim perceived it as such.

Nevertheless, the cases's racial overtones became pronounced weeks before the first trial when Imran Khan – the solicitor to the family of Stephen Lawrence – said the case was a test of the judicial system's willingness to embrace the Macpherson report which identified institutional racism in the police.

Mr Khan's presence prompted widely reported communication between the Najeibs and the Lawrences and West Yorkshire Police.

The force needed to call on additional resources in March to deal with proposed rallies at a Bradford business park and Leeds town hall, called by the National Civil Rights Movement, of which Mr Khan was a vice-president.

The Anti-Nazi League protested outside Leeds United's ground, a football fixture between Leeds and Bradford, which has a large Asian population, caused acute worry and Yorkshire police forces were soon handling threats of race crime. Racist telephone calls and threats of fire-bombing were made to Leeds Metropolitan University, after it was reported that Mr Najeib had been studying there.

It became clear towards the end of the first trial that the significance of Mr Khan's involvement was not lost upon the jury. At the start of that trial's sixth week, a handwritten list of five questions, passed up to the judge, included the bizarre suggestion that Mr Najeib and his friends should have been prosecuted and questioned why someone like Mr Khan was involved in the case.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) defended its decision not to place the racial element before the jury, insisting that it selected the charge of assault with intent because it brings a maximum life sentence, while racially aggravated assault can deliver a defendant to prison for five years at the most.

The Najeibs and the civil rights movement accept this point, but question the CPS's tactical decision to remove all mention of racism as a motive for the assault charge – to keep the jury entirely focused on the charge in hand.

Campaigners insisted that keeping race out of the case had been futile in a crime centred on gangs of Asians and whites. Inclusion of what might be perceived racial intent, they argued, had not affected the successful outcome of other high-profile cases.

What is affray?

By Robert Verkaik

Every weekend, hundreds of booze-fuelled youngsters are charged with affray, also known as threatening behaviour. Under the Public Order Act 1986, this offence can only be committed in a public place where threats or behaviour cause someone to fear for their safety. But it is enough to create an "aura of menace" to be found guilty of a crime that carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment. People involved in disturbances during demonstrations are usually charged with affray.

Causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) is a more serious offence and carries a maximum five-year sentence. Judges have described GBH as "really serious harm" but courts are reluctant to offer too restrictive a definition of what constitutes the wounding. GBH can include psychiatric injury and need not involve physical contact. Where the attack is deliberate and the defendant intended to cause GBH the maximum sentence is a life term.